Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Administration

Author: Manna Francis
Genre: Science Fiction/Erotica
Original Pub Date: ??

The Administration is a series of novels, novellas, and short stories, all of them comprising one total narrative. At present, the series has several books' worth of words, and I'm not going to bother listing the various titles in their online and print incarnations. If you're interested in finding out more -- and I recommend strongly that you change your mind if you are -- you can find the whole series by Googling the author's name. I'm not even going to provide a link, because there's no way to get a sponge and 409 into all the little crevices of my blog.

You may have gathered that this series wasn't my favorite. Why, then -- and I realize this is a perpetual question from my imaginary audience of thousands (Hi, Mom!!) -- did I read most of it*, including the first full novel and a selection of novellas?

That's not an answer I have readily available, maybe because most of what usually passes for thought and interest in life was drained out of me by the dull, grinding repetitiveness of this story. I think I kept reading because so many great reviews on Goodreads praised the series for its creative, detailed dystopian setting, awesome sex scenes, and deep character development, and I kept waiting to see if any of those aspects of the book would appear. (Spoiler: they didn't.)

Let's take each of these alleged elements one at a time. First, we have the setting, "New London," which is just like regular London except that buildings are made of glass and metal, everyone talks on little earpiece headsets rather than handset phones, and computers are all touch screen.

I mean, what an imagination, right?

Then there's the eponymous Administration, almost the EU under a different name. I don't have a window into Francis's brain, but if this isn't intended to be biting political commentary on the fact that the EU is basically a reboot of the Committee of Public Safety, then the author has no sense of humor. Without a few of the slightly more futuristic gadgets (brain-reading interrogation equipment, for example -- oh, no, wait, we've almost got that too), the Administration could have been literally the EU government under a different name. While I couldn't agree more that it's dystopian, the setting basically whisked me away to a world in which everything is exactly as it seems.

Next: the awesome sex scenes. Objectively, if you like bondage, I guess they could be okay. Not good. Okay.

And on to character development, a.k.a. strike three. There are two main characters in this series: Toreth, a mean, nasty sex addict/occasional rapist who works as an Administration interrogator and investigator, and Warrick, a hot, suave, sophisticated computer programmer** who gets involved with Toreth after a couple of murders that take place while the victims are using Warrick's company's virtual reality technology. Both of these characters left me cold. Toreth is a sociopath. Not a seeming-sociopath using a lack of outward emotion to disguise deep feelings, not a semi-sociopath who kills lots of people in the service of some twisted morality, but truly a self-centered bastard who doesn't experience normal human attachment and lacks all empathy. It takes real skill to write a true sociopath who can still inspire interest and sympathy in the reader -- Exhibit A: Jane Emerson (Doris Egan) and her character Tal from City of Diamond -- and Francis doesn't have it.

Warrick, on the other hand, acts like an S&M robot throughout most of the series. His only motivations appear to be his corporation, which ceases to be a priority as soon as he wants to get laid, and sex, which seems like it might pall after a while, particularly when your chosen partner is unpleasant, rude, cheats constantly, and has all the personality of an alcoholic blowfish. Both of these characters are utterly, irredeemably charmless. The one-dimensional secondary characters, who exist only to warn Warrick that Toreth is bad for him or to codependently enable Toreth's gross personality disorders, are better only in that they appear less frequently. I guess these reminders that the relationship is sick and stupid exist so that we can root for those crazy kids to make their star-crossed relationship work? Or maybe the author really does have a sense of humor.

I'm starting to feel a little sick myself just thinking about these crappy people and their horribly disgusting antics***, so let's move on to the reason why this series is getting one star rather than the generous one and a half I might have granted otherwise.

This series is boring. I think the kind term for the meat of the first book's narrative might be "police procedural," but you could get the full experience of the first novel in The Administration by getting a job as a sheriff's office filing clerk, doing your job for 80 hours straight, and then hitting yourself with a riding crop a few times.

Toreth goes to Warrick's company office. He interviews several people; their responses, no matter how easily -- oh, how very, very easily! -- they could be summarized in two sentences, always take ten paragraphs. No dialogue is paraphrased. Then, Toreth goes out into the hall and gives some predictable orders to his staff. Did the witness tell Toreth there was a problem with the security tapes? There will then be a page of Toreth telling his security tape person to check all the security tapes.

If we're very lucky, there are then more witnesses, whose enthralling recitations of their movements to and from the company lobby will be recounted in every detail -- and in their own rambling words. After a few more rounds of this, with explanations each, single, time of how Toreth set up the camera for the interview, or noticed that someone else had already set it up for him, he leaves the company offices.

Back in his own office, he then reviews all the files. At length. And then the other files. And then the interview transcripts. And then some other files come in. He reviews those. Then, he calls someone in some other department and asks them for an update. None of this thrilling dialogue is paraphrased, either, because who would want to be left out of the loop?

No sex scenes, no matter how spicy, could compensate for page after weary page of watching one of the least engaging characters I have ever encountered do paperwork. As with The Road, I don't think even a sudden attack of cannibals could have saved this story. One star.****

* Not quite all. Unlike one of the protagonists, I'm not a masochist.

** At least the author has an imagination sometimes.

*** And I wish I meant the bondage. Out of bed, these characters display even more mental problems than they do in it.

**** A quick note about star ratings for self-published (but reasonably polished) works like The Administration. I'm never going to review a self-published book that doesn't meet at least some basic standard for mechanical writing skill. I fully support self-published authors, since the mainstream publishing industry leaves something to be desired, and this means 1) I'll offer self-published authors who meet a minimum standard for professionalism the same respect I'd give normally published authors and review their books on the same playing field (for good or ill), and 2) I'm not going to stoop to picking on delusional losers who can't even write a coherent sentence but insist on putting their work out there anyway. (This doesn't mean I won't pick on delusional losers who can't write a coherent sentence and who have also been edited by a nominal professional, ahem, E.L. James.)

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