Imagine a world where cloning was not only advanced enough to create real bodies but where the technology was inexpensive and simple enough to be viable on a large scale. Of course making copies of real people would be wrong and there would bound to be a law against such a thing but what if a loophole in this law could allow fictional Hollywood characters to be brought to life in a genetically engineered body and designed personality?.
This is the premise behind the Fictional Man, a story set in an alternate modern day where movies are largely acted by genetically translated "fictionals"; a world where cloning has been advanced enough back in the 1980's to create human bodies. A world that even has multiple fictionals (including as a number of alternative Sherlock Holmes).
Niles lives for the day that his character from the trashy novels he has written will one day be translated into a fictional and act on the big screen. In the meantime he's tasked with a remake of a very camp and cheesy "classic" spy movie (The Delicious Mr Doll) and the protagonist of which is likely to be translated into a cloned body. He's a failing novelist with a severe case of writers block and a worrying habit of faux-narrating his own life. He's also somewhat of an unreliable narrator, colouring his life in a much more "Nile positive" slant than is clearly the case.
Nile's best friend is a Fictional, as is his therapist and possibly the woman in the bar that he can't stop staring at - it's getting kinda difficult to tell who is fictional and who isn't.
One of the first impressions you get about this book is the friendly, comfortable style of the narrative, easy flowing and almost effortless to read it's not only easy on the eye but wraps you up in a nice warm glow that makes reading the book a real pleasure. Combined with this is that quite genius idea of the "fictional", a vehicle that the author uses to explore issues of race and discrimination (mostly through Nile's prejudices) very effectively indeed.
There is no doubt that this is a very clever book which also explores the nature of objective reality and that of "self" without becoming pretentious or too clever for the sake of it. I'd honestly say that The Fictional Man is on a parallel with PKD's finest works, and reminds me a little of stories such as "We can remember it for you Wholesale". There simply isn't any part of the book that doesn't work, I read through the whole thing in one evening as I could just not put it down.
Not only is there little wasted space but new ideas pop up on a regular basis throughout the story. The characters are re-assuringly "every day" people too, both believable and engaging in equal measure. There is a lot of humour in the book, it doesn't take itself too seriously but there are also some stand out moments such as the escapades of the multiple Sherlock Holmes clones.
The Fictional Man is science fiction at it's best, the prose skips along with a rare linguistic talent while the ideas are original and thought-provoking, clever and more importantly - entertaining.
Written on Tuesday 23rd July 2013 by Antony Jones.
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