Skip to main content

Fire of the Dark Triad (SF) - Asya Semenovich ***

Classic science fiction from the 1950s, such as the work of Isaac Asimov, is rightly criticised these days for lacking characterisation, a tendency to tell rather than show, and an absence of meaningful female characters, even if the ideas were often excellent and the action scenes could be quite engaging. In many ways, this novel takes us back to those flawed classics of the genre.

The problem is worst at the start. The first twenty pages or so takes us from prehistory to the future in such a skimpy way that it is tedious to read. This is the telliest opening I have ever seen in a published piece of fiction. It's often little more than a summary, with a key concept for the book covered in little more than a page. Here we discover  that gateways to parallel universes are discovered where variants of Earth aren't occupied by intelligent life, giving a limitless opportunity for colonies to be set up and develop in their own way, eventually becoming a threat the the Earth.

The other central concept, which the whole storyline rests on, is the 'dark triad' of the title. These are the attributes of narcissism, psychopathy and machiavellianism. It's apparently a genuine term from psychology (though I'm not sure why it's necessary, in the sense that I've never heard descriptions of psychopaths who don't have the other two traits). I admit my knowledge of psychopathy is limited to Jon Ronson's brilliant book The Psychopath Test, but the 'triad' concept does feel a little like someone in the psychology world just looking for an excuse to publish popular psychology books.

In Fire of the Dark Triad, though, Asya Semenovich makes a link that I've never seen, in suggesting that creativity and innovation are primarily the results of being a 'dark triad' person - i.e. a psychopath. This seems distinctly contrary to reality - I could believe it more from other psychological traits, but not psychopathy. However, the whole book rests on this premise. The future Earth, it seems, in breeding and editing out psychopathic tendencies, has become unable to be creative and needs to bring in dark triad people from the parallel Earth colonies to thrive and develop.

The book is by far at its best in the action sections, featuring an Earth agent called Nick (a dark triad person himself, though Earth-born) whose job is to retrieve these useful psychopaths, but who is faced with a huge personal dilemma. This takes up the majority of the rest of the book, and worked well enough to keep me reading, though Nick's technology is so advanced compared to that of the colonies that his AI assistant could sometimes verge on being a deus ex machina.

There was one big plot hole - Nick somehow went from being totally broke to hiring a private island - and there's one oddity in that the main characters are mostly male, with the female MCs defined by their relationship to men, particularly strange in a novel by a female author when most modern male SF authors don't fall into this trap. Also, like the classics, the characters were fairly two-dimensional and those who were supposedly strong on dark triad characteristics seemed no more malevolent and self-centred than anyone else in the book. There's also a distinctly misleading plug on the cover 'As featured in the exciting new film Married to Math', as this refers to the author: it's not saying that this book has been made into a movie.

It was enough to get me to the end, though. A fair holiday read, but nowhere near the best that modern science fiction can offer.

Paperback: 
Bookshop.org

  

Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Wonderworks - Angus Fletcher *****

If you are interested in both writing and science this is an unmissable book. Reading can not just impart information, but can influence the way that we feel. Angus Fletcher describes 25 literary techniques (many also applicable to film and TV), ranging from those known to the Ancient Greeks to modern innovations, that can have a particular influence on our feelings and state of mind. Interestingly Fletcher describes this as technology - devices to make something happen. But rather than being a purely philosophical exploration, what lifts the book significantly is that for each of these techniques, Fletcher describes how studies of the impact on the brain show the physical effects occurring in different parts of the brain as a result. The chapters (one for each technique) end with a faintly self-help feeling bit - for instance, how you can use the 'clear your head' technique by reading certain texts, but that really isn't the point. This isn't a self-help book, it's

Life is Simple - Johnjoe McFadden ***

This is a really hard book to review, because it has two quite distinct parts and the chances are that if you are interested in one of these parts, you may well find the other part less engaging. The first section concerns the development of Occam's razor - the idea of keeping your explanation of something as simple as possible while it still works - and the impact this would have on philosophy (and proto-science) in the Middle Ages. The second part treads very familiar ground in taking us through some of the major developments in science from Galileo onwards, occasionally tying back to Occam's razor to show that the impact of the idea continued. As it happens, I love the first bit as I find the medieval development of science and its intertwining with religion and philosophy fascinating. Jonjoe McFadden brought in a lot of material I wasn't familiar with. Of course I was aware of Occam's razor itself, but I knew nothing about William of Occam as a person, or the way hi

Being You - Anil Seth ***

The trouble with experts is they often don't know how to explain their subject well to ordinary readers. Reading Anil Seth's book took me back to my undergraduate physics lectures, where some of the lecturers were pretty much incomprehensible. For all Seth's reader-friendly personal observations and stories, time after time I got bogged down in his inability to clearly explain what he was writing about. It doesn't help that the subject of consciousness is itself inherently difficult to get your head around - but I've read plenty of other books on consciousness without feeling this instant return to undergraduate confusion. There are two underlying problems I had with the book. One was when complex (and, frankly, rather waffly) theories like IIT (Integration Information Theory) were being discussed. As the kind of theory that it's not currently possible to provide evidence to support, this is something that in other fields might be suggested not to be science at