Dec 162016

CrossTalk, by Connie Willis

Synopsis:  A rom-com wherein the Irish have telepathy, but no one knows about it, and the Irish have not taken over the world.

Book Review: I like some rom-coms. There is something to be said for a well executed love story with great comedic elements. My personal favorite is Moonstruck, which is just the best. But many rom-coms are absolute garbage, because to work at all they rely on humans acting in the most unbelievable ways. Their protagonists have to be intentionally obtuse, failing utterly at even the most basic communication skills. They make decisions that are so mindbogglingly stupid that they can only be justified if the people involved know that they are characters in a bad movie and they must make these choices in service to the plot, so this turd can finally reach it’s end and they can be put out of their misery.

CrossTalk is the SF novelization of that sort of movie. It is aggressively ANTI-rationalist. The book would come to an immediate end if the protagonists ever had a brief, honest conversation, rather than lying through their teeth and hiding EVERYTHING for NO REASON.

Seriously, for no reason at all. Let’s say you just got brain surgery to become telepathic with one specific person–your fiance. But when you wake up, something has gone wrong! You are telepathic with the wrong person! Would you not immediately say to the brain surgeon “Hey, I think something went wrong with the surgery?” Or would you instead lie about this and hide the fact from all medical professionals, and your fiance, and everyone in your life? Do you LIKE botched brain surgery? What is wrong with you??

Also, the person you now have the telepathic connection to is the creepy stalker guy who’s got a crush on you, and who has been trying to tell you for days to not go forward with this surgery that would link you to your fiance. He is the immediate #1 suspect for what went wrong, right? I mean, this is way too convenient to be a coincidence, it’s obvious this was sabotage on his part! Yet for some reason you blindly accept that these facts are unrelated?

AND! Despite the fact that you specifically had a telepathy chip installed in your brain, and a million lines of evidence point directly to “I now have telepathy”, you will doggedly insist for quite a while that your creepy stalker has installed bugs and cameras everywhere, and is speaking to you through some OTHER secret means, rather than via the telepathy chip you now carry! What are you even thinking??

All this happens within the first few chapters, and it just keeps going like this for the entire damn book. Oh my god.

That’s just the PERSONAL ridiculousness that makes individual people obviously brain-damaged caricatures. The entire world has structural problems as well, because we later discover that telepathy is a natural ability that people of Irish descent possess. Yet no one else in the world knows they have this power! In fact, most Irish people don’t even know until it manifests in them and then their relatives have to have “the talk” with them. They’ve certainly never used this ability to take over the world, or to make a killing in business, or for any sort of intelligence advantage at all. It is used STRICTLY for gossip. This is a failure of imagination so egregious that I would only expect it of a Lit Fic author.

The supposed theme is an utter failure as well. The author was trying to make a point about how terrible having telepathy would be, and trying to make some sort of connection to social media, to scold all the young people. But she is sabotaged by her own subconscious belief that telepathy is awesome. Because every character who gets telepathy in this book LOVES it. It is an amazing tool! It’s like having another sense, or a super-power. Yes, at first it’s very confusing and scary… but with a minimal level of training, all these problems are easily overcome. Seriously, it only takes a few days for the idiot-level protagonist to learn how to block out other voices and concentrate just on who she wants to talk to. (And she gets the ability to secretly read minds in the process!!) In the novel even a 9-year-old masters the ability in a week or two! Look, it takes humans significantly longer than that to learn HOW TO WALK. But we put in the effort anyway, because it’s a fucking amazing ability. Ain’t no one writing screeds about how awful walking is because there was this painful learning process. And, true to form, when characters lose their telepathy, they are horrified. It hurts, and they want the ability back, because it really is awesome. Losing it is like losing a limb. But this is a book against telepathy?

Most infuriating of all are the “villains” of the story. I’m a transhumanist, so I want all humans to be the best humans they can. More health, more life, more intellect, more abilities, etc. These are good things! The antagonists of CrossTalk are people who want to take the demonstrably-awesome ability of telepathy and give it to all humanity. Instead of just the Irish having it, now we can all be telepathic. Our protagonists spend most the book fighting against them. Our protagonists are the evil elitist cabal who wishes to retain this power only for themselves, and leave the rest of humanity crippled. They are the equivalent of sighted people with a cure for blindness, living in a planet of the blind, who refuse to let this cure get out to anyone outside of their ethnic group. Why am I supposed to be cheering for the evil people of this story?

The one good part of all this is the 9-year-old, who is a spunky and whip-smart girl that uses almost no slang from the 50s. I would have enjoyed a book following her. She was likable, and the only character in this mess that didn’t have her head firmly up her own ass. Unfortunately, that was not this book. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: No.

It’s kinda surprising this book is so bad. Connie Willis has written amazing things in the past. “To Say Nothing Of The Dog” and “Doomsday Book” are extremely well regarding in SF circles. She’s won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards! This reinforces my “once an author gets big enough, people will buy anything they publish, and so there is no longer a filter that restricts them to only publishing their genius stuff” theory. C’est la vie.

Not Recommended.

  6 Responses to “SF/F Review – CrossTalk”

  1. “Book Club Review: No.” that made me laugh for half a minute or so.

    Reading this whole review made me feel sad for you that you “had” to read that. It’s okay. The next one will be better. (I can’t imagine how that couldn’t be true..) :-)

  2. I get that someone would write this book. What I don’t get is that someone would publish/edit it. Maybe editors need more power ?

  3. I’m wondering, did you ever read any of Connie Willis more famous stuff like Doomsday book or To Say Nothing of the Dog? I have the Doomsday book sitting in my queue right now somewhere in the low teens (I always have a backlog). If you don’t have any personal experience with her books that offsets this one I might bump Doomsday down the list some.

    • I haven’t read either of those two, and I plan to read Doomsday Book at least, at some point. I don’t think you should necessarily bump it down your list based on CrossTalk though, for a number of reasons that got so long I made them into a stand-alone post (see latest post). :)

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