Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Whole Wide World

Paul McAuley Whole Wide World (2002)
I'm vaguely aware of Paul McAuley having written some Doctor Who novella which was supposed to be good, and although I've read it, I can't even remember what it was called at the moment. More recently his short story Little Lost Robot so impressed me when it turned up in an issue of Interzone as to leave his name lodged in my head when I saw this in the buy it cheap before we pulp the lot sale from which I picked up Beyond the Beyond, Little Fuzzy and others; so what the fuck, I concluded. Why not?

There was some initial hesitation on my part because I recall enjoying Little Lost Robot almost in spite of how it was written, which seemed kind of shrill and screechy with a suggestion of someone trying far too hard. Whole Wide World is similarly shrill and screechy but I realise this is simply how McAuley writes and it actually works once you get used to it, particularly in the context of a hard-boiled cop thriller such as what this is. Part of the screechiness manifests here as pop culture references specific to my generation, and the title itself is of course taken from Wreckless Eric. I have reservations about this sort of deal, just as all those New Adventures with chapters named after songs by the fucking Cure or the Smiths used to irritate the living shit out of me, even if the books themselves were decent, as they sometimes were. It's probably not the fault of the author, but I think it annoys me in apart because it's the sort of thing I used to do before I learned how to write - chuck in a few references to your fave band so everyone knows how cool you are and hopefully nobody will notice that you can't write; plus I'm still horrified by the continued existence of terminally beige Doctor Who authors of a certain vintage whose work these days mainly comprises hanging around on bulletin boards having opinions and making joking references to having once been a contender. If you're not sure what I mean here, just find some Who themed forum and look for threads debating which was the greatest Style Council album.

Anyway, it's irritating but McAuley just about gets away with it because the rest is so engaging as for you not to notice. Although that said, the novel is not without its problems in other respects. Amongst these, the most pronounced is probably it being centred around the inevitably gruesome murder of a teenage girl who, for the purpose of the plot, may as well be a prostitute. The video of her murder is all over the internet so as to make a number of somewhat blunt points about voyeurism, freedom of information, and so on; but the choice of victim tends to align the work with a thousand other lazily-drawn dramas in which we don't have to worry too much about the pivotal bucket of bloody innards because it was only a prostitute and was therefore probably complicit in its own murder by some means. So at heart, Whole Wide World may as well be Lynda La Plante with aspirations.

Some of those aspirations were apparently sufficiently advanced in 2002 as to justify this being published as a science-fiction, but most of the technology fetishised herein has since become commonplace, leaving the novel as a weird kind of period piece in which everyone still smokes in the pub. It sort of strains towards William Gibson, but just doesn't quite have the language; and by the time our man jumps in his car and blasts out his tape of the Clash, I couldn't keep myself from thinking of Lester Girls and Apache Dick with their beloved Phil Collins album in Gerard Jones' The Trouble with Girls:

Whole Wide World isn't bad of it's type, and is quite possibly above average of its type, so I wasn't bored, just occasionally disappointed. This is mainly because it isn't really about anything. It just sort of points at a stack of porn and a CCTV camera whilst pulling a knowing face, and that's your lot. Need I say more?

Yes, because you didn't actually finish the sentence, Paul.

Paul McAuley can obviously write. I just think he could afford to be a bit more ambitious than he is here, and a bit less like he's aiming for the airport book stand.

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