Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl

Synopsis From Tour Site:

Boston, 1868. The Civil War may be over but a new war has begun, one between the past and the present, tradition and technology. On a former marshy wasteland, the daring Massachusetts Institute of Technology is rising, its mission to harness science for the benefit of all and to open the doors of opportunity to everyone of merit. But in Boston Harbor a fiery cataclysm throws commerce into chaos, as ships’ instruments spin inexplicably out of control. Soon after, another mysterious catastrophe devastates the heart of the city. Is it sabotage by scientific means or Nature revolting against man’s attempt to control it?

The shocking disasters cast a pall over M.I.T. and provoke assaults from all sides—rival Harvard, labor unions, and a sensationalistic press. With their first graduation and the very survival of their groundbreaking college now in doubt, a band of the Institute’s best and brightest students secretly come together to save innocent lives and track down the truth, armed with ingenuity and their unique scientific training. 

Led by “charity scholar” Marcus Mansfield, a quiet Civil War veteran and one-time machinist struggling to find his footing in rarefied Boston society, the group is rounded out by irrepressible Robert Richards, the bluest of Beacon Hill bluebloods; Edwin Hoyt, class genius; and brilliant freshman Ellen Swallow, the Institute’s lone, ostracized female student. Working against their small secret society, from within and without, are the arrayed forces of a stratified culture determined to resist change at all costs and a dark mastermind bent on the utter destruction of the city

I've been dreading this review more than you can ever possibly know.  There is just something about being last that I find horrifying and just a little intimidating.  What if I'm the only one who didn't care all that much for the book?  Do I really want to be responsible for ending a blog tour on a slightly sour note?  Now I can't say I read every review before mine, but of the ones I have read, I do think I'm going to be in a very small minority on this one.  The worst part, the reasoning behind my dread, is that I really can't give a logical, well thought out reason for what I'm about to say,

I actually think I've used this analogy before, or at least something akin to it, but here it goes anyway.  Let's say you are really in the mood for tomato bisque with cheese tortellini and spinach.  It's all you have been thinking about all day at work.  You can already taste the sweetness of the tomato, feel the warmth of the soup as it gives you the comfort you have been so desperately needing.  But when you get home, all you can get is clam chowder.  Now you still like chowder, but it's not what you were craving all this time.  It just doesn't give you that happy feeling you know the tomato bisque would have given you.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I think The Technologists was good, it just didn't do anything for me.

Now I thought being a total wimp and leaving it here, but then I realized that is a pretty cowardly thing to do.   If I'm going to even tell one person that I didn't particularly care for this book, I should at least try to give some sort of reason why.  I think my biggest issue is that I'm just not that into science fiction.  Now I know this isn't science fiction in the way we have come to view the genre.  It's not a story about interstellar space travel with tentacled aliens bent on the destruction of Earth.  Honestly, I wouldn't have even tried to read such a book.  I'm using the term in the same manner I would use it to describe a book like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.  And honestly, I think I had about the same reaction to both books.

Where they both shined for me was the actions scenes.  The Technologists features science taken to a destructive and cruel usage in order to fulfil a unfathomable amount of greed and a twisted sense of revenge.  These were the parts of the books that had me hooked and drawn in the entire time.  I wanted to witness the scenes on the docks, the destruction in the financial districts, and the final action scene left me in awe of the magnitude of it all.  But that's where the good times ended for me, a lot like my reaction of the Verne book.

What I didn't care all that much for where the characters.  I guess Marcus and his friends are interesting and intelligent, but they really never became fully three dimensional for me.  I cared enough about them to where I didn't want them to die, but I didn't really care what happened to them after the book concluded.  Though I must say really quickly that I did find the author's notes about where these young characters came from, and how they were based in reality pretty interesting.  Where I really got lost, was in the usage of some of the secondary characters.  I still don't get the point or the need behind the way a victim of the destruction is turned into a one dimensional villain that is almost killed off as soon as he starts to get dangerous.  I'm sure he had a usage in the forwarding of the story, I'm just still lost on what that was.

Now after all these words covering my whining about me not loving this book, I do have to say a few other things.  Though I promise to be quick about it.  I have another book by this author sitting on my bookcase right now, it's been there for a good year or two actually.  Reading this one has made my desire to read the other all that much stronger.  While I may not have cared for this type of story all that much, I loved the way this author puts a story together.  There is an ebb and flow to the narrative that I really enjoyed and I love the way he is able to bring a time period and a city to life in such vivid color.  It's an ability I admire and respect in an author so I never tire of reading their work  I also enjoyed his use of language and the actual crafting of storyline.  There is a natural order to the whole thing and the direction of the plot points were organic, not forced.  For those two reasons alone it was a pleasure to read, despite my lackluster response to it.

I would like to thank Lisa of  TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book.  Please visit the tour page so you can read other reviews.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I can see why this review must have been hard to write. I do like characters to be memorable when I invest the time in a book....sorry that wasn't the case.

Did you know there is a short story prequel for this one? The title escapes me, but the Kindle version was only $1.99.

Anonymous said...

Too bad you didn't like it. I thought it was good but would have liked to read more about the impact the Civil War had on the students & other characters.

bermudaonion said...

I appreciate your honesty in this review. It sounds like the author is talented, but it just isn't your genre.

Michelle Stockard Miller said...

I was going to ask you if you had ever read Matthew Pearl before. I have several of his on my shelves that I haven't got around to yet. The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, The Last Dickens. Which one is on your shelf? This new book seems it might be a departure from the other titles, but maybe that's just due to the title. I still might have to check out it out, but I'll wait until I've read some of his others. I do appreciate your honest review. Great job!

Hope you're having a great week!

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Sometimes a book just doesn't work for me at the time when I read it - sounds like that was there case here. Ah well, that's how it goes! Thanks for being on the tour Ryan.

Staci said...

I love your reviews, Ryan because you really put a lot of thought into them and explain why something didn't work for you. I have to say that I've read this author's previous work and enjoyed it for the most part but for whatever reason, I didn't feel compelled to be on this tour.