“Radical Encounter” by William Kaufmann

There are no fixed rules about writing books, but some guidelines work because…well, they work. And one of the normally accepted guidelines is that main characters have to be instigators. They act. They do not allow themselves to be acted upon.

And it is only when an author breaks this rule that we understand why it exists. Madison, the heroine of this story, is the most acted upon character I have ever encountered. She is a complete puppet, prodded and pulled from the outside and the inside. In the first half of the book, her only choice seems to be whether to speak or to keep quiet. There seems to be a choice of whom to trust, but then the trust is always broken.

This makes the beginning the story a very unhappy reading experience. There seems to be no hope for her, and if there is no hope, why should we keep reading?

And there is another “rule” broken in this book. Don’t mix your magics. One metaphysical system is enough. A completely different genre throws the reader off. And one of the characters in this high-tech scientific future is an old-fashioned ghost. While the character is neatly spliced into the plot, on a thematic and metaphysical basis it’s a complete distraction. It’s asking us to suspend our disbelief just a little too far.

Except for these departures from the norm, in plot, characters, title and conflict, this book is well-written but very derivative. It seems to contain a meme from every good conspiracy theory/alien invasion/ government coverup story ever written. All tied together tightly and blended smoothly.

And it’s mixed up in a search for the meaning of love worthy of Robert Heinlein at his hippy-dippiest, finished by a “human responsibility” Close Encounters finale. Because of the plotline and the themes of the story, the ending cannot be anything but deus ex machina.

If ever there was going to be a novel written by artificial intelligence, this is it. Like most artwork done by AI, it has all sorts of good writing and ideas borrowed from many talented people, but it misses the boat on understanding what affects readers in the long run. The only hint of a fallible human author is a complete misunderstanding of the use of “lie, lay, laid.”

An enjoyable read, but basically unfulfilling.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

This review was originally published on Reedsy Discovery.

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