Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
0.4: Mike Lancaster, September 6—11, 2016
My rating: ♦♦♦◊◊
0.4 (also published as Human.4) is a found-footage tale narrated by 15-year-old Kyle, the nice guy who volunteers to demonstrate his awkward friend Danny’s hypnotism act at the village talent show. He and three fellow villagers discover very strange happenings when they emerge from their trance.
For reasons that become clear in due course, Kyle has recorded his story onto old-style cassettes, which have been transcripted by Lancaster as the editor. Despite this, much of the prose reads more like a novel than an audio account; a missed opportunity to build authenticity but not, in the main, hugely damaging. There is a tendency to over-rely on one-sentence paragraphs and one-word sentences which really does grate a bit. It’s a clunky choice of emphasis that puts too much weight on too many clauses, so in the end it’s just a disjointed prose that doesn’t flow. Lancaster’s editing includes frequent explanation of phrases or activities of early-21st century practices that the futuristic reader would not be expected to understand; these are cleverly devised to both suggest what will become obsolete, and how it could be viewed.
Kyle is a likeable and honest lead who has a sense of humour and is essentially decent. His repertoire boasts an impressive display of pop culture references, from The Body Snatchers to Doctor Who. There isn’t much in the way of character depth or development, though. The backstory with Kyle’s friend Lily (and her mostly absent boyfriend Simon) is sort of clumsily acknowledged; despite the attempt to build tension, it builds to nothing. There is no confrontation nor resolution. There doesn’t, really, seem to be much point to any of it.
The book is broadly split into three ‘tapes’, each of two sides. The first tape is very much a scene setting exercise, so it’s only the second two-thirds of the novel in which the relevant events unfold. Taking place over one afternoon, much of the discourse is some back-and-forth between the leads amounting to ‘wtf?!’.
It’s not clear why Lancaster has written 0.4. What did he want to explore? What motivated him to write this piece? Had it been the character of Kyle, we would have seen him change or grow or somehow be impacted by what happens. Instead, he’s the literary equivalent of beige throughout. Had it been the situation itself, we would have explored is roots, or ramifications. But it’s slotted in at the end, like a sci-fi equivalent of the butler having done it, but in no way explored.
0.4 is readable and entertaining, but has no purpose or message carrying it forward. Neither the plot nor the characters can sufficiently hold their own for the duration, and when the page closes over, it commits the cardinal sin: being entirely forgettable.