Review of Lord of All Things, by Andreas Eschbach
Overall Satisfaction: ★
Intellectual Satisfaction: ★
Emotional Satisfaction: ★
Bechdel Test: Pass
Johnson Test: Pass
Will I read more by this author? Maybe. Definitely not with this translator.
I loved Andreas Eschbach’s previous novel, The Carpet Makers, currently his only other novel translated into English. It was very much an idea-driven science fiction novel, old-fashioned in a very good way, fitting nicely in the tradition of Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven and Isaac Asimov. And the translation by Doryl Jensen was superb, the prose clear and spare and elegant in a way that made the eventual mystery reveal more powerful.
Unfortunately, I could not even finish Lord of All Things.
It is a much more modern novel. The Carpet Makers was episodic, each chapter essentially a short story of its own where the connection between them was simply that each story brought the narrative a little closer to the big reveal of the ending. Lord of All Things, on the other hand, is a continuous narrative, following Hiroshi Kato’s life from his childhood in Japan to his college years at MIT to what I assume will be his adult life as one of the world’s leading robotics experts.
The Carpet Makers’ strength was Eschbach’s (and Jensen’s) skill with building atmosphere, and with dispensing clues to the central mystery one by one at exactly the right pace to keep the dramatic tension rising. The strengths required by the story Lord of All Things seems to be telling are very different – this novel needs Hiroshi, at the very least, to be a compelling character, a character with charisma (for the reader, if not necessarily for the other characters around him). And with the number of words devoted to setting each scene it also really needs a writer with the gift of capturing a sense of place, the specific details that make it the French Ambassador’s compound in Tokyo or an MIT frat house instead of just a generic place where rich people live or place where college students get drunk. And for me, Eschbach failed at both of these elements, failed so miserably that I could not stand to read more than 160 pages of the 647 page novel.