Fictional Alignment by Mike French (ebook review).

‘Fictional Alignment ‘ follows on from Mike French’s first book, ‘An Android Awakes’.

Saphira has published the stories that PD12928 told her. She was the first human to publish a book in an age of android publishing and it has become a bestseller. The androids are furious about this. They attack her home and force her and some others to go on a journey back in time to re-enact the events in her book so that they will become a part of history.

This story is very different from ‘An Android Awakes’ in that it follows more of a traditional novel format. The first few chapters were interesting, however the book quite quickly lost a sense of plot. There was absolutely nothing to keep the reader invested, to the extent that I would have given up on it only a little way in to the book, if I wasn’t reading it for review.

Character motivations were very unclear. For example, it was very unclear as to why the characters other than the androids who were acting on behalf of the government to make the re-enactments happen, didn’t make more of an effort to escape the re-enactments or at least to be less cooperative. Furthermore, the relationships they formed with each other and other characters they met were formed quite quickly, where there seemed no reason for there to be a connection between the characters.

This may be in part linked to the rather philosophical beliefs that are very blatantly advocated throughout the book about the nature of fact and fiction. The book advocates the belief that fiction does not need to make sense. While I’m all for breaking the rules and conventions of storytelling, there need to be creative reasons for this and it needs to produce a finished piece that is delivered in a way that will resonate with audiences and that they can engage with. However, the belief that fiction does not need to make any sense with a view to a complete lack of conventions in storytelling leads to confusing messes like this book. But arguably more concerning is that the narrative further advocates the idea that fact is unimportant and irrelevant. It advocates that fiction does not need to have any basis in fact, nor is fact important in general society. This idea is very harmful.

Firstly, the idea that fact is irrelevant, makes absolutely no sense. Facts help us to successfully navigate the world. For example, it is facts about different materials that help builders build structures that do not fall down. It is facts about the nutritional value of food that help us choose what to eat to keep ourselves healthy. It is facts about what symptoms cause what diseases are that help doctors treat us when we are ill. To follow a philosophy where we believe facts are irrelevant and unimportant, would lead to a complete loss of functionality in the world.

Facts being irrelevant in the context of fiction, while being a discussion that is highly nuanced, is a belief that I would argue is ultimately harmful. In fact, ‘Fictional Alignment’ is in itself is a text book example of how harmful this belief can be.

French uses his belief that facts are irrelevant to fiction to represent multiple diverse groups in a way that is inappropriate and offensive. For example, a character decides to change gender from male to female. I do not have in depth knowledge of gender transition however, from what I know, it was handled extremely poorly. For example, there is no exploration of the decision to change gender. They change certain features from male to female and when asked by another character express ambivalence about gender, despite being physically half-male and half-female at that point in the narrative. Furthermore, shortly thereafter, they transition to being a woman and suddenly take up rather feminine practises. These sort of transitions and decisions, are usually made with much thought and on the basis of a strong belief about which gender the individual feels they identify as. This was handled in a manner akin to deciding what to have for dinner.

Similarly, French’s handling of disability representation was extremely contradictory, unrealistic and offensive. One of the characters becomes blind quite far in to the story. Shortly thereafter, he is travelling around an unfamiliar city completely independently. However, a short time later, he is not able to go down a flight of stairs that he has recently gone up, in order to fetch someone who is waiting at the bottom. This is extremely contradictory and inaccurate. It would not be possible for a blind person who has just lost their sight to navigate an unfamiliar city independently.

They would need to learn a great deal of skills relating to independent navigation. Furthermore, even if that were somehow possible, it doesn’t make sense that they would then not be able to reverse a short route through a building that they’d recently taken. But the representation gets worse than this because, according to the story, it would be too inconvenient for a character to help him go back downstairs, he is instead magically cured by a character they have just met. This ultimately invalidates and erases the experience of blindness as the character is magically cured, a trope that the disability community find offensive. Furthermore, the fact that it was seen as an inconvenience for someone to help him is extremely ableist.

Similarly, there is a plot-line towards the end of the book that I can’t talk about in too much detail as it would be a significant spoiler where an important figure in monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam is a character in the story and portrayed in a way that believers in these faiths would find offensive. I know it can be argued that it is fiction and, while this is true, the role that this character ends up having in the story makes very limited sense to the story and is ultimately very disrespectful to the religious beliefs of a good proportion of the world.

Furthermore, the book is brimming with misogyny and sexism to the extent that there are occasions where the characters themselves acknowledge this. Now, it’s understandable that a writer may choose to explore these issues through having characters who hold beliefs of this nature or through plot lines where characters experience these things. However, in the case of this book, the narrative itself is highly misogynistic. The most prominent example is that female characters are very frequently described as wearing very little clothing and their bodies are described in general scenes in a manner that would only be appropriate in intimate scenes or accounts of medical procedures.

Overall, the book is extremely unentertaining, none of the story elements are effective and it is put together in a way that promotes discriminatory attitudes towards a variety of groups and contains content that many sections of society may quite rightly find offensive. Not only would I not recommend this book, but I am disappointed that the publisher thought it was appropriate to publish.

Rebecca Thorne

July 2018

(pub: Elsewhere Press. 384 page ebook. Price: $ 2.99 (UK). ASIN: B078XGJWGL)

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