Neom by Lavie Tidhar

Stars: 3 out of 5

I’m not sure how I feel about this book. The prose is beautiful, and some of the themes are sufficiently nostalgic to be interesting. It also feels heartfelt. In a way, it reminds me of a mosaic. Each individual piece is like a gem, beautiful and shiny on its own. But when you try to put all those gems together to form a picture, you realize that they don’t quite fit, that the author was more interested in those individual gems than in telling a coherent story.

There are too many points of view, and even though some of those characters are interesting in their own right, we don’t spend enough time with them to really get to know them. We just hop to another shiny gem, then another. Which makes these encounters only surface deep. We simply don’t get to know these characters well enough to care what happens to them, not that any of them ever were in serious danger to start with.

And that’s my second complaint about this story – there are no stakes, there is no tension, there is no danger. At no point in the narration did I have the impression that the characters were dealing with a life and death situation, or something life-altering, or heck, even important. We have all these weapons, and robots, and echoes from past wars all over the place, but the story lacks teeth. Even the climax of the story, when the golden man is awake and all those weapons are headed for the city, is written in such a way that there is no tension to it… Probably because you can’t really care for characters you aren’t invested in.

Seriously, what was the point of this book? To proselytize about the human condition and what makes us an individual versus a machine? Other books have done this better and kept the tension going. To reflect on the consequences of war and the emotional toll it has on all participants? Again, there are better books about that as well. I would suggest reading Look to Windward by Ian Banks, for example. 

The worldbuilding is interesting, with hints and past wars and events that I would have loved to explore more. Humanity has pretty much colonized the whole solar system, as well as the deep oceans on Earth… yet the desert and the city of Neom feels very 21st century Dubai. Are you telling me that hundreds of years into the future, when we terraformed Mars and the Moon, we still haven’t figured out how to restore our own ecosystem? 

Another issue is that the characters don’t seem to “live in” the advanced word that is described to us. It’s more like they have been dropped into it without being fully integrated. They act and behave like people from our century, instead of humans who have augments and implants and all the advanced technologies. In fact, there is very little of those technologies shown in day to day life.

So this leaves me with a conundrum – I enjoyed the writing, but the story is utterly forgettable. In fact, I can’t even name any of the characters now that I’ve finished it. 

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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