A Slog Through the Future
“The Butcher's Tale”
by Nicholas Walls, 2021
There's some really good stuff in this book. The trouble is, finding it under a Heap of repetition.
We are reminded that our hero is, “Johnny Vid, the man, the myth, the legend,” at least once per chapter. Throughout the book, though mostly in the early chapters, the writing has a self-indulgent quality. The author seems to say, “Look at me. See how great my story is? Oh yeah, I know you do.”
In truth, the narrative can be hard to follow in some places simply because the author assumes the reader is right there with him. Science-fiction requires significant world-building and the author has to do that before he can presume the reader to be with him.
The dystopian world of The Heap is very well drawn, showing a nightmarish ruin, the underbelly of society in the future. It comes off realistic and believable, because the technology is essentially what we see and know today, but advanced. The use of video implants is a nice touch. Then we find out we're on some far-off planet of a great Galactic Empire, possibly thousands of years in the future. The author implies that we're not going to advance far in all that time... but the simple expediency of traveling through interstellar space, advancing from star to star INSISTS that technology MUST advance considerably. It's only natural for innovations in technology to have ripple effects, causing advancement in all sorts of technologies. So no, there won't be cars and public buses traveling on wheels, light bulbs, barbed wire, firearms, soda pop cans, or drywall. Drywall! More believable would be to simply set the story fifty years in the future, with space travel confined to this solar system.
The author tells us that The Heap is a dangerous place. He tells us Elder Dang is a dangerous man. He tells us that Johnny Vid is burned out. He tells us the Butcher is a scary monster. And that's the problem—he's telling us, not showing us. All too often, we are not made to feel those things. Instead, the reader is expected to accept these conclusions and build up the emotional impact on our own.
Many of the fight scenes are too short, shown in a kind of summary, thus failing to impress the emotional impact of the danger, the fear, or the uncertainty that should be experienced. Doing so negates the feelings that should come with the inevitable triumph or defeat.
“Any trace of a kindly uncle vanished in a flush of angry red,” is a good line. Two paragraphs later we hear, “Gone was all trace of the kindly uncle, replaced with a stone faced and steely eyed killer.” Maybe it's a better line, but this sort of repetition runs throughout. At one point there are six paragraphs, each saying the same thing—and the worst of these is the first paragraph, which is a summation of the next five.
Don't let my complaints turn you off. There are numerous revelations and plot twists worthy of a great sci-fi adventure movie. The discovery of the Assessor is a really great moment. Despite the repetition, the telling-instead-of-showing, and the self-indulgence, “The Butcher's Tale” has a good plot, some good action, and clever descriptions. It's not a bad book, just one that cries out for a rewrite.
I was given a copy of the book by the author. No promise of remuneration was made or implied.