Book Review: Emergence by Nick M. Lloyd


Emergence is the debut novel by British SF novelist Nick M Lloyd.

There are two main settings in which events take place: firstly Earth, through the central human characters of journalist with a grudge Louise, her physicist hubby Jeff Harding, their other physicist pal Mike, and Jack Bullage, a shady businessman, car-crash survivor and the subject of Louise’s grudges; and secondly a nameless spacecraft, stationed somewhere a hundred miles above our planet, where a crew of seemingly emotionally-unstable reptilian humanoid creatures known as the Gadium act as benign dictators, or stewards, for various intergalactic planets, of which Earth is only one. The Gadium see it as their duty to shepherd a planet to Emergence – a state of the alteration of that planet’s population akin to a giant evolutionary leap, allowing the planet’s inhabitants to use increased psychic gifts. If this sounds like something cooked up in one of David Icke’s more paranoid daydreams, the reality is more like a John Grisham style thriller, and brings the strengths of other genres to SF.

The idea of the Emergence is a neat one, and elevates the story from being another humdrum conspiracy thriller into a real SF-thinker, bringing in wider themes such as the morality of physics (particularly free will versus predetermination, which is worthy of its own article) and the imposition of huge centralized state surveillance (in the form of both the Earth Governments and the aliens) versus good old fashioned liberty. Lloyd’s love and enthusiasm for theoretical physics and quantum theory is clear, and he helpfully uses a number of clever analogies to explain some of the weirder theories (Many Worlds, Copenhagen etc) to the layreader. Having said that, he fails to explain Jeff’s Dragon’s Door analogy, which left me a little disappointed… come on, Nick, tell us what it is!

The dichotomy between the settings also marks a kind of dichotomy of tone and pace as well. The Earth scenes are terrific – they are pacy, humorous, and the chemistry works really very well between all the characters concerned. Supporting characters like academic Bob and reformed gangster Willis are written well and don’t feel one-dimensional, although Willis seemed a little underused for my taste.

Contrarily, the Gadium scenes are a little stiff, especially in the early scenes. I postulated upon this, and decided that, from a personal perspective, I found it very difficult to care or sympathise with either Aytch or Justio, the two Gadium leads, even though they are revealed to have very different motivations and justifications for.., their actions towards the end. I think this is because both creatures are non-human, and both represent a sort of sprawling, not-benign statism which runs contrary to ideas of human liberty. So, even though their characters are different, I found their differences to be overwhelmed by their sameness.

This sameness made the middle sections of the book sag ever so slightly, because I found it difficult to care about the backstories of Aytch and Justio, and there are a couple of chapters where the writing threatens to veer into info-dump territory; luckily, Lloyd is quick to return to Earth each time, where the conflict, threat and humour is something the reader can believe and empathise with much more easily. And, after the halfway point, the book picks up in pace in a big way, and accelerates towards a very tense and taut action-packed climax, where events both on and above Earth intertwine in a satisfying resolution, and there’s a tantalizing clue as to the direction of where the intergalactic story goes next.

From a technical viewpoint, some of the Gadium dialogue jars slightly – they seem to dispense with Earth colloquialisms slightly too often for my liking – would a reptilian refer to himself as being painted into a corner? Unless they’ve built their galactic empire based on painting and decorating, I’d say not. Furthermore, the number of POV characters seems to swell inexplicably around the halfway point, with some characters given only a paragraph or two of POV, third-person close narration time, and then it’s taken away, which seems stilted and pointless.

Still, the presentation of the book, the professional polish and the neat, pacy writing voice that Lloyd brings to Emergence make it, as I have already stated, the best independent book I have read so far, and I would highly recommend it to any lover of SF, conspiracy thrillers.

The Talent and The Technique

Writing can be a Sisyphean task for the amateur. All those drafts, all that effort, only for your damn manuscript to fall back down to the bottom of the valley. I wonder if Sisyphus used to think: “ok, next time I’ll definitely be finished.” If so, he was as foolish as he was strong.

Inkeeping with the boulder metaphors, I recently invited SFF Chrons readers to throw rocks at the first 1000 words of Jewels, through the excellent Critiques feature. I figured that it would get some decent feedback, and I’d get some pointers about tone, feeling, that sort of thing.

Oh, boy.

I’d always considerd myself to be a talented writer: a good wordsmith with an excellent literary education and background, and all those good things. I still think that – despite the cliches, I don’t think writers, particularly independent or amateur writers, benefit from suffering-artist false modesty. But some of the technical areas that were pointed out to me were staggering: certain types of repetition, stylistic points, POV details… all were highlighted, giving me plenty of work to do in (groan) the next draft. 

At this stage, I have a serviceable manuscript, and might think myself within my rights to simply leave it be and move on to the next one. but such temptations are quite common within the writing fraternity and actually don’t do anybody any favours. Writers are quick to complain about the stringent rules set out by agents when requesting submissions; one recalls the old office cartoon where the boss says :”give me some creative thinking. Within these guidelines.”

Exposure to my peers has given me a greater appreciation for the technical aspects of writing; sure, it’s difficult, and requires timento get right, but one has to earn one’s stripes. One has to earn the right to be creative, take risks and break the rules. And it’s worth remembering that one can break the rules much better if one knows them in the first place. Unless you’re disgustingly talented or lucky, or absolutely nail the zeitgeist, you never start off at the top. And that’s ok. It’s no bad thing to work up fom the bottom, although Sisyphus might not agree.