Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Toys" by James Patterson & Neil McMahon

Full Disclosure: I was given this advanced review copy by Hachette Book Group.  I wasn't paid, unless you call giving me a free book paid.  I would like to thank Brad Parsons over at Hachette for providing me with this and two other Pattersons that will be reviewed in the near future.

This is not going to be a happy review, nor is this going to be one that I think will turn out all that positive.  Which saddens me because I love James Patterson's writing, and find him genuinely (and consistently) entertaining.  His detective novels are aces, and I'm eager to dig into his Maximum Ride series and some of his other stand alone works that span other genres.  The man has talent, he's a personable figure, and he's a stitch on Castle.  All of this ass kissing has a purpose kids, I promise you.  It's to soften the blow I'm about to partially strike against a favorite author of mine.  I'm mostly going to roast the other guy though, because I KNOW in my heart and mind that James Patterson couldn't deliver a book as disappointing, as derivative, and as weak tea as Toys on his own.  Someone else had to have frakked it up.  And that someone is Neil McMahon.

Toys takes us to the far flung future of 2061 where people are basically separated into two castes: Humans and Elites. Humans are just like you and me, born after a nine month incubation period, normal abilities and such.  Elites, however, are born after two years in an artificial womb and endowed with super strength, speed and mental abilities.  Basically, it's Gattica on steroids.  One such Elite, Hays Baker, is our protagonist who, (MILD SPOILER ALERT) as it turns out, is a Human cut to look like an Elite.  This "betrayal" busts him down from top cop at the Agency of Change to fugitive on the loose.  As he goes on a journey to clear his name and stop the Elites from killing himself and every human on the planet, he cuts through swaths of Sci Fi cliches, action sequences, and pre fabricated twists that make this book seem more Human than Elite in its own right.

This book may as well have been titled "Humans Are People Too", because we see Hays go through the "Disgraced Hero" story arc that some of you may have heard of before.  Ok, you DEFINITELY have heard this story before.  As a matter of fact, there's one such story that this whole book seems to recall in my own Human brain.  This little film/short story you may have heard of called...Minority Report.  Yes, they rip off that story, as well as Total Recall in this book; which is meta-humorous because they mention Philip K. Dick's name in the story, as if to absolve themselves of cribbing his past works.  (While we're at it, parts of this book has hints of A.I. (creepy kid dolls) and Children of Men (there's a sequence involving British hooligans and Molotov cocktails chasing a car) thrown into it as well.)

As if that weren't bad enough, the writing is littered with too many "Is that what they were called?" or "That was from back then, wasn't it?" references.  The constant recall of our modern times in this futuristic tome do not ground the story in legitimacy, but show us just how far fetched it really is.  They didn't look to the future for inspiration, they just took a couple tropes of future life (haves vs. have nots, over population and global warming, Fascist utopia on the decline) and they grafted modern faces onto them.  Basically, if they were to constantly refer to the the Converse sneaker scene from I, Robot throughout the whole picture, it would be similar to this book.  And be warned, there is some clumsy, teenage written smut in this book.  I enjoy literary sex as much as the next person, but there's a reason you don't read about that much sex outside of Harlequin's "distinguished" library...it's hard to write a sex scene without it being cringe worthy in its description.

I love, love, LOVE Patterson's work in the Cross and Bennett series; and I have several other collaborations of his on my shelves waiting to be read.  The key to picking the right collaboration is to pick the right collaborating author.  Patterson works well with Andrew Gross (Read "The Jester" if you haven't already!) and Patterson works well with Michael Ledwidge (I'm dying to read "Tick Tock").  But ultimately, Patterson works best on his own.  It's sad to say it, since I don't know much about the man's writing, but Neil McMahon is only further proof of that very point.

Get Toys from the library if you have to, simply because it feels like the Third Act picks up and the ending leaves it open for a franchise (which felt like equal parts blessing and curse), but the Third Act doesn't make up for the lame First Act and the weak Second Act.  I guess my thinking is too Human and not Elite enough to "get" this book, but if that's the case then Human I am, and Human I will be.

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