The Lost Island

June 10, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

islandThe Lost Island by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

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I picked up this book-on-CD on impulse at a thrift store a few weeks back. It was cheap, it was by a couple of authors I have enjoyed, and it would give me something to do while driving to and from work every day. The thing is, it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book of theirs, and even when I did, I recognized that their books didn’t hold up under close scrutiny. Little did I realize that listening to a book instead of reading it makes the problems with the story stand out even more.

To start with, Gideon Crew, the main character, is pretty stupid. He’s supposed to be a genius of some kind, but he makes stupid moves throughout the story. I don’t mean making poor choices due to muddled judgment or anything like that; that would make his character more interesting. Instead, he just makes dumb choices that are more for moving the plot along instead of doing anything that supports his character.

Now, granted, this is the third book in a series of books featuring the character, so maybe I’ve missed some of his development. Still, these books are intended to be standalone stories featuring the same character, and when you leap into a story assuming your readers are going to know your character based off of previous books, you’re going to lose some of them. It reminded me a lot of Robert Langdon from Dan Brown’s books. In fact, the entire book reminded me of a Dan Brown book, since the characterization was inconsistent, the story was a one-trick pony, and the narrative was pretty horrible.

Anyway, back to Gideon. I had issues with his character from the beginning, since he goes to great lengths to steal a page from the Book of Kells. The entire thieving process involves subjecting the book to explosions, gases, cutting a page from the book, and then spraying the page with sunscreen — sunscreen! Onto a page from a book that’s over a thousand years old! — but then when the people who hire him to steal the page dissolve the paint from the page to see what’s underneath, he loses it because they’re destroying a priceless piece of art. Even though he’s already done all that other stuff to it, when it’s been kept in a pristine environment to protect it from the elements. Plus, he’s a bit of a jerk, and strikes me as someone who would be a men’s rights advocate, especially considering how he responds to discovering his partner for the job is a woman.

Then again, the authors don’t spend a whole lot of time on characterization anyway. In fact, they don’t spend much time on anything but plot. Much of what happens is told to us, instead of seeing it happen. This isn’t necessarily that the authors tell instead of show (though the do), but that instead of seeing how a character responds to a situation, we read a description of what the situation is instead. Plus, and if there’s any book that drives home how adverbs tell instead of show, this is the one. We don’t get to see the sweat break out on anyone’s brow, or experience the tightening of one’s stomach, or see the subtle shaking of someone’s hands; the character just “acts nervously”.

Preston and Child also fall into the trap of having characters explain things to other characters when there’s no need to do so. You know, the whole “You’re familiar with…”, “Of course…”, “Then you already know that…” exchange that smacks of poor storytelling. That happens a lot. And they tell a lot of the story instead of showing it to us. Maybe I was more attuned to it because I was listening to someone else read it as opposed to reading it myself, but I couldn’t believe how bad the writing was.

Plot-wise, the story is a bit random, like an episode of The Simpsons from the last ten years or so. We start off with Gideon stealing a page out of the Book of Kells, mentioned above. It involves him staking out the museum, coming up with a plan, executing it (while focusing a lot of attention on a tertiary character who doesn’t serve any use in the plan, and is never heard from again), and then having his debriefing with the character who hired him to do the job. It’s important to have that page to get the rest of the story going, but it seems weird to put the focus on that plot when the book isn’t even the maguffin in the story.

The story is actually about the titular lost island, and once the story finally gets there, I realized how ridiculous it is that it could be lost at all. The authors describe the island as lush, with jungles, 1000-foot cliffs, and enough animals — armadillos, rats, and two different kinds of monkeys, among others — that suggest this island is huge. It would have to be, to support that kind of life, but it’s supposedly been lost for thousands of years, which strains credibility for me. In a world with satellites and instant communications, it’s hard to believe an island that large, that harbored that much life, would go unnoticed.

The authors also bring in the concept of psychohistory, from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, but they use it as a means for someone to predict another person’s behavior. Given that the main tenet of psychohistory is that it can’t predict an individual’s behavior, and that the concept only works when extrapolated over hundreds or thousands of years, it doesn’t ring true to the story. Maybe they weren’t expecting their readers to be familiar with the idea of psychohistory, though, and figured they could get away with it.

The narrator of the audio book — David W. Collins — is fine. His delivery is crisp and formal, and he doesn’t read so fast that I got lost in the narrative. He has a (mostly) distinct voice for each character, and he seems pretty good with accents, but whenever he spoke for a Latino character, I couldn’t get a sense that his accent fit. Also, when a character had to yell, he wasn’t really yelling; he was just affecting a yell. I don’t know if that’s normal in audio books (I don’t listen to enough of them to tell), but it was a little distracting.

I could keep going, but look, I’ve said before that Preston and Child are a guilty pleasure. I enjoyed the hell out of The Relic and especially Riptide, and I recommend them a lot, but The Lost Island is a wreck. I’d probably be even more angry about it if I had actually read the book, but since I listened to the book in the car while driving, I at least didn’t waste time with it.

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