Today a review of a fairly short, rather weird (or should I say: extravagant) book that not many people had heard about. Collick was a lecturer in literature and philosophy, a co-producer of Japan movies, author of non-fiction and TV scripts long before he became a SF/fantasy author. Thumb is his debut in the field, and the first installment in the Colossus sequence. I believe it had been self-published at first (or maybe I’m prejudiced by looking at the cover ;)); or maybe simply not advertised. The fact is, I learned about this book from Adrian Tchaikovsky’s blog; it was one of the books he recommended, and the premise intrigued me enough to buy it (Yay, Kindle!). I said the book was fairly short – it’s self-explanatory when you look at the number of pages – 357; I also said it’s rather weird. And that bit requires much longer explanation on the blog where even New Weird is treated like something mundane…
So let’s start. The premise is simple: the Universe is dying. Every sentient race had long ago abandoned it, moved on to other Universes where life is still possible. It sounds impossible, but it can be done – through a white hole, a God Door. And by now every race did it – except humans. You see, every race wishing to reach another Universe must be carried there by their God. A being far greater that even the sum of the individuals in each race, a being of surpassing abilities. Humanity, warned of the impending end of the world, started building their God centuries, millennia earlier. But their God, one they built in their own image, a mind-numbing colossus floating in the space like a giant, strangely shaped planet, is dead. Or more precisely, has never lived. Humans created every single hair and bone in the body of their God; but they could not create His soul.
On the surface of the God humans still eke out their living, clustered in small, mostly self-sustainable (and a bit Medieval in their general outlook, state-cities and kingdoms and authoritarian, hereditary rulers and whatnot) cities like Metacarpi or Ear or Knuckle, or Thumb, named creatively after the part of the body they occupy.
Weird enough? Well, if not, here’s another bit for you. People would never figure out that if they want to survive, they are in sore need of God, if not for the Black Rose race. A superior alien race, with incredibly advanced science and technology, and with some peculiar ideas about the lower races – like humans. Black Rose race had shown humanity how to build their God, they had shown humans how to mine energy and resources – scarce in a dying Universe – from the past. Accessing a timewell is increasingly dangerous and less and less effective, but still doable, because the death of something so big like Universe takes time. But if humanity wants to survive, they will need to create a soul for their God. And that’s the one thing they don’t know how to do.
That’s the premise. It’s really super cool, very unusual and fresh, and it’s the thing that encouraged me to pick up this book in the first place. What about the characters? The main protagonist, Max Ocel is someone like Indiana Jones/Peter Pan with a serious, unresolved father problem. But he will need to grow up really quickly when he stumbles on a nasty plot of murder and conquer, and most of all, when he discovers a giant. He will get help from unexpected quarters, he will face betrayal and many tough decisions… because of course, the fate of all humankind will soon rest in his hands.
I’ll be frank. The worldbuilding is superb; it is obvious that Collick spent a lot of time tinkering with his creation, polishing it and removing possible inconsistencies. But the characters are much less so; they are… painfully predictable. Flat and two-dimensional, they serve as vehicles for the plot and the philosophical musings of the author. They are more like posters than living, breathing characters. The beautiful, cold and treacherous blonde. The ugly girl, a loyal friend who dreams of being something more. The Saruman-like figure, complete with a tower and a palantír. And the stark, unforgiving father figure, broken by an old trauma, but still filled with deep, even if rough, fatherly love.
The writing is… uneven. Sometimes strong, sometimes really awkward, as if the book was missing a good editor. But that’s something that can be overlooked. However, the same goes for the plot, I’m afraid. It is predictable. Don’t expect demonic, perverse intelligence in the twists and turns of the action. It goes “by the book”, one step at a time, and the author clearly concentrates more on the worldbuilding than the plot, with great results for the former, but to the obvious detriment of the latter.
There are charming bits of oldschool science fiction, of steampunk, of straight fantasy (the towers!) and adventure… All spiced with a tasty, refreshing, slightly philosophical sauce. The only problem I have with Thumb is, to keep the culinary metaphor (I’ve no idea where it came from; I must be hungry) that the main dish – the plot, the characters – is so blatantly bland.
Still, it is a pretty decent read, something suitable for long, lazy summer days. It will awaken your imagination, show you new, intriguing and often eerily beautiful vistas, and make you grind your teeth in a frustrated wish for more fleshed out characters. There are two more books in the sequence, already out, but I haven’t reached out for them. There is a possibility that I will, one day, but it’s rather small. I truly enjoyed the amazing world Collick had created, but to keep me going through a series I need believable, strong characters as well.