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25 February, 2004

Review: 'Hallucinating' (Stephen Palmer, 2004)

As I mentioned last month, a new sci-fi book has been released recently: 'Hallucinating', by Stephen Palmer.

This book was listed at Amazon as 'print on demand'. I'm not entirely sure what that means, and whether my copy was literally produced for me, in a print run of one. The cover price was certainly rather higher than that of a mass-market paperback.

A more significant question is whether this is a form of vanity publishing, whereby the author pays to have a book released rather than a publisher deciding to release a book purely on its literary/commercial merits. I don't think that was the case here, but 'Hallucinating' certainly seems to be under-edited. There are basic grammatic and even spelling errors throughout (for example 'alot' is used instead of 'a lot') and slang is used inappropriately (e.g. 'stylee' and 'choons' would be fine in dialogue, but aren't standard in third-person descriptive text) and inconsistently.
Particularly in the opening chapter, characters act with unnatural abruptness, which reads like work-in-progress, to be redrafted and filled-out before publication.
Conversely, the closing chapters suddenly explore, in depth, such abstract concepts as the nature of love and the purpose of laughter, which entirely ruins the pacing of the climactic scenes.
A decent editor could have suggested changes, and improved the result.

A central aspect of the book's marketing was that 'Hallucinating' features cameo appearences from musicians active in the 90s festival scene, such as Ed Wynne of the Ozric Tentacles, Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, and Richard Allen of Delerium Records. No doubt my cursory mention of those names here will be picked up by the search engines and generate a few hits on this page; the book relies on the same effect, and the name-checks are about as meaningful.

The book is set in the years following 2049, so all these musicians are elderly and their roles in the book bear no relevance to their earlier careers. For instance, a lead character meets a member of a Somerset resistance group (don't worry, that makes sense in context), who just happens to be Ed Wynne, but there's no real reason why it needs to be Wynne; had it been anyone else, the effect on the plot would have been identical.

Similarly, another lead character visits a mystic hermit living in a Cornish cave. This oracle could have been anyone, but for no apparent reason, it's Steven Wilson. Worse, this episode is barely mentioned afterwards, and has absolutely no effect on the plot - had these 2½ pages been simply omitted outright, the story wouldn't have been changed.

Richard Allen appears for three pages, again in a pointless digression lasting only for those three pages. Palmer's own website offers a draft of the first 63 pages of the book (try it, you might like it). At the same point in that version, the Richard Allen subplot isn't even mentioned, and the result is identical. Likewise Michael Dog: one page in the book, nothing in the web-published draft; no real difference between the two.

I can't decide whether this is all just self-indulgence or cynical marketing. Either way, it's counterproductive.

Try the sample chapters, and judge for yourself, but as someone who has read the whole thing, I can't recommend it.

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