Percivious Escape by J J Cook and A J Cook MD

AJ JJ Publishing, 2022, 269 p.  Reviewed for ParSec 6.

This is the third in a trilogy, a fact of which I was unaware when, drawn by the premise, I requested the book for review. (The previous two instalments, Percivious Insomnia and Percivious Origins, were not, I think, reviewed in ParSec.) Mea culpa, for not researching the authors beforehand.

Coming in only for the last part of any book sequence is problematic – especially for a reviewer. Not all the background to the text is available; though the author(s) ought to provide enough to give any new reader a fair shout. Still, a book is a book, and must be considered on its own merits.

The scenario here is that an outbreak of insomnia has hit Earth. We are told people stagger around like zombies, transport – personal and public – has all but ceased, society has broken down. A drug called Noctural has been peddled as a cure but is ineffective, a fact of which its makers are well aware. In addition, the XYZ, a group of aliens capable of instant communication with each other by a form of emotional telepathy and apparently descended from whales who lived on Earth millions of years ago but now taking the shape of outsize humans, have been on an unsuccessful interstellar odyssey to find a new home but failing to settle (and incidentally forced into making a kind of slingshot around a black hole in transit) have returned to Earth intent on helping to find a cure for the pandemic of sleeplessness and making us all kinder into the bargain.

It gives me no pleasure to write this but if this all seems like a bit much for the authors to juggle with successfully, well it is. Chapters are relatively short and each is narrated from one of at least twenty different viewpoints which tends to make the reading experience bitty. Far too much is told to us, not shown, information dumping is profuse, clumsy and intrusive, with overuse of the pluperfect tense and a frequent resort to cliché. The process of discovering an effective serum against the insomnia pandemic, Noctural 2.0, is not dramatised and it seems to have been found absurdly easily. The text is sometimes couched as journalese, the characters do not come across as rounded and their dialogue is wooden.

At the climax it all descends into Bond villainy: that the villain has been given the name Khalid Al Gamdi leaves a sour taste. In addition, after that dénouement there are no less than nine chapters clearing up loose ends (while ironically introducing a new one.)

Alarm bells about all this had been ringing from before the start – which itself has the galloping hiccups, with both an Introduction and a Prologue. On the title page there is that MD after the name of the second co-author. But why is it there? Is it to lend an air of scientific credibility? In which case it is spurious, since this is a work of fiction not an academic tract and ought to need no outside props. In any case such a claim is thoroughly undercut by multiple appearances in the text of the non-metaphorical use of the phrase “the dark side of the moon” (which is an elegant description of madness but not of reality. Both “sides” of the Moon, far and near, are bathed in fourteen continuous Earth days of sunlight – and another fourteen of darkness – per lunar cycle. If you are striving for scientific verisimilitude at least get the details right. See also the ancient whales above.)

The overall feel of the text is that of authors so enamoured with their vision that they indulged the need to put every last little aspect of it down on paper (or screen.) Unfortunately, fiction doesn’t succeed under those conditions. Certainly there has to be enough detail to convince the reader the authors have a consistent world in their heads. Too much however, tends to give the opposite impression. Moreover, it gets in the way of the story. And it is story that readers of Science Fiction primarily search for. There is story here but the authors’ avowed intention in the accompanying blurb and the ‘About the Authors’ page of reviving what they describe as forgotten altruism led them to stray into didacticism.

Pedant’s corner:- human’s vast and varied pastimes (humans’,) “the prime minister” (Prime Minister,) “‘Your safety, our safety, as well as the safety of many others depend on it’2 (depends on it,) “the dark side of the moon” (there is no such thing – see above – and it’s Moon,) “that was provided there were enough insomnia-resilient staff on duty” (provided there was enough staff.) “Fifty suicide STARLINK satellites composed the payload” (the satellites created the payload? – comprised,) “what drew his attention were her photos” (was her photos,) one ‘it’s’ that ought to have been ‘its’, “something cold crossed his gaze upon her face” (needs its syntax sorted out,) “regardless the cost” (regardless of the cost,) “risen to a crescendo” (to a climax,) “careful to cover their interaction with his torso from the cameras” (opaque syntax again,) “returning from whence he had come” (whence = ‘from where’ so this is equivalent to ‘from from where he had come’,) another “rose to a crescendo”, “the two crafts” (the plural of craft [as in conveyance] is ‘craft’,) “desperate to clear its path” (‘his’-  or ‘their’ – path,) “despite the unforeseen danger that undoubtedly lay ahead” (if it undoubtedly lay ahead then it was not unforeseen; ‘unknown’ perhaps,) “and good thing” (an interpolation that has no sense at all,) “Cooper’s gaze – abducted by a long black, illuminated gown” (how can a gaze be abducted?) many new paragraphs are unindented, “the reason his kiss had fallen on deaf lips” (a tin-eared construction, ‘unresponsive lips’,) “than he had ever felt had before” (one ‘had’ too many,) “the only options to negate it was to swallow Noctural 2.0 .. or they could go off planet” (is missing an ‘either’ before what then should be ‘were to swallow’; otherwise ‘the only option was to swallow’,) “had rode up in” (had ridden,) “the tallest thing standing on the island were the trees in Central Park” (was the trees.)


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