The general consensus was that this book was ‘hard going’ and difficult to finish. One of the major reasons for this was the handling of the different time strands and multiple storylines. In spite of this, it engendered some interesting discussion. Some people found that they preferred some of the chapters as stand-alone stories and would have liked the author to concentrate on those – for instance, the Hess storyline. Most of the characters did not create a great deal of interest or empathy with the readers, although the relationship between Larry and Sharleen’s son, Martin, was an exception. Jacquie felt that the late-blooming romance between Larry and Mary-Lou was unconvincing and she did not particularly care about them, which was a sentiment echoed by several others. However, Liz felt that the fact that Larry was still trying to win Mary-Lou’s approval after many years of wasted opportunity rang true.
A prominent aspect of the book is the coverage of extremes of cults and magic: from fortune tellers to Alisteir Crowley, the practise of rituals by Parsons, Hubbard and the commune at Number 1003, the birth of Scientology and Sharleen’s involvement with The Watchers and later Jim Jones. This led to a discussion of charismatic leaders and the importance of the themes of faith, sexuality and race.
It was interesting to follow the change in Larry’s perception through his lifetime, mirroring the twentieth century’s transition in terms of the developments in knowledge, technology and space travel and their impact on the trajectory of science fiction.
One weakness that we highlighted was the number of extraneous characters (Vita Sackville-West was mentioned as just one example). Conversely, it was a shame that some of the characters disappeared without trace and were not developed further. It was felt that the book could have benefited from some more stringent editing and that the short story format breaks up the narrative flow.
Jacquie started to doubt who was real and who was not. Jacqui started to disbelieve even factual details (for example, what was the true nature of Hess’s death?) The blurring between reality and fiction seems to be one of the author’s main preoccupations, from the spreading of disinformation by the British secret service during the war (black propaganda – false information to affect real events) to the ‘derealization’ of Larry. Larry’s most successful fiction, American Gnostic, was based closely on the real people and events of his own life.
Some positives emerging from the discussion: the book includes some quotable quotes and fascinating (pub quiz) facts, such as Kurt Waldheim’s inclusion on Voyager’s Golden Record, the derivation of ‘foo fighters’ and L. Ron Hubbard’s first name – Lafayette.
Finally, it was agreed that blurb writer had been successful in creating an attractive synopsis for the book but that its promise was not fulfilled.
While it was not an easy read, the book’s central message on the interconnected (the ‘six degrees of separation’) of people and events and the significance of Jonbar points or ‘Sliding Doors’ moments were felt to be thought-provoking concepts.
The next title for discussion will be: Shatter by Michael Robotham.