The Web of the Chozen by Jack L. Chalker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
First off, a special thanks to the anonymous Goodreader who sent me this book. It arrived right before Christmas, and I didn't open the package until Christmas day, thinking that one of my kids had ordered it and had it shipped directly to my place (we had all the kids home for Christmas). But when I opened the envelope on Christmas day and asked who got me the book, I was rewarded by confusion and blank stares. So someone who is not my child or my wife sent this to me. I had a few conversations with a different people about this book, so I can't chase it down *exactly*. But someone was generous, and I thank you!
Now, on to the text.
The Web of the Chozen is, above all, a novel of ideas, like any well-behaved science fiction book is. It was well-written, by and large, and I really enjoyed the narrative voice of Bar Holliday, the narrator. Bar is a star scout, sent to explore new worlds. He's different from most of humanity, who have now become mind-numbed cattle whose only ambition is to return to their Creatovision. The interstellar civilization, sponsored by a group of corporations, is just too boring for Bar Holliday. So he was assigned to be a scout, the one way out of the malaise-stricken utopia of humankind.
But Bar is in for some surprises.
And so are you. I'm not going to give away any spoilers. Suffice it to say that Bar stumbles on a world named Patmos where his entire conception of himself and of humanity is . . . turned inside out, I guess, is the best way to put it. The book is full of transformations and begs the question, what does it really mean to be human? For that matter, what does it really mean to be at all?
The book isn't without its problems, and the primary issue I had with the book, unfortunately, repeated itself several times - Chalker threw me out of my willing suspension of disbelief not once, but several times. Bar Holliday simply knew too much about what was happening to himself and the world around him, and I couldn't make that leap, not in the first-person narrative voice, anyway. This shaking of my walls of unreality happened again and again. I suppose I was inured to it by the end of the book, but I found it quite jarring, which lessened my enjoyment of the book a great deal.
One thing that this discomfort did for me, though, was caused me to think about what is it exactly that allows us to suspend disbelief or prevents us from doing so? And why is it different for each person? I'm certain that other readers might not have been bothered by Holliday's borderline omniscience as I was. But what makes the difference? A more subtle approach would have worked better for me, even if Chalker had interspersed a few pages of transition at key spots in the novel. It would have added a few thousand words to the whole text, but it would have felt much more natural, as a result. Maybe this is the fault of an overly zealous editor or a publisher that wanted to keep the word count under a certain number for production purposes, I don't know. In any case, I need to think about this whole subject a bit more carefully. What would an "acceptable" leap have looked like to me? Would I take an even larger leap and be okay with it if the tone or voice was different? Was it the presentation or the logic itself that I found fault with subconsciously?
So many questions . . .
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