There is something that I have always believed: Any book, no matter how acclaimed or famous the author, could be someone’s first. Whether it’s because they haven’t heard of the author, or they haven’t read a book in years, or they catch a book mid-way through a series by accident, there is always a chance that a new reader may pick up a book and give it a read. As such, first impressions are everything when it comes to storytelling. You want to grab hold of readers, new and old, and deliver on the promises of the advertising, marketing, and blurb.
Why am I saying all this?
Because I just finished reading Zero K by acclaimed Amarican author Don Delillo.
And this book did not deliver. At. All.
Jeffrey Lockhart’s step-mother is dying. And his father, Ross, a billionaire in his sixties, has decided to take her to a facility where her death with be controlled, monitored, and preserved, until the day where science can save her.
With a rocky past shared between them, Jeffery joins his father at the facility to say an uncertain farewell to his step-mother, and patch up his relationship with his father, before dreams of the future take their toll.
Phew. Okay. Where do I begin with this one?
First of all, a disclaimer. I have never read any other book by Don Delillo. He has done a lot of work as writer, from essays, to plays, to novels, and I don’t disrespect him for that. He strikes me as a writer who works very hard at what he does. So, although I did not like this book, that does not mean I think all of his work is bad. I mean, I’ve never read it.
But here lies the problem: after reading this, I have absolutely no desire to read anything else by him.
The premise is a common one found in the sci-fi genre: cryogenically freezing people until the future arrives, where they can be healed. And, I won’t deny, the first chapter of this novel really gripped me. An endless, empty desert – a man with unresolved issues with his father – the death of a woman who replaced his mother – a high tech, soulless facility filled with strangers. It gave me a Station Eleven vibe; a sense of desolation, but also a weird kind of hope.
And boy, did it not deliver on its opening.
What started as a cold, soulless facility became the cliched, clinical sci-fi backdrop we’ve all seen before. Then, before long, the setting just melted away – the description became lacking, or so brief that it took a few re-reads to actually understand what I was supposed to be visualising.
The dialogue was stiled, repetitive and without character, focused more on half-baked philosophical ideas than actual plot-driven conversations. So much of the dialogue in this book came across as empty; on multiple occasions, I had no idea who was supposed to be speaking, because everyone sounded exactly the same.
The protagonist, despite having the basis for a solid, engaging character conflict with his father and step-mother, ultimately falls flat. He feels more like an observer to the events surrounding him, rather than a participant. And when the real sci-fi elements begin to take hold, he views them through an faux-philosophical lens, like he’s been tasked with writing an essay on what he’s seeing rather than emotionally engaging with it.
Sci-fi is supposed to expand upon today and envision a tomorrow – paint the reader a world of possibility, grounded in the science of today, but ultimately an expansive world of its own. Zero K, however, did not do this. Ultimately, it ended up being a book with so much promise, but very poor execution.
If you’re looking for a new sci-fi book, and come across this one, don’t pick it up. I really don’t think it’ll be worth your time.
Have you read anything else by Don Delillo? Do you have any sci-fi books that didn’t meet expectations? Leave a comment down below, or Tweet me @ERHollands!