Pyr, 1998 (2005 reprint), 529 pages, C$28.00 hc, ISBN 1-591-02311-4
(Read in French as Reconstitué, Bragelonne, translated by Pascal Huot)
As a reasonably-bilingual francophone with easy access to English bookstores, I seldom have any need to read fiction translated from the original English. But occasionally, some titles slip past me, only to pop up years later in French translation.
In the case of Sean Williams’ The Resurrected Man, the oversight may be simpler to explain than most: Originally published in Autralia in 1998, the novel was republished in 2005 by Pyr, then a brand-new publisher with minimal distribution in Canada. Things have changed since, but not in time for The Resurrected Man to be readily available or widely reviewed in North America.
And yet, Sean Williams’ name isn’t completely unknown: In collaboration with Shane Dix, he has written a number of imaginative SF series published by Ace Books. So it wasn’t a complete surprise if The Resurrected Man proved to be so interesting. What was more surprising was to find out by way of a French translation of an American republication.
A hybrid between classic Science Fiction and police procedural thriller, The Resurrected Man has the merit of taking an idea, and exploring it until all the juice has been squeezed dry from the concept. In this case, it’s all about teleportation: In a future where instant transportation around the globe is the norm, a murderer is making copies of young women in transit, for torture and murder. When a man finds himself in his apartment after months in limbo, authorities are quick to suspect him of the crimes, and if not him, then another copy of him. It quickly gets more complicated.
One one hand, The Resurrected Man is a beautiful example of extrapolative SF. There’s an entire new world in this novel, a world that turns around a crucial piece of new technology whose facets will drive nearly all aspects of the plot. Williams is merciless in teasing out the implications of his imagined system, constantly racing past the obvious and not-so-obvious plot points. The idea that a copy of our hero may be the killer is brought up no latter than the first fifth of the novel, leaving plenty of time for stranger theories.
In lazy or inexperienced hands, this way of writing SF can be overly schematic: See novels such as Kevin J. Anderson’ Hopscotch for plot twists that are obvious from the moment the universe is explained. Williams, to be entirely honest, isn’t immune to dumb developments: The book hinges on a basic security flaw, explained by graphs, so glaringly obvious that it would send any self-respecting network engineer in hours of uninterrupted debugging: it’s a small wonder that it’s a tolerated at all in the universe of the novel.
But small nits aside, The Resurrected Man plays the extrapolation game well and adds an extra layer of geopolitical complexity on top of it: A refreshing mish-mash of cultural influences and non-American slang add flavor to the novel, making it fit perfectly well in this decade’s trend toward more world-aware SF. (I’ll note that several of the most representative books of this trend, from Ian MacDonald’s River of Gods to his Brasyl to Joel Shepard’s Killswitch, all come from Pyr’s group of non-American authors.) I was very amused to find out that bits of The Resurrected Man even take place in Quebec and my Ottawa/Gatineau area. (although, when Williams wrote the book, it was still called Ottawa/Hull.)
The Resurrected Man‘s checkered publication history let it slip past many genre observers, and that’s a shame: Slickly-written and well paced, it’s a novel that has survived admirably well the past ten years, and which holds up well to today’s more demanding standards. SF purists and fans of futuristic murder mysteries will love it; I, for one, am genuinely sorry that I missed it when it was republished in 2005.