Review: The Fictional Man / Author: Al Ewing / Publisher: Solaris Books / Release Date: Out Now
The premise of The Fictional Man is a simple and yet startingly effective one; imagine a world where cloning breakthroughs in the '70s meant that creating whole people, with fully fledged (and designed) personalities, was relatively inexpensive. Of course, making people this way has been pretty much banned, but a loophole has allowed Hollywood to populate the silver screen with genetically tailored characters. Set in the modern day, the world of The Fictional Man is one where multiple Sherlock Holmeses rub shoulders with each other, each claiming to the be the world’s greatest detective.
The story focuses on hack writer, Niles Golan; an unlikeable sort of chap who uses most of his creative talents lying to himself so he can look in the mirror every morning. Niles is tasked with turning an uber-camp '60s spy movie (called The Delicious Mr Doll) into a remake, and this of course means writing the brief for that feature’s bespoke clone. Niles discovers that the source material for the movie is somewhat darker than he expects, and thus begins his quest to discover the core truth behind the movie, and on the way, what it means to be fictional.
One of the things we’ve come to expect from Al Ewing’s work is that the reader’s sense of reality will be bent at some point, as the author is very skilled at taking expectations and then driving a bus through them. What could have been a cringingly pedestrian examination of the self is instead a series of clever meta-narratives stacked upon each other. The protagonist’s relationship with reality, and his own sense of self, is layered in such a way that his actions slide effortlessly into the ongoing story as well as the personal journeys of the key characters. If this all sounds a little too clever for its own good then that is a failing with this reviewer, rather than the novel; at no point does The Fictional Man fall prey to being pretentious or trying to impress the reader with its own cleverness. What we have here is a solid piece of sci-fi that deals with the nature of self, and is worthy of comparison with similar works in this very narrow subgenre that includes the likes of Philip K. Dick's We Can Remember It for You Wholesale and Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles.
Ewing retains his easy-going, free-flowing style throughout, constantly unveiling new ideas and perceptions as the novel progresses. It’s an effortless and rapid read, and though certain sections of the tale are bit too short, the novel works perfectly. Highly recommended.