Sunday, October 7, 2018

Review - The Lifeboat at the End of the Universe

The Lifeboat at the End of the Universe
by Simon Brading
Date: 2015
Publisher: Simon Brading
Reading level: A
Book type: prose novella
Pages: 131
Format: e-book

In a desperate attempt to outrun the Big Crunch and recolonise the resulting new Universe, Humanity sends huge ships stocked with millions of people in hibernation racing at relativistic speeds for the edges of space.

One Lifeboat finds itself in crisis when strange events start to occur and Tom, the crew's Astrophysicist, starts to suspect that all is not quite as it seems or as they have been told.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: Major Spoilers! To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

I've noticed something about self-published books: the higher the Goodreads rating, the worse it is. Perhaps the reason for this is because only family and friends of the author will read (or finish) the book, and they rate unrealistically high. This book in no way deserves the 4.09-star rating it has as of the moment of this writing; it's flat, boring, implausible, and depressing, with the worst characterization and world-building I've come across all year... or perhaps ever.

The basic premise is so flawed that it's laughable. Billions of years in the future, humanity has an "oh, shit" moment as it realizes that the Big Crunch is coming, and they decide they really need to do something about it. So they build a bunch of ships called Lifeboats and send them out to "escape" the edge of the universe. Not once is this ever plausibly explained. Where would they be beyond the confines of the universe? Presumably, somewhere (and somewhen, since if you escape the known universe, you'd likely escape time, as well) else. No matter. We're just supposed to accept this flawed premise and go with it.

And how does this book go with it? With more ridiculous premises and explanations. The world-building is so unimaginative that we're left with a world that looks a lot like the twenty-first century... except the people billions of years in the future don't even have the technology that we do right now! A comment is made about conserving power (which is negated by an earlier statement about power cells that "last for all time"), and yet they do stupid things like take paper books with them, which weigh more and take up more space than e-books. What really got to me, though, was the explanation for why humanity doesn't seem to have evolved at all: they'd already learned everything. I'm sorry, but I don't think it's going to matter how much you know or don't know; physical evolution is still going to take place, and after a few billion years, I have my doubts as to whether these people would even look human... never mind have the same sexist ideals, names like Tammy and Barbara and Jacob, and be enamoured with the 1950s and '60s. (At one point, one of the characters tells another not to be such a "square", and Jacob is pretty much vying for the title of Best Tommy Chong Impersonator.)

Oh, and why do they know everything? Because it turns out that humans are the only life in the entire universe! Once we learned all there was to know about ourselves, we knew everything. That's got to be one of the most arrogant, ridiculous things I've ever heard. (And if humans did, indeed, have perfect knowledge, what was the point of this whole book? They would have known that the Big Crunch was the end of all ends--yes, that's the position this book takes--and could have just accepted the universe's fate without using so many resources on the ill-fated Lifeboat program.) It seems really conceited to say that humans should be exempt from the laws of the universe and be entitled to exist when everything else doesn't. But that's only one of the problematic statements in this book.

The characterization is terrible. These folks might as well have been cardboard cut-outs. Without faces. For the most part, only male characters' physical appearances are described; the women are just kind of faceless nobodies (good to know that women's rights have progressed so far after a few billion years). There's Tom, our dark-haired, "ruggedly handsome" hero who appears to be an author insert (at least, that's what I surmise after seeing the author photo), the astrophysicist who finally figures everything out and is accordingly stuffed back into permanent stasis so he doesn't freak out the other passengers; Jacob, a 60-ish man with long hair and a penchant for weed who monitors the engines; Barbara, a pregnant psychiatrist in her 50s who speaks with a Southern drawl at the beginning, but never again; Richard, another handsome man in his 50s, and Barbara's partner, who... actually, I forget what Richard does; Leo, a young guy barely out of his teens, who works with the computers; Rachel, another youngster and the group's nutritionist (the extent of which is making sure Richard eats his vegetables); Tammy, the third young person and the group's health and fitness supervisor; John, in his 80s with silver hair, and the group's historian; Sarah and Elaine, a lesbian couple who are doctor and nurse and who are almost always mentioned together, "very good-looking women in their late twenties"; and Adam, an android with blue eyes who runs things on the ship. I felt absolutely nothing for any of them. There was zero emotional connection. After a while, I was actively rooting for a black hole to jump into their path and take them all out; I mean, I still wouldn't have cared about them, but at least the book would've ended sooner.

The women are treated as afterthoughts throughout, and even worse, in the beginning some of them are going around topless. At one point, Tom gets pulled into bed with Sarah and Elaine, but it's stated that his inclusion was just for "added stimulus" (which just makes it read like some straight man's fantasy about having a threesome with a couple of lesbians). And then there are things like joking about women's periods making them irrational; an instance where a woman is written to look absolutely stupid, after which she's referred to as a "bimbo"; and one scene where the women are all too distraught to talk, so they just sit around and listen to the men. What the actual fuck?!

Everything is so... Western. The names. The way people talk (which is juvenile as hell; it reads more like a bunch of kids than a group of adult professionals). It's also fairly cishet. You can't just throw a few sex-bots (male and female) at the characters and think you've hit your diversity quota. Also, it's pretty insensitive toward asexuals:

Adam was slightly worried about him; sex was such an important part of the human experience and aided the recovery from stasis to such an extent that it was an essential and irreplaceable part of the crew's activities.

The science... Let's just say that I wouldn't even consider this book science fiction. It's just fiction. The science is stupid. They have scientists studying star systems so they'll know where to look for planets after the universe restarts itself with another Big Bang (assuming, I guess, that it would unfold exactly the same way; if that's the case, then why bother trying to rescue humanity? They'll just evolve all over again, won't they?). The power cells are another problem. At 23%, it's stated:

... we have power cells that last for all time...

At 29% it's stated:

'You say their use will be strictly rationed? Is that necessary?'

'Of course! They drain an awful lot of power, more than can be compensated for by the ship. So, to prevent any permanent power loss they will only be used for a few hours a month at the most.'

They either "last for all time" or they don't. Then there are the medical issues. One of the problems with stasis is supposedly that people could get "stasis psychosis" if they're in there for too long. Something about a lack of endorphins. But the means by which those endorphin levels are raised are pretty weak. There are other ways to raise endorphin levels rather than playing beach volleyball. What if you don't like beach volleyball? Isn't there a way of increasing endorphin levels with a pill or something, if it's that important to prevent everyone from going crazy? (I mean, these people supposedly knew everything, so they should've been able to figure out a way to achieve the same thing without everyone having to pick sand out of their buttcracks.)

As for the writing, it's shit. There's really no other way to say it. Brading should stick to writing screenplays, where grammar and punctuation aren't as important. There are so many typos (including repeated instances of characters' names being misspelled), missing words that made me puzzle over certain sentences, and the comma splices... Oh. My. God. The comma splices. Look, I know English isn't an easy language to master, but I can't cut a born-and-bred British writer that much slack. He makes mistakes that should've been nipped in the bud by his primary-school teachers. He continually uses commas to tack full sentences together, resulting in run-on sentences that go on and on. But in other cases, he seems to be afraid to use commas at all, which leads to certain sentences' meanings being obscure at best. He also has an issue with hyphens, using them when he shouldn't (after -ly adverbs) and avoiding them when he should (to create compound adjectives).

After all that, we're left with the most dismal ending I've ever read (i.e., their Lifeboat was the only one to escape the Big Crunch, and they've just been drifting in nothingness--somehow--because the expected Big Bang to restart the universe never followed). What a cheery thought, eh?

This book gets one point for originality, though it's probably not the kind of point the author wants. It was interesting to see how original someone could get with bad world-building, awful characterization, and abysmal writing. I have to give him credit for that.

Premise: 0/5
Plot: 0/5
Characters: 0/5
Pace: 0/5
Writing: 0/5
Editing: 0/5
Originality: 1/5
Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall Rating: 0.13 out of 5 ladybugs

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