The Wave and the Flame by M Bradely Kellogg
I wanted to like this book. I wanted to like this book so much. I mean, look at that cover. It's fucking sweet. The palette alone is solid gold, and the back copy sounds so ... epic.
“World of Fire and Storm… Were the Sawls the friendly, primitive people they seemed to the Terran scientific and mining expedition? Or did their mazelike Cave cities house secrets humans weren’t meant to learn? Was Weather the state religion of a superstitious race living on a planet beset by violent storms and devastating droughts? Or should the scientists believe the Sawl myths of rival goddesses, warring with weapons of fire and flood?
The Terrans were seeking both knowledge and minerals, but on Fiix knowledge could be as deadly as the weather—and could force the humans to choose sides in a “battle” that would prove the salvation or end of the Sawls.”
Sounds baller, right? Massive, world-altering storms, almost certainly controlled by god-like alien beings? Hell yeah; I'm so in.
Until, of course, I'm met with the textbook-like prose of our local meteorologist who is just so baffled by this weather.
"Even with the planet's month-long day, the winds should keep the surface temp from varying much, certainly not as much as zero to seventy! Perihelion was thirty-six hours ago, my model says the global average should be 115 degrees, high summer in the desert, and here we are, socked in for six weeks under ten meters of snow! So much for the rational method!"
Ignoring the fact that these are some sort of rogue scientists who want to watch the world burn by mixing metric with Fahrenheit, just dear cod. That paragraph is so boring. As a one-off, whatever, but this is how about half of what I've read reads.
The other half? Bitchy, catty women. And this one pisses me off because, ffs, we have a bunch of women in bad ass roles—captain, pilot, doctor, researcher—and all they do is treat each other like shit and fight. And not even good fights about things that matter, but stupid spiteful shit done for no apparent reason other than being bored or in a bad mood.
No. Just no. What a waste.
So half the story is boring weather, the other half is boring drama. All of it is over-written. A simple fight lasts pages. Agonizing over not understanding the weather patterns lasts pages. This is in part because the characters retrace their ground several times, and in part because everyone is always straightening themselves on their stool while brushing an errant strand of hair from their shoulder and rubbing a knot in their back while they think thoughtfully, and, with pursed lips, say what they're thinking. "No."
At one point, someone 'jeered noisily,' as if jeering were normally a quiet affair. On several occasions, people pointed 'blunt fingers' at monitors, as if the default finger-shape were spear-tipped. For some reason one fellow is regularly described as having lizard eyes, or a lizard smile, and I'm hoping I just missed the sentence that labelled him a lizard-like alien species because that would be so much less lame.
But then I read "Danforth's shoulders drew up around his neck as if seeking to deny their natural broadness, thereby perhaps avoiding some part of the burden currently weighing on them," and knew I didn't miss anything.
Danforth, by the way, is a Black man. I utterly understand the value of explicitly stating that. A certain amount of bluntness is necessary—Rue from The Hunger Games proved that. But, you know, going on to say that 'the black man shook his head,' and 'the black man rubbed his chin,' and 'the black man pursed his lips' is just weird and gross.
I admit I didn't even come close to finishing the book, so I can't say for sure, but I'd be willing to bet that the phrase 'the white man' is never used, if only because there are enough white men that it would be an ambiguous description, which, in itself, highlights part of the problem.
The fact that another character—presumably either white or a literal lizard-person, it's hard to say—keeps calling Danforth 'boy,' and makes some sort of joke about how Danforth will feel comfortable on this alien planet because of natives banging drums in the desert, further put me on edge. But as I suspect this racist character is going to evolve to be at least a partial antagonist, I just gritted my teeth and wondered if his bigotry would ever be called out as such.
So why did I stop reading on page 40?
This is a gem, so you better prepare yourself. Deep breaths and all that. You can only experience this line for the first time once. Ready? Here we go.
"Clausen considered a moment, then pushed himself away from the console, tugging at invisible cuffs and cackling like a mischievous dwarf."
I know. No matter how ready you thought you were, you weren't ready. That sentence is bad in at least five different—boring—ways. I was largely desensitized to the first four ways by this point, but my defenses weren't worn down enough for that stupid-ass simile. He cackled like a mischievous dwarf. A mischievous dwarf.
A mischievous dwarf.
I closed the book and for the rest of my bus ride played a stupid game on my phone that, ironically enough, involved burning paper.
Despite all this, though, I am strangely sad that I'll never uncover the secrets of the goddess-influence weather. If you've read The Wave and the Flood, I'd love for you to scoot forward on your chair, rub at a stain on your desk with your thumb and index figure, wrinkle your nose as if trying to scratch an itch without using your hands, and leave me a high-level summary in the comments.
No, seriously, I am oddly intrigued even though I just can't with the writing.
Cover art by R. Courtney—at least, that’s what it looks like the signature says. The barcode cuts it off. From browsing other art attributed to R. Courtney, though, I think I got it right.
P.S. I found this flyer inside the book. Man, I hate living in the future.