2 out of 4 stars
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I decided to pick up While the Universe Dreams by R A Whitridge specifically because the blurb made reference to the old John Carter books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I love those books and have read the entire series at least twice, and some of the books even more. So when I saw that this novel was using those books as its jumping-off point, I was immediately drawn to it.
For those not familiar with the Burroughs books, John Carter is a Civil War veteran who gets mysteriously transported to Mars. The books are pure pulp. They are action-adventure with a hint of romance, exactly what you would expect to appeal to young men in the decades they were published (1912-1964).
While the Universe Dreams takes as its premise that the phenomenon that transported John Carter to Mars is real and exists at fixed points in space, including at a cabin in upstate New York. In the book, this cabin was built by John Carter and later is owned by the Rothman family. The Rothmans are a wealthy, politically influential family, and when they discover the threshold, they immediately begin to think of how they can use it to increase their own wealth and power. Whitridge’s book is basically the story of the impact that the Rothman’s quest for wealth and power in the midst of severe climate change on Earth has on the rest of humanity and the way that select small groups of people who are aware of what is going on react.
The story takes place on Earth, Mars, and in between. It spans centuries on Mars and generations on Earth. It is epic in scope, trying to earn its nearly 700-page count. But it fails. There are too many characters, making it hard to care about any one of them. Which is sad, because Whitridge writes relationships really well. The best parts of the book were the relationships between Gerard and Lisa, and Devon and Kurzy. Unfortunately, those relationships get buried in the word count and the schemes of the characters.
Even as the story ended, I could not tell you whether or not some of the characters were “good guys” or “bad guys”. Some people were involved in so many different schemes that I could not keep track of which other characters were in which scheme with them. The plot was convoluted beyond the point of my caring enough to keep track of it.
It might have helped if Whitridge had had a content editor work with him on the book. The copy-editing was pretty solid, but there were confusing content episodes. For example, we have one scene where characters A and B leave the group to head out to the plane. Then we have a conversation among the rest of the group and suddenly, B is participating in that conversation. A few paragraphs later, the group heads out to the plane, where B is discovered unconscious. These are common mistakes that happen when a book goes through multiple revisions, and are why authors need a content editor, or at least beta readers.
The other thing a content editor could have helped with was cutting the exposition. Every time we met a new Rothman character, we were given multiple paragraphs telling us how the family and their company had become so powerful. And considering that we met at least four different Rothmans, that was at least three tellings too many.
In the end, I give R A Whitridge’s While the Universe Dreams two out of four stars. There are bits in the book that are really well done, and if Whitridge were to write something with a more limited scope, I would pick it up without hesitation. However, for this book, it was all just too much - too many characters, too much exposition, too many overlapping schemes.
I have a hard time recommending While the Universe Dreams to anyone, but it is suitable for just about anyone who likes science fiction stories. The reader does not need to have read any of the John Carter books for this one to make sense. It is going to be too complex to hold the interest of younger readers, but it is completely appropriate for anyone from young teens through adults.
While the Universe Dreams
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