Taken from the cover: ‘New Seattle Health and Safety. Do not die for no reason. This is the motto of a city so obsessed with the danger of sharp corners that it has almost forgotten how to live. But Huckleberry Lindbergh is about to find his trip to the city most decidedly unsafe. For a chance encounter leads him into the heart of a dark conspiracy…’
The catchy title, ‘Love In The Time Of The Fridges’, drew me to this book, not least because it echoes Garcia Marquez’s classic, ‘Love In The Time Of Cholera’, and indeed the central theme riffs off the central conceit of Marquez’s story: Love has wrecked the life of the main character, Huckleberry Lindbergh. He is sick in his soul and in search of healing or, as he puts it, the means to restart his life. But the similarities are superficial.
The story begins with ex-cop Lindbergh, returning to New Seattle, eight years after the love of his life, Abigail, suddenly dies for no reason, which is pointedly ironic given the motto of the safety obsessed city. After her death, we learn through reminiscences that Lindbergh went off the rails and became a lonely drifter, living his life one bar at a time, running from a past he feared to revisit, until he returns to New Seattle, ready to restart his life. So begins the troubled outsider embroiled in ‘dark plot’ plot.
The story is told mostly from Huckleberry Lindbergh’s point of view but there is also a slight sub-plot involving a federal agent woven into the narrative. The story is primarily about love and loss but it is also a satire on health and safety gone mad, the oft heard mating cry of the disgruntled of Cheam. It’s set in a dystopian world where everyone has a jack-plug in their neck granting the powers that be access to an individual’s personal feed, which in this context amounts to memories. It also includes current mood music, an obvious and amusing swipe at the invasive, pervasive nature of current social media networks. Minds and memories can also be hacked into and wiped, something the government in New Seattle are very willing to do to maintain control, despite the danger of permanent brain damage to the victim. It is a danger Huckleberry and his friends have to face several times in the course of their quest to uncover the dastardly plot being hatched by the Health and Safety Department.
The absurd way events and minor characters are portrayed negates a lot of the potentially darker aspects of such a dystopian world and I’m not entirely sure it does so successfully. There’s a brief mention of an irony drug having somehow been introduced into the population of New Seattle, but this doesn’t fully account for characters and situations that at times border on slap-stick. Having said that, Scott’s keen observations, particularly when dealing with the nature of loss and love keep the farce in check, to a degree. Unfortunately, I never got a feel for Huckleberry beyond the most superficial elements of character. The same applies to the love interest, Nena, and his ex-partner Gabe, who hardly rises above stereotype, wise old cop buddy. This is a shame because there are some nice touches and funny one-liners peppered throughout the novel but it’s all very lightly sketched.
The fridges of the title are however charming, minor characters. They sing, chatter and plan where they want to live, as well as offer light refreshment and other appliance appropriate services such as drying clothes. They are the most endearing characters in the novel but, again, everything about them is a little light on detail. We don’t know how they work at all or why a fridge has advanced AI or, indeed, cute little arms and feet. Now, I’m not some beardy, hardcore SF type who demands real actual science in my sci-fi fiction, but some kind of explanation about how anything worked in the world would have been more than useful to help put flesh on the bones of what could have been a cracking read. It’s readable, but everything is superficial, too superficial, to be truly engaging.
The writing is good, good enough that I was frustrated that I didn’t get to know more about the world or the people in it. After 109 very short chapters had whizzed by, I wasn’t convinced by the characters or drawn in by the plot but I’ll probably never take my household appliances for granted again.
(pub: Bantam Dell. 364 page enlarged paperback. Price: $12.00 (US), $14.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-553-38441-3)
check out website: www.bantamdell.com