Till Human Voices Wake Us by Mark Budz (book review).

December 20, 2020 | By | Reply More

‘Till Human Voices Wake Us’ is a Science Fiction novel written by Mark Budz and published in 2007. The cover boldly pronounces ‘Hard SF’s Next Superstar’, so not having heard of this author, this reviewer decided to check out the author on-line. It seems that Budz had written several SF novels by this point. The first of these is named ‘Clade’ (2003) and was nominated for the Phillip K Dick Award. By 2007, I dare imagine it was possible to see Budz as a bright new star.

However it appears that ‘Till Human Voices Wake Us’ is the last thing he has so far written and so maybe Budz has not matured into the ‘Next SF Superstar’ as they thought.

The story itself concerns three seemingly unconnected men. Rudi Luachman has found religion following a bad motorcycle accident that he took a long time to recover from. He now broadcasts religious programming from a van and wears tin-foil under his hat to avoid surveillance. His story is set in an undetermined time that seems to be very recent and referenced only as ‘September’ at the start of Rudi’s chapters. When reading, I felt that his time was in the mid-90s.

It seems Rudi has had an unconventional earlier life living with his grandma and sister. His mother having vanished a while back and the father was never there in the first place. He spent his time building up his collection of Fortean Times-type magazines and new age science books and lived next door to a girl who hung up empty liquor bottles to defend against spirits.

Meanwhile, in San Franciso circa 1937, we meet Benjamin Taupe. Aged 32, Benjamin has unfortunately been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. Gradually, he is unable to continue his professional work and his partner, Zacchery, recommends an alternative treatment that benefitted his wife. Benjamin decides to try this and meets Madame Grurie, who runs strange fringe-science séances and workshops designed to put a person in contact with their eternal multi-dimensional soul. Grurie suggests that although Benjamin will soon pass on, if he is on contact with his eternal soul then he has a survival of sorts. Having little to lose, Benjamin agrees to go along with the programme.

Finally, we have Olavo. At some distant point in the future, mankind is exploring for habitable planets distant from Earth. This is achieved by creating digital copies of human beings and sending them out on spacecraft. Each simunculi, as they are known, has its own ship investigating different star systems. They communicate with Earth and each other via quantum entanglement and use virtual realities, known as design-space, to create simulations of life and evolution on planets in the system they are studying. However a quantum discontinuity has torn across the local dimensions and damaged Olavo significantly during his transmission to see the other simunculi. Now his friend Vania is trying to reconstruct him using their techniques of natural evolutionary paths.

Of course, all three stories are interconnected but Budz takes his time getting there. Each of the stories either with Rudi Benjamin or Olavo seem to ramble on without any point of connection until at least the last third of the book. Luckily, each of the stories has enough quirky goings on to sustain the reader. Of the three, Rudi’s tale is best as Budz successfully generates as strong sense of something missing and just out-of-reach for Rudi. Benjamin’s tale is fairly enjoyable but doesn’t have the same zing. Olavo’s tale is the most SF seeming simply having the virtue of being set in space in the future. However, it feels as if Budz is trying too hard here.

For example, the first paragraph in the first of Olavo’s chapters uses the terms baryonic, globular cluster and thread-like singularities. Luckily, this reviewer has the benefit of a science degree. Although I am something of a degenerate interloper in science, I am at least vaguely familiar to most of the science-related terms that Budz uses. However, I can’t help but feel that a more casual reader might be mildly put off by this. I form the distinct impression that the actual idea behind Olavo, Vania and the other simunculi is fairly straightforward but this is obfuscated by plenty of real seeming yet rather confusing scientific terminology. After a while, the style settles down as Budz stops with the explanation and Olavo’s story becomes more compelling.

Budz writes in a fairly neutral manner. Professional without having any particular flair the writing is easy enough to follow but does not generate a true page-turning compulsion. Naturally, it is interesting to see where the stories are going. The conclusion feels possibly as if it is the only way to end the book even though I would have liked a bit more after the end so I could see the after effect of the climax. It is a personal peeve when I have read through an entire book and to get to the resolution only for there to be nothing afterwards.

Overall, the story is actually quite simple but is dressed up in so much pseudo-science, fringe science and general wackiness that the whole book falls on just the right side of palatable. I enjoyed it in a vague way, never objecting to read it but not overly enthusiastic neither. Faint praise to be sure but this book just doesn’t seem essential to me. Maybe this is why Budz hasn’t written anything since. Perhaps his dynamite stuff was in the earlier novels and he ran out of steam?

Another hyperbolic cover quote is ‘Eternity is about to come to an end…’ which, as far as I can tell, has absolutely nothing to do with the story and that is maybe the problem with this book overall. It is basically all smoke and mirrors and the man behind the curtain is not actually doing a great deal. Maybe Budz’ other writing is truly great but ‘Till Human Voices Wake Us’ doesn’t count as that. It is hard to know whom this book is aimed at.

The hard SF trappings are maybe aimed at the smart hardcore SF crowd, but this seems to shut out the much wider audience of prospective fiction at large. Indeed, the audience for this book seems to me to be vanishingly small in this day and age so maybe if you know who you are then you might get something out of this but otherwise steer well clear.

Dave Corby

December 2020

(pub: Bantam Spectra Books, 2007. 386 page paperback. Price: $ 6.99 (US), $ 8.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-553-58851-4)

check out website: www.bantamdell.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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