Vic: Time Doesn’t Matter by Jerry Gill & Edgar Rice Burrough

Vic is an odd book in that it’s really three mashed together into one narrative. The first half of the book is an abridged version of a couple of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novels concerning a pair of ancient humans, Nu and Nat’ul, whose love was constantly foiled by circumstances. The second half follows Vic, a reincarnation of Nat’ul, a 1920s dame hell bent on adventuring her way around the world in her search for Nu’s reincarnation.

It’s an interesting mash up, and I enjoyed Mr. Gill’s use of public domain literature, but it takes up too much of the book. Additionally, his part of the story reads like more of a travelogue instead of a novel. Finally, although entertaining, the novel doesn’t reach a satisfying resolution, instead covering little ground that hadn’t already been covered.

First, the use of Burroughs’s public domain work is a clever idea. Gill abridged and rewrote portions of it, but ultimately, the bulk of it appeared to be the original material. The idea was to use that as a building block for Gill’s work, which was meant to be a continuation of a story that he felt was unfinished.

Before I go any farther, let me emphasize how much I approve of this sort of thing. There are great works of literature that any later author would be a fool to try and follow up, whether or not public domain, but Burroughs’s adventure novels are ripe for it. I only vaguely knew who the author was from classes I took years ago, so directly using his work reintroduced him to me. It’s an interesting way to keep old adventure novels viable. Also, Gill stays true to the spirit of the work, and makes efforts to write in a more modern, but similar, style as Burroughs.

He meets with mixed results, but it’s a good faith engagement public domain intellectual property that I think introduces a vitality that would otherwise be absent. I don’t think that art stands on its own, but is instead a result of the creator’s interaction with his work, the interactions of those who view the work with it, and the interactions of those who seek to adapt the work or find inspiration in it. It’s a conversation that our current intellectual property regime guts in a mad dash to suck every last penny out of an IP until it’s nothing more than a heap of exploited, rotten ideas. Ahem, not that I have a horse in this race, so back to the review proper.

All of the above things said, I think that the amount of time Gill spent on Burroughs’s work should have been greatly reduced. As it stands right now, it’s a little over half of the book. At most, it should have been no more than a fifth, maybe a quarter, which would have been sufficient to introduce the reader to the old material, give them the feel of it, and set up the story that Gill continues. Instead, the reader gets bogged down and is left wondering when Gill’s writing is going to kick in. I don’t think the author spent this much time on the old work out of laziness or in bad faith, let me be clear, but it did eat up too much of the book, and this was one of the big issues with his work.

My second problem with the book is the way Gill presents the story. At times, the author is more interested in informing the reader about the cultures, animals, and geography that Vic encounters than he is in fleshing out the characters or moving the plot along. It’s charming, because given that Vic is a travelling adventuress whose job it is to report on the strange places she goes, the detail makes sense. The author, however, spends more time than is necessary on this, which periodically slows down the story itself and makes it read more like a travelogue than fiction. This doesn’t always happen, but it happens frequently enough to bog things down.

Also, the author usually speaks directly to the reader when presenting the information, when it really should have come from Vic or one of the other characters. It’s not a style that I’m a fan of, and it makes the amount of information, and the school room lecture tone of it, far more noticeable.

The plot itself is one small adventure after another, which, although entertaining, never quite connects into something larger than that. Vic never runs across the person she’s searching for directly which, given the first half of the book was her previous self, Nat’ul, constantly missing him, gets frustrating. The last half of the book read more like the middle that was leading up to some sort of revelation, some encounter with Nu. Instead, it’s pretty much all there is. There are a few adventures, a bit of danger, and a lot of interesting information, but very little that amounts to an outcome beyond the same water already treaded before being treaded again.

The third and final major criticism I have of the book is that the ending isn’t much of an ending, at least to a novel. Had Vic’s adventure been presented as a short story, with a length to match, the ending would have worked, since it was basically a quick wrap up of everything that left few questions. Unfortunately, her adventure is a second half of a book the first half of which was squarely focused on the difficulties Nu and Nat’ul went through to be together. There’s no resolution of this plot. Instead, she gets an idea of who the reincarnation is and hopes she’ll run into him some day.

Given that the first half of the book, Burroughs’s work, is at least a half dozen near misses where Nu and Nat’ul almost get together, ending the book on another one is irritating. The first fifth to a quarter of the book should have been the old material, the middle half Vic’s adventure, and the last quarter how that transitioned into her finally meeting up with Nu. Instead, the readers are left right where they started. None of the characters change or accomplish much of anything in the grand scheme of things by having a romp in the jungle.

Ultimately, the author gets brownie points for trying to do something interesting with some old public domain intellectual property, an area I feel there is a lot to be done with. Gill, however, spends too much time on the old material, then too much time on describing Vic’s adventures without communicating why they matter. Finally, he ends the book on a shrug, rather than a proper conclusion.

If you want to pick up a copy, you can get one from Amazon here.

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