The Garden Wall - cover

A good comic science fiction novel by a university student. Available for free at the time of this writing, and an entertaining read.

The Garden Wall is Lichfield Dean’s first full-length novel. Reminiscent of works by Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, the humorous science fiction tale is entertaining enough to be a decent read. A young female university student named simply Eradani is probably the main character. I say “probably” because the book opens with scenes featuring a number of characters and it takes a fair bit of reading before the young woman emerges as the most likely prospect for the job. This approach seems popular with indie writers. One wonders whether this is a deliberate ploy or today’s young authors suffer from a chronic inability to focus. Perhaps the idea is to demonstrate a new kind of “inclusive” storytelling. The influence of film, with its numerous short sequences and shifting viewpoints, may also be a factor here. In any case, the lack of a consistent viewpoint character gives the book a rambling incoherent feel that detracts from what could have been a much stronger tale.

The story has two main threads. One starts on Earth and involves the building of a green (sorry, nothing to do with the environment) spaceship designed to carry out an expedition to Bernard’s Star. This is Eradani’s territory. Her companions seem a fun assortment of escapees from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Masterminding the colossally expensive project is the mysterious Mr. Tomkins who has pockets like Dr. Who’s TARDIS. The other thread is a quest story and takes place on a planet in the Barnard’s Star system. Things are still medieval on the distant world so we swap back and forth between the two levels of technology as well as the two sets of clownish characters. An alchemist named Sepwise leads the Barnard’s Star set. These include a geographer, a psychiatrist, and a poet. If you think the geographer and the shrink seem out of place in a medieval society, Dean has this covered: these characters have just recently “invented” their jobs. Dean is a university student so it comes as no surprise that he draws virtually all of his characters from that increasingly surreal world. As you may have guessed by now, the two story lines eventually converge and the novel’s main ideas play out ponderously while the flimsy plot is resolved in a contrived shootout with robot security guards who are not actually there.

I enjoyed the book reading it for relaxation during an especially busy time. The seemingly irrelevant title does make sense once you get into the story, but I still think it a mistake. With a better title, some proper cover art, and opening scenes that make Eradani’s role in the story more clear, this could be a winner. As it stands, it is still an entertaining read.

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7 thoughts on “In the Comic Footsteps of Douglas Adams

  1. I agree completely, Max. And Dean has the potential to be a strong contender in this type of science fiction. What he needs now is some constructive criticism and more practice. I’m about to read his earlier short work, Four Infiltrations and a Wedding.

  2. Thomas, your comments on shifting character perspective intrigued me. In this novel, did the main character not feature in these initial scenes?

    I wonder if people try and present several points of view because it can make the same situation different, or the same person different, seen from outside? But for sure, generally there should be only a couple or perhaps at most three, main characters.

    One of my favourite novels is E Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ and the point of view shifts there, mainly the main two characters, only occasionally the ‘romantic interest’ third who is seen from outside, mainly, but sometimes she even writes from the point of view of Sylvia’s father and other minor charactes. It doesn’t come across as
    fragmentary, but the main characters are never far from the action.

  3. You raise a marvellous point here, Lucinda. Using multiple viewpoints to show the same events or people from different perspectives is a powerful writing technique, one that can reveal insights not available in any other way. Unity is preserved because the shifting viewpoints revolve around the same thing. However, Dean has attempted nothing of the kind. He opens with a conversation between two characters that are not seen again until the novel’s final stages. He then shifts to a vivid rooftop scene featuring a professor who vanishes for several chapters. We then meet Eradani, but she is with another young woman who shares the limelight. Only later, when this companion fades into a more background role, does it become clear that Eradani is important.

    I must admit that in spite of all this early confusion, everything eventually does make sense. As I have said, the novel is amusing and quite entertaining. Dean has talent and he is worth reading.

    You mention Elizabeth Gaskell. She goes back to the time when third-person omniscient viewpoint was still popular. Authors in those days were highly skilled with the technique and knew how to avoid confusing their readers as they made the perspective shifts. Look for the little cues and subtle references to people about to provide the next viewpoint.

  4. Fascinating stuff, Thomas! Talking of Gaskell, I hope as a man you might read ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ by Gaskell and say what you make of it, almost nobody does these days, and I personally am fascinated by it as an ‘anti romantic novel’ and even wrote an article about it…

  5. Lucinda, I have not read Gaskell, but I know a little bit about her work, mostly to do with her famous biography of Charlotte Bronte. By “anti-romantic,” do you mean Gaskell uses Sylvia’s Lovers to speak against love and romance or against the Romantic Movement? I’m interested in the Romantic Movement because I see it as major factor in the West’s current decline. If is indeed an anti-Romantic story I would be willing to read the novel.

    Can you provide a link to your article?

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