Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Spotlight: Too, Too Solid Flesh by Nick O'Donohoe

Guten tag, Beardies!

I'm back!

Sorry I was gone so long, Beardies. I promise I wasn't just slacking off in my pajamas! Aside from the typical student shtuff, I've been working on rebuilding my blog and just launched the first episode of my online serial story with Zombie Pop—The Zombvenger!. Take a dash of zombie tropes, add some superhero shenanigans, mix with high-camp adventure, and you get Zombvenger!

Enough about me, though. We're here for the books.

It's like Nick O'Donohoe read my mind with Too, Too Solid Flesh. I saw this book at my favourite used book store in Regina, and I had to have it. As many reviewers have said, "It's robots and Shakespeare! Why not?"

But that's not why I chose to spotlight it. I've been noticing a lot of books that are based in someone else's universe, or with someone else's characters, especially with elements of the Sherlock Holmes mythos entering the public domain. As a fanfiction writer, I really don't have an ethical problem with this. But there are ways to write in someone else's universe that truly stand out from the crowd, and this book is one of them. I thought it was important to spotlight this book for this reason.


In the not-so-distant future, things look bleak as the population crisis begins to reach its head and technology has taken over the world. The elite of Manhattan entertain themselves by watching Hamlet, as performed by androids. These androids were specifically created for the production and truly are their character. When the creator of these robotic thespians is murdered, a human detective is sent in as Horatio to solve the murder. But there are more things in Heaven and Earth than Horatio can account for, and he joins forces with Hamlet to solve the greater mystery of the robot theatre.

Watch Mel Gibson perform the lines from which O'Donohoe borrows his title:

Gems for Writers:
Classic Inspiration. Given the title of the book, it should be no surprise that it's primarily inspired by the Shakespeare play, Hamlet. What I realy like about this book is that it assumes that the audience already knows the plot and characters of Hamlet and doesn't spend any time fiddling with over-explanation of them. This leave O'Donohoe free to 1) work lines and scenes from the play into the plot, and 2) play with the central themes of the play. Some central themes of Hamlet that really stood out here were the themes of impossibility of certainty and the mystery of death. The plot of the book is essentially a mystery plot, and it relies on the impossibility of certainty. Hamlet, the android, is endlessly fascinated with death—all the androids are, really—and ho boy is there a lot if it. Death is a further mystery to them because they are not human, and because they "die" on stage every night. The key of writing this type of work isn't to just borrow bits and pieces and drop lines here or there—it's to explore the same themes that the original or source does, giving them new life.

Characterization. Another aspect of classical inspiration that seeps into Too, Too Solid Flesh is the classical characterization of the leads. The "actors" are all the characters you recognise from the classic play: Gertrude is a bit of a ditz, Polonius is long-winded, and Ophelia is devoted to Hamlet. O'Donohoe could have just stuck to this basic level of characterization; instead, he pushes it further. O'Donohoe adds another layer to his characters, too: how they cope with not being human. This adds another layer of tragedy to these already tragic figures. He also seems to take joy in having these beings (who kill each other every night) interact outside of the play, and this is great fun to read. This is where the prose truly shines. Hamlet and friends are instantly recognisable as Shakespeare's beloved characters, but they're also distinctly different. They belong to two worlds, and they live and breathe.

Pebbles to Polish:
Weak Characterization. The only problem this book really has is the characterization of (most of) the human characters. Most of them are tired clichés or only exist to serve a single purpose in the plot. Notable exceptions are "Horatio" and the lab technicians. This does not break the book, but it kept the book from being perfect.


I loved this book. I really did. There is so much to enjoy about this romp through classic literature and science fiction, but I can't tell you a lot of it because it would spoil the book. I would primarily reccomend this book to fans of Shakespeare, or at least those who have read Hamlet, because they'd get the most out of the story. I think people who aren't familiar with the above would still enjoy the mystery plot, but would not enjoy it to the fullest extent. The only thing keeping Too, Too Solid Flesh from getting a 5-star rating is the weak characterization of the human characters. If you get a chance to read this book, take it. You will not be disappointed.

'Til next time,

***Too, Too Solid Flesh (1989), by Nick O'Donohoe, is published by and copyright Wizards of the Coast. It is available in stores, online (see above), and from your local public library.

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