Solitude by Sumiko Saulson
Review by Bryan Cebulski
The intrepid creator of this very list, Sumiko Saulson, is the subject of our fourth review. Specifically her first novel, the science-fiction urban isolation fable post-apocalyptic horror sorta thing Solitude.
Solitude essentially concerns certain people who find themselves alone in San Francisco after the sudden immediate disappearance of everyone else in the city. From this shocking burst of the uncanny, several other odd happenings begin to occur. An Exterminating Angel-like force prevents them from leaving the city. Certain survivors manifest telepathy and other psychic abilities. Animals go wild across the city—dogs in particular have been possessed and seem bent on killing any human in sight. Add to that some alien powers who have slated San Fran as their battleground and you’ve got one hell of a premise.
So yeah. Solitude does not lack for ambition. Which, knowing that it’s a first novel, makes me nervous. How do you encompass a number of nuanced characters with a fascinating setting and a potentially intergalactic, interdimensional battle with beings beyond human comprehension?
The answer is, you encompass them a bit haphazardly. Saulson doesn’t lack for ideas and creativity—indeed this is one of the most interesting ideas for a sci-fi horror novel I’ve read in a long time—but they don’t always come together quite as well as they ought.
A moment for context. Solitude is independently published and lacks professional editing. Considering this, I do not want the inability to receive this extra polish get in the way of my views of this novel. Because in truth, it has a lot of good about it. The occasional typo and pacing issues are definitely points to criticize, but they don’t break the book. They are flaws that could have been easily fixed with the extra umpf of an editor.
We are then left with an interesting if clunky novel. Solitude juggles many ideas and characters and doesn’t end up giving either quite the amount of justice they deserve. This could have been almost assuredly resolved by adding more content—Solitude is about 300 pages long, and it really deserves a more epic size to tell its story smoothly. The writing certainly moves fast, but at times too fast. For instance, a character dies at a point in the novel. It is quite a turn, but too much is happening to really let the death sink in. Character reactions to the death are set aside in lieu of furthering the plot.
This means, basically, that we as readers never get a breather. There are rare lapses in action, in plot advancement. There is so much to tell that it has to rush off the page, and the result is to the reader’s detriment.
Many of the set pieces are genuinely interesting. The setting, of course. Or the dog-or-potentially-spiritual-familiar Crazy. Many of the characters have intriguing back stories that I would have liked to see tended to in more detail. One gets the sense that Saulson created a great deal of background for the novel, but much of which was left on the cutting room floor.
Solitude falters in the opposite manner that many stories do—instead of taking forever to let the story unravel, Solitude never stops to smell the roses. It’s simply moving far too fast, and we as readers are left desperately grabbing the pieces of the story as we try to keep up.
Check out Sumiko Saulson’s blog here.
Check out her novels on Amazon here.