Warning: This review is more than a little mean.
I’ve mentioned Henry Jenkin’s introduction to Interfictions 2 once already. In it he makes an excellent point about genre: when we read genre fiction, we want it to conform somewhat to our expectations of the genre — but we also want it to somewhat confound our expectations to provide some measure of novelty (“It never happened quite that way before”). My biggest problem with The Gates is that I found precious little novelty in it. I’m not sure I’ve read another novel in which themes of the implications of modern experimental high-energy physics on the existence of elemental evil are juxtaposed with a plot about a plucky lad and his plucky dog who must foil a demonic invasion- — but virtually every individual element of this book seemed so familiar I still had the nagging sense I’d already read it.
Another major problem I have with The Gates is that the previous times I encountered its individual components, they were better. Connolly has a penchant, for instance, for writing longish clumps of unattributed humorous dialogue that recalls (among others) Terry Pratchett and Donald Westlake. But Pratchett and Westlake are much funnier. Connolly seems to be striving for punnish name-based humor and an outlandishly omniscient narrative point of view in the mode of Pratchett or Douglas Adams — but locales like “666 Crowley Road” strike me as goofy, not funny. I can forgive Samuel Johnson (the plucky lad) having a pooch named Boswell — blame for that bit of cutsie-poo could be laid at Samuel’s parents’ feet — but giving a present-day researcher at CERN the surname Planck just seems baffling.
My last big problem with The Gates is that it felt sloppily constructed to the point of insulting its audience. It bumps along its rollercoaster track of conflicts and resolutions without the slightest regard as to whether it all makes any sense. Members of Connolly’s demonic horde are invincible when he needs to notch up the body count, but otherwise generally susceptible to any random utensil that comes to hand.
I think I would have been disappointed by this book even if I’d encountered it when I was fourteen.
In an odd twist, the thing I enjoyed best about The Gates is that it references the universe’s reaction to the Large Hadron Collider, and I read it while stories about papers published (by Bech Nielsen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan) asserting more-or-less that the universe is sabotaging the LHC in order to maintain its own integrity were making their way into the popular press.
needs more demons? More demons wouldn’t really help.