This Week’s Word Is “Exploding.”
There’s not much non-fiction at Word Wednesday HQ to write about this week, so I thought I’d share the book I read during those curious days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
When, if your family is anything like ours, time seems to stand still and nothing really happens. I’ve written about Dave Hutchinson before; he’s one of the few authors that I always try to read everything he writes, as soon as it arrives (well, within 12 months!). I’m pleased to be able to report that The Return of the Incredible Exploding Man contains the same gentle understated excellence as his Fragments of Europe sequence.
What is The Return of the Incredible Exploding Man?
It’s a contemporary science fiction paperback and a light read at just under 300 pages. The novel tells of the story of a science journalist employed by an Elon Musk type internet billionaire, who has built his own particle accelerator. Alex Dolan has been hired to write a book about the Sioux Crossing Supercollider. The job pays well above the asking price but requires Alex move to the small town on the Iowa/Minnesota border. When he gets there, he finds things are more than a little creepy.
Why Read The Return of the Incredible Exploding Man?
First up, I seriously suggest avoiding reading the blurb for this book. Hutchinson goes to some length to disguise what this novel is about (much like the first Europe book) but the blurb gives it away in a few lines.
Dave Hutchinson is the master of the gentle thriller. His writing reads so effortlessly and somehow manages to be simultaneously mundane yet utterly compelling. It’s quite the trick. In this case, much of the book is about a guy going around a small town writing about a science project that doesn’t even properly exist. It should be boring, but it isn’t.
First up, Hutchinson skewers the arrogant dot.com billionaire trope. He bursts the “technology and its inventors are wonderful,” bubble, and exposes them for the vainglorious show-offs they probably are. These guys have the means to buy your soul, (pretty much) and we’re mostly happy with that. Hutchinson shows us why that’s creepy.
The novel asks real questions about traditional methods of producing revenue and those used by tech-companies. It examines how rural communities who have had their economies decimated might survive. How they might be grateful by the arrival by a green-backed savior but how deals that are made this way may have an unseen cost. Friendly has never seemed more sinister.
Hutchinson writes strong characters. The interplay between them in Return of the Incredible Exploding Man is great. The breathing space he gives his characters are what makes his novels work. You care about his creations and about how they are affected by the minutiae of life. The interactions between Dawson and his neighbor, Ralph, work very well. The humanity of both characters is allowed to come to the fore. Similarly, Dawson’s interactions with the scientists at the facility are excellent. It all weaves together to make an strong base for the main story.
Well, I don’t want to say too much about that, except that something is afoot at the Supercollider. After about 2/3 of the way through, the novel takes an abrupt turn. The finished product is perhaps a little light in the details. I was definitely hankering for more.
Such a revelation felt like it needed a stronger payoff, but nevertheless, I enjoyed this novel from the first page to last. It’s classic understated science fiction, or, classic Hutchinson, if you will.
You can pick up a copy of The Return of the Incredible Exploding Man from here in the US, and here, in the UK.