This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Moving along to The Invisible Tether, by JP McDonald.
Note: This review has somewhat more spoiler than usual for me, so you were warned.
I was excited to see that this was written by an Australian, albeit a Sydney Australian. Heh, better than nothing I suppose … immediately, I decided this author – and this book – would face an uphill battle for my fair and impartial approval.
No, I kid. What I ended up with here was a really cool and distinctive story told in a way that … well, it could just be confirmation bias on my part but the richness of the visual storytelling and the style in general was reminiscent of other Australian authors’ work, like The Break and 90 Packets of Instant Noodles by Deb Fitzpatrick, or anything by Lucas Thorn, really. This feels the same. I haven’t read enough Australian authors to say for sure but my coincidental anecdotal evidence is compelling.
Our hero, Cooper, is headed to off on a sporting (footy? Netball? To be honest I zoned out on that part but it wasn’t super important) trip amidst shark warnings (hahaha an Aussie classic) and cloning announcements on the radio. There’s a very weird hijacking attempt and the plane crashes in the Queensland jungle.
There are a few survivors, Lost– or possibly Alive-style, and then – suddenly clones! Are they the new world order? How did this happen? It all happened weirdly fast but I was definitely into the super-florid writing style. Its cloying verbiage provided a strange way of slowing the pace down without adding a lot of filler, so the action itself kept clipping along – just with a lot of filigree and curlicues all the fuck over it. Which I like.
The story that unfolds at this point is all very weird, dreamlike and surreal, and as anxiety-inducingly paranoid as you would expect with murderous clones in the jungles of Queensland and also emergent superpowers (yeah, the survivors of the plane crash, who aren’t clones, start getting superpowers for some reason). What’s happening? About 45% into the story, we see the beginning of a trickle of clues about what is happening and how it connects to the clone thing at the start. I was equal parts fascinated by the weirdness and trapped in the quicksand-like prose, but I can’t promise every reader will want to or be able to stick around that far to find out what’s going on.
The clones, who are Invasion of the Bodysnatchersing the world bit by bit, starting with the Florida of Australia (which, I’m not even going to fault them, it’s the last place weirdness would even be questioned), have some kind of inherent evil because of course they do, identical twins and clones are evil, we know this, it wouldn’t be such a prevalent part of our popular culture if there wasn’t a grain of truth to it and we’re lucky creators like McDonald are out there spreading the word. Anyway Cooper can see the evil, can see the evil as a cool green glow, as part of (but not all of) his superpower. But he can only do it with the eyes – a fake set of eyes, say from a human, can fool him … man, there’s a lot going on here.
Ironically, the clones dub the humans “the Evil Eleven” and declare them enemies of the state (of Queensland, just for clarity). There’s nothing left but for the intrepid emergent-superhero gang from the plane crash to make their way back to civilisation, and then save civilisation. From the clones. Using their superpowers. In Queensland.
No, look, I know it sounds fucking insane, but McDonald really pulls it off.
The love story that’s folded through this surreal horror adventure was very sweet, I really liked it. Simple and pure and just uplifting in every way. Does it register on the sex-o-meter, though? Well, barely. Cooper and Zoey have a cute courtship amidst the weirdness. They do a couple of sexes. And if you thought the writing was picturesque during the non-sex scenes, does McDonald have a treat in store for you. Cooper was pretty dense about Kasey though, in my opinion – that whole thing was sad. But look at me, languishing over the ‘characters’ and their ‘interactions’ like some sort of weirdo, when the important thing was how many times they got their fuck on. Well, like I said, a couple of times? The Invisible Tether gets one invisible tether out of a possible extremely visible tether around [update celebrity name to keep with the times]’s neck when they are [found dead / snapped by TMZ / running for President of the USA / convinced it’s a cure for something].
The plane crash and injuries in the aftermath are plenty gory right from the start. The assorted killings and the magnetronic mayhem at the end is pretty vivid too. Two-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
This right here is the good stuff, people. This is high grade artisanal WTF right from the trunk. The clones threat turned into a sort of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers thing like I said, which is a nice premise but I couldn’t help but conclude it could have been more tidily set up and introduced to the narrative. But then I guess it had to be set apart from other Invasion of the Bodysnatchers stories somehow. Just … did it have to be set apart by being … sorry, but kind of a mess? Make no mistake, I was enthralled and didn’t care, but when it came time to get all my thoughts down and I was left with a dizzy stream of consciousness, I realised there could maybe have been more structure and plan to it. I don’t know. The inclusion of superpowers certainly made it more interesting, although the explanation for said superpowers was way too random and out of nowhere – and kind of late in the game, almost an exposition-debriefing at the end of the main narrative. The whole clone pod infrastructure felt way too fast – when did all this happen? But okay. It all adds up to a glorious festival of WTF, and we like festivals of WTF. The Invisible Tether scores three Dharma logos out of a possible I Hiked Out Of The Andes And All I Got Was This Stupid
Napkin T-Shirt T-shirt.
My Final Verdict
Three stars! I loved the writing, as distracting as it was sometimes. It may not be for everyone but words are our friends and we should let as many of them do as much weird shit to each other as they want to. Stop being a prude. The story itself was cool, but I have to say, kind of a shambles. I don’t see how there could still be clones after the climax, there needed to be better set-up allowing for their survival, or some other mechanic for killing them. Sorry. I couldn’t, ultimately, say where and when the clones had come from, what the superpowers were about, any of it. And why. And how. All the journalistic questions, really. Except where. It was Queensland. Queensland!
Oh, and the epilogue hit hard. Lots of tying up and narration, a bit checklisty … but then the final scene was memorable.