Review by John for Tunnel Out of Death by Jamil Nasir
John’s quick take: An ambitious science fiction brain tease in which the protagonist “falls into an astonishing metaphysical shadow play”. What is real and what isn’t? What does real even mean?
John’s description: Set at some point in the future, the story revolves around Heath Ransom who is a very special kind of private investigator. He is a former police psychic and machine-enhanced “endovoyant” who is able to travel into etheric worlds in order to answer puzzles and to track down missing people.
Ransom is hired to find the consciousness of an extremely rich but comatose old woman and to try to bring it back to her body. However, while trying to track her down in the etheric world he finds a terrifying, dark vortex. Falling through the vortex he soon finds himself inhabiting the body of a young man who has just been poisoned by his girlfriend. This in turn leads him into an ever-darker investigation involving government conspiracies, mutants, corruption, torture, self-aware artificial intelligence, androids and attempted immortality.
In deadly danger himself, Ransom starts to jump back and forth between the two worlds. He then finds out that much of what he thought was real is in fact artificial and as paranoia and conspiracy abounds, he starts to doubt his own sanity.
John’s thoughts: Where to start? Well, it is a very interesting idea on which to base a novel. I like how it started and was quickly pulled into the plot. Soon, however, two things started to happen. Firstly, I started to hit some dense pieces of text that were so full of obscure words and complex ideas that I didn’t comprehend them even after a few re-reads. There weren’t loads of sections like this, but there were enough to make it a difficult read. Secondly, as the novel progressed, the underlying (and interesting) story almost disappeared into the background, seemingly having become just a vehicle to explore some complex concepts and ideas.
Nonetheless I stuck with it as Nasir did create an interesting future world and I did like many of his ideas. Sadly, for me the underlying story didn’t come to any sort of satisfactory ending; in fact I really disliked how the novel ends. Having spent so long building details and ideas, I think the ending is rushed and a bit glib.
Part way through the book I thought this was going to be a four-star read, but having lost the plot (almost literally) and not liking the conclusion, I’d only rate this three stars. Who would like it? Well the jacket references Philip K. Dick, as do some other reviews that I saw out there. If you like Dick’s ideas and world view, this book might well appeal to you.
Tor Books| May 2013 | Hardcover | 304 pages
Jamil Nasir's third novel, Tower of Dreams, won France's top science fiction award, the Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire, and was runner up for the Philip K. Dick Award for best science fiction paperback published in the United States. His short story “The Nomalers” won a first prize in the Writers of the Future Award.