In a future, high-tech Dublin, bounty hunters search for clones who possess a momentous secret linked to a distant planet.
This literary sci-fi novel from Sparling (The Western Killer, 2015) takes place largely in future Dublin, and there is a too-easy temptation to associate it with Joyce’s Dubliners. Just add robots and crank up the lyrical/bardic quality of the storyteller’s language and ruminations. A free-roaming and chronologically recursive narrative reveals that, thanks to geography, Dublin has largely weathered the climate change that spawned jungles throughout the rest of Ireland. But society remains at the mercy of organized crime, and a cruel new hostage scheme has kidnappers plugging comatose victims into transparent automaton exoskeletons wired with bombs. When they go on bank-robbing sprees, police cannot interfere because the hulks are technically innocent bystanders. High in the rackets is a woman named Quennie. Her one-time mentor and the father of her son, Rohan, was one of four clones commissioned by a mysterious adventurer and space-war fugitive guarding a consciousness-altering resource on a distant planet. Knowing the mob would never leave him alone about it, he seeded himself in the scattered clones so the secret would survive. Now bounty hunters are targeting the clones, and Rohan must complete the quest. In the interstitials and marginalia of the drifting narrative, Sparling laments the addled condition of poor Homo sapiens, burdened with self-destructive greed, lust, violence, addictions, and existential dread. Characters thirst for meaning and hope in a transitory universe where God seems to have found better things to do—lofty thoughts indeed, beyond ray-gun stuff, strongly expressed with a great deal of passion. Wisely, the material has the page count of a trim book of verse rather than the brick-thick exegesis preferred by a few scribes of experimental sci-fi. Nor does Sparling make the mistake of imitating the style of sci-fi’s grandmaster poet/philosopher (and confirmed Hibernophile) Ray Bradbury. A subplot about a war between galactic empire kingdoms, the “Khans” and the “Cantonese,” is either a jarring, far-out intrusion or a coded metaphor for more mundane, terrestrial matters—as could be the entire novel, for that matter.
Bloomsday meets The Twilight Zone via a winding and densely philosophical sci-fi tale packed into a slim volume.