March 16, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads)

patchwerkPatchwerk by David Tallerman


I recently read an article about how fantasy and science fiction don’t fit the novella mold, since the shortened length limits the world-building, which the author felt was critical to the genres. I guess this is true, but it’s easy to draw a fantasy or science fiction world with broad strokes. In Patchwerk, Tallerman leads us into the story with a character whose body modification — a set of gills — will be used to clear the toxins from the air, for which he will be paid a small stipend, but which will also kill him before that stipend will be of any use to him. Already, we know several things:

  • This is the future.
  • In this future, the pollution is severe.
  • In this future, body modifications are common.

Once could make some assumptions here, too (the man knows he will die sooner than normal, and won’t personally gain from his modification, so he must be doing it for a greater good, such as the future of the planet, or his children, or something else entirely), but those things above we know for a fact. The curious thing about this scene is that the character in question isn’t even the main character. Instead, Tallerman is using him to tell us about the world and its society.

This is important, because this story is about shifting realities. Every ten pages or so, Tallerman is describing a new world, one acutely similar to but profoundly different from the preceding one. The main character has invented a machine that detects parallel worlds, and can pull people in and out of them at will. Unfortunately, other people have learned of his invention, and they want to use it for more sinister purposes, so the novella is one of trying to stop them from getting control of it.

The story has a cool idea, but I didn’t find I could connect with it through the characters. The main character’s ex-wife makes an appearance, and the two of them drive the action (and the shifting between universes), but I couldn’t care about them. As far as good-versus-evil, I could root for them, but I didn’t get torn up over what happened to them. They were serviceable, but not much beyond that.

It’s a little difficult to follow the story  until you understand what’s happening with the changes in setting and names, and then once you figure out what’s going on, you start to anticipate those changes, which can distract some from the story. I felt like I was missing details because I was jumping ahead to the next paragraph to see if everything was still the same. This might not be an issue with other readers, but for anyone who’s anticipatory, it could be a detriment.

Patchwerk is a neat idea, written by someone who obviously has a talent for writing, but it was lacking in a couple of areas that prevent me from gushing over the story. It only takes a couple of hours to read, so anyone who likes ideas in their science fiction will likely eat it up, but folks who want strong characters and real emotion might be disappointed. It’s a great idea, but I find the execution of the story didn’t quite work.

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