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The Unfortunate Expiration of Mr. David S. Sparks by William F. Aicher

book cover of The Unfortunate Expiration of Mr. David S. Sparks

There is a lot to like about this book. It deals with the potential environmental catastrophe facing this planet, from over-pollution to the collapse of food production. It imagines what human societies might look like after the crisis, with some in dome cities, others taking their chances scavenging in the poisonous wilds, others yet trying to establish free colonies. It also examines another interesting question, that of what is consciousness – can you transfer it into a computer system? Can you make copies of consciousness – make duplicate people? The pace of the book is brisk, with just enough description to bring its various locations vividly to life – humid biospheres, creepy fields of eyes…

This novel’s downfall, I felt, was in the characterisation. While the setting and background information were thoroughly established, the characters and the relationships between them were not so convincingly portrayed. There was an entire romance that developed over the course of one “then a few weeks passed” paragraph. David Sparks himself lacked a strong identity, which is of course the point of the book, but it made him a less-than-gripping protagonist. Most of the side characters seemed to lack depth, too. There are a lot of things Aicher did well, but strong characterisation was not one of them.

Overall, your enjoyment of this book is going to vary depending on what you want to get out of it. If you’re looking for a philosophical futuristic mystery with an ominous warning about where our society’s wanton environmental destruction is taking us, then jump right in – it’s excellent at being that. If you were hoping for more of a character-driven tale through the future, then recalibrate your expectations. I enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t all I’d hoped it would be.

★★★

a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.