Dave Hutchinson’s novella ‘The Push’ was nominated for the BSFA award a couple of years back and was a very fine piece of space opera indeed. His new novel ‘Europe In Autumn’ was also nominated for the BSFA award. It’s of a completely different style and sub-genre but is a very worthy nominee. The book is set somewhere in the not too distant future and, other than the time frame, its SFnal elements are minimal, barring a few possibly futuristic gadgets. The dystopian setting and the cynical, almost satirical, portrayal of where Europe is heading from the current economic and migrant crises lend the book an air of the extraordinary in what is otherwise a familiar time and place.
The protagonist Rudi works as a chef, has travelled a lot in Europe and has an interest in languages. Through a series of slightly murky events, he is recruited by a pan-European postal/smuggling/trafficking agency known as Les Courreurs du Bois and his life becomes a whole lot more interesting, confusing and dangerous. The story jumps about several times, interspersed with wry flashbacks and I soon gave up trying to look for a single plot but sat back to appreciate a crazily enjoyable tour of Europe. Even right up to the end, I was a little baffled as to what the plot was, but the individual set pieces and the secondary characters brought in to set up each new chapter were lovingly crafted and hugely entertaining.
Languages have always been an interest of mine, as well as geographical history (or is that historical geography?), so I found the snippets of information woven into the story about the backgrounds and histories of many of the cities and states to be an added bonus. How true any of those back stories are I don’t really know, but they were fabulously detailed. The comparison of different languages, their styles and usage and how they sound to speakers of other languages also gave the book a wonderfully cosmopolitan feel and dragged it as far away from the standard much-lamented Anglophone protagonist as is feasible.
The story grew more fantastical as the book progressed, with the tone varying from grim humour to seemingly outright comedy to dark thriller to urban fantasy. In the early parts of the book, I found this unsettling and couldn’t quite put my finger on what the book was aiming at or how I should take it. This unevenness smoothes out eventually, though more through familiarity than by any settling of the prose, into an expected or classifiable pigeonhole. The back cover describes at as ‘a Science Fiction thriller like no other’ and I would have to go further because the term ‘Science Fiction thriller’ doesn’t even begin to describe what this book is like.
All I can say is that you should read it. I have a feeling everyone will take away something different and view it in a different light. It’s definitely worth sitting down and letting it wash over you in its own anarchic, indefinable way.
Gareth D. Jones
(pub: Solaris/Rebellion. 317 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). $ 7.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78108-195-2)
check out website: www.solarisbooks.com