There’s something I’ve noticed in the last few years. It’s definitely a trend and I for one am delighted. Actually, there are a couple of trends, and they are both exemplified by my copy of The Three by Sarah Lotz. Although my copy is a pre-release proof, it is still a gorgeous book. All black and shiny, and with each page trimmed in black too. I’ve seen pictures of the hard back and it looks awesome. This first trend exhibited is the clear effort that publishers are putting into making books more attractive to have – a response, I guess, from the e-book market. As a bibliophile I couldn’t be happier. My recent hard back edition of Twenty Trillion Leagues Under The Sea by Adam Roberts also shows off this trend. When was the last time you read an adult novel (as opposed to a YA or children’s book) with illustrations? Love it.
Once I’d admired the actual physicality of the book and started reading it, I was immediately struck by the difference in format. I am constantly striving to find something different in life, be it in music, art or whatever. I am tired of the same old same old. There is a lot of repetition in the creative world. I have not read a book (to the best of my memory) that is quite like The Three. The only reportage style I’ve experienced before is Max Brooks’ World War Z and Carrie by Stephen King (although its 20-odd years since I read the latter). I’ve learned this style is called an epistolary novel (which apparently also refers to novels such as Dracula – I have read and it is a tedious book – which are almost all letters). Reading The Three felt like a genuine piece of non-fiction. Almost like a documentary. Credit must go to the author. The final section of the novel plays on this in a very clever way.
The Three is the story of survivors. Four planes crash almost simultaneously; in the USA, Japan, South Africa and off the UK coast. American Pam survives the Japanese crash long enough to leave a message. Then she dies. This message has the potential to change everything. Three children also survive, against all odds – in Japan, USA and UK. The novel follows the tales of these children as a fictitious author pulls all the strands together in a variety of formats (interviews, transcripts of recordings, online messages, transcripts of Skype interviews and more). The children are subject to speculation and conspiracy. In the US, they are believed to be incarnations of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Is there are forth surviving child? There are suggestions of aliens and ghosts. Whatever, the children are genuinely creepy in their portrayal. By the end, you don’t know what to believe or who. Even the fictional documentarian, Elspeth Martins, may have an agenda. Which is a great idea. Most non-fiction authors and documentary film-makers have a natural bias. Lotz captures this with apparent ease.
Trend number two [spoiler alert]. This is another book from my recent pile that defies genre. On the face of it, it is a conspiracy thriller – four plane crashes, why? Surely there must be a reason, although none are revealed. Some are suggested but nothing is concrete. And then…what becomes of the survivors? Is this just a human story; contemporary literature? But. It also has elements of ghost stories (the Japanese suicide forest is properly haunting), religious end-of-the-world akin to the infamous Left Behind novels (which have their own version in Lotz’s world) and there is even the possibility of an alien invasion novel. Is this a horror novel? Science fiction? Fantasy? None of the above. We never know the truth so it is both all and none of these at the same time. Lotz’s imagination and writing skill are brilliant and self-evident, but it is her ability to blend ideas and genres without it feeling forced is a triumph and is exactly what I’m looking for in a novel.
I hope that this is hugely successful book because this is one of those rare novels that come along all-too infrequently. Something a bit different (even if elements are from other books or genres), something I’ve not read before and something un-put-downable. Something that will turn heads and make the reader excited (both by the content and the physical book itself). This is what I want in speculative fiction. In the last few years I’ve read more and more of these novels which defy genre classification. While I’ve recently enjoyed some classic science fiction, horror and urban fantasy, it is novels such as The Three that are exciting me the most and I plan to seek out more like this. Authors such as Sarah Lotz are the future of genre (and non-genre) fiction. More power to them.
But a final thought, if not a plea. I hope there is no sequel that explains things. I love an ambiguous ending, a one where it is left up to me to decide what happened. I know in my mind what I think happened in The Three. I don’t want the author’s truth, I want to keep my own.