Why I chose this book
As an author-publisher, I wanted to have at least one indie-published book on my list. I decided to choose an author and title I had never heard of, to give someone the break I would want for myself. In my search, I came across a “best of 2013” list on Indie Reads. The Blind Pig by science writer and software engineer Elizabeth Dougherty was on that list and I was intrigued by the description. The book fulfilled my project’s criteria and I figured if it was on the same list as Hugh Howey’s latest it had to be good.
What it’s about
The Blind Pig is a hard science fiction thriller about engineered food and nutrition, and the dangers thereof.
The cover blurb
Journalist Angela Anselm investigates a suspicious death in a late 21st century speakeasy, where the moonshine of the times is garlic mash rather than sour mash. She uncovers a conspiracy that could topple the NArc, the government system that keeps everybody healthy with its prescribed, engineered nutrition. How much will she risk to expose the truth?
This book was the half way point in my ten book project and I really wanted to like it. No, I REALLY, REALLY, REEEEAAAAALLLY wanted to like it. I wanted this to be the book I could use against arguments that women couldn’t write hard SF AND arguments that indie published books were sub-standard. I say this to make it clear that I began this read as a very forgiving (and hopeful) reader.
I put the book aside less than a quarter of the way in.
I considered not even writing a review. Hey, there are lots of female-authored, indie published, SF/F books out there, I could just find a replacement and no one would be the wiser. Then that annoying conscience of mine started nagging me to be honest.
Here’s the deal: This isn’t a terrible book. Technically, the writing is fine. It’s not one of those crapfests of bad spelling and grammar that make so many people think amateur when they think of indie books. The world building was excellent, the science (from what I read), seemed sound and plausible, and the premise was interesting. What this book needed was a really good substantive editor, or a really good critique group, or a bunch of really good beta readers—not just good, I might add, but objective and honest.
What’s missing from this story is compelling characters and significant stakes. A novel doesn’t need to open with EXPLOSION! CAR CHASE! TERRORIST ATTACK! but it does need to open with at least one character I can invest in, a character I care enough about that I will want to keep turning pages, a character with something important to lose. This character doesn’t need to be the hero, either. The book I read immediately after I put down The Blind Pig opened with its focus on a minor character the reader would not see again until nearly the end of the story, but that character and her situation gripped me instantly and I spent several hundred pages eager to find out what had happened to her.
I will overlook a long list of literary sins if I have at least one character I care about. Conversely, I will occasionally overlook a lack of compelling characters if the prose is mind-numbingly spectacular. Unfortunately, if the author gives me neither by at least the third chapter I’m probably going to walk away.
It hurt to close this book so early, mostly because I could see the potential in it. If the protagonist’s personal stakes had been higher, if the author had centered me more in the moment and had not done so much telling, if the emotional content and lives of the characters had been given as much weight as the science and the world building, if… if… if…
This isn’t even a case of “just not my cup of tea”. The science of food is a subject I feel strongly about and I suspect that I share many of Dougherty’s opinions on the dangers of engineered nutrition. Had this been a work of non-fiction I probably would have gone along for the ride.
So, my chance to rave about and promote a fellow indie author will have to wait. Le sigh. I have decided not to rate this book on Goodreads or Amazon (see, I’m not a complete meanie), and I hope if the author should happen upon this review she’ll understand that I am not slamming her as a writer but offering unbiased feedback.
Will I read more by this author?
Possibly. I think Doughtery has the skill to pen a good novel, so I’ll keep an eye on her and my fingers crossed. My guess is she fell into the trap(s) too many indie authors fall into–publishing her first manuscript instead of honing her craft and publishing a good manuscript and/or not passing the manuscript through the hands of a skilled editor before publishing.
You should read this novel if…
Without having finished the entire novel, I don’t feel comfortable making recommendations but this is definitely a read that will be best enjoyed by those more interested in the science than the story.
Where to find The Blind Pig on the Zon: The Blind Pig
Up next: Grass by Sherri S. Tepper