This is one of those strange books that was, on the one hand, difficult to read, but on the other, fascinating. The basic premise is that a school teacher deeply involved in Buddhism (and who accidentally views parallel and potential realities) gets visited by representatives from the MWC, a vast community of intelligent species. She is chosen as their chief liaison to the human race since, given the state of the Earth, they doubt Earth can survive without immediate intervention.
The book deals with interesting subjects ranging from alternate realities, reincarnation, some fairly trippy interpretations of science, and alien life that’s truly alien. It has a substantial number of problems, however. The pacing and presentation of the material made it difficult to read, a decent number of the author’s viewpoints get presented a bit too on the nose, and the author plays with the fourth wall too much for my tastes.
First, the whole idea of aliens constantly resetting small chunks of the universe to try and get the best outcomes for everyone involved is downright cool. This book treats parallel universes as a given and goes to great lengths explaining the different ways the MWC plays around with them to create a greater galactic society. It’s always interesting when a book decides that alien life is not only friendly, but has a utopian agenda.
Second, when the presentation of the material works, it’s a very unusual take on things that I found enjoyable. My favorite part is still a council meeting in which MEMBERS of the MWC discuss how they intend to handle the advent of nuclear power on earth. That, as well as how they handle religion, involves sleeper agents, reality resets, calculating probabilities, and a whole host of funky stuff that’s quite interest.
That being said, the presentation didn’t gel with me too often. The book had so many different styles and trains of thought going at the same time that it ended up feeling like more of a scrapbook than a novel. The author jumped between characters frequently, had a large number of different formats for each chapter of the book, and never quite settled on any one. It made the overall book difficult to read, although any individual section might be interesting on its own. This book would have benefited from picking from a couple of different styles for the chapters (such as the MWC meetings to determine the fate of Earth) and the ones focusing on Clara, rather than jumping around as much as it did.
Also, this disrupted the pacing of the book. The moment one train of thought got developed, the author switched to a different one. There was never a point where the chapters flowed together. There were a series of chapters that, had they been back to pack, would have flowed nicely, but they were divided up and scattered about the book. It’s not that I don’t think this style of writing can work, but it’s tricky to do, and it never quite came together for me.
The plot never quite hit the point where there was enough conflict to really grab me outside of my intellectual interest in what was happening. The major conflict in the book boils down to Clara coming to terms with being the most important person on Earth and not being able to be with the man she loves. All of this, however, plays out in little drips, and the level of tension never picks readers up and carries them along.
I also think the book would have worked better if the author had focused on how Earth was changing in more intimate detail, dropped a lot of the other material, and followed Clara closely as she dealt with these changes. As it is, she’s a bit detached and removed from it all. Sure, there’s a lot of interaction with her family, speeches, and stuff like that, but the book never shows me something like how, say, a Muslim living in a German slum’s life changes. I wanted Clara to be the vehicle for the personal stories of how the world changes rather than the detached narrator.
Another problem with the book is that, it’s clear either the author, or the character, or both, have very fixed political viewpoints (some of which I don’t even like to call political, because they’re, ahem, just what any human being with a soul should support). These viewpoints get thumped onto the reader without any serious discussion of the opposing viewpoints. It’s not a terrible thing, but the tone and presentation of these viewpoints can rub a reader the wrong way, especially as they build up over the course of the novel.
My final criticism is that the character seems to be a different version of the author, but more so than is usually the case. That, combined with the way the author presents the book (she plays with the fourth wall extensively) made me a bit uncomfortable. It’s not that I feel the character was a Mary Sue, it just did not sit well with me. Maybe in a short story, a comic, a movie, but in a book, I really like the book to be a new world, and any reference to it just being this one, that reminds me I’m reading fiction, tears me out of it. It’s a personal thing more than anything to do with the quality of the book itself.
In summary, this book never flows together into a focused novel, which is unfortunate given how interesting the subject matter is. It does, however, present enough fascinating ideas and viewpoints to partially redeem its shortcomings. I’d almost recommend treating it like a scrap book and picking out the various chapters that seem to interest you, rather than reading it cover to cover straight off the bat. All told, I give it a 3/5.