Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Plitone Zeppelin Experience

I just finished The Plitone Revisionist, a science fiction podcast novel by Paul S. Jenkins, and finally - more than a year after the first time I listened to the first episode - I'm ready to review it. This review is a long time coming and, I hope, will interest my audience as much as it interests me.

In the final arithmetic, I give The Plitone Revisionist two out of five possible stars. It definitely had its moments of true and genuine enjoyability, but towards the I end I found myself listening more out of a grudging desire to find out what happened next and a writerly fascination with the author's errors. This was a story in deep need of editing. There's definitely a good novel inside The Plitone Revisionist, but unfortunately it's not the novel I listened to.

Well, we're all writers here. Where did Jenkins go wrong?

I feel that his first mistake was in not having - or at least communicating - a clear idea of what kind of novel he wanted to write. On the one hand, we have a kind of trashy, kind of glitzy, kind of sexy over-the-top cyberpunk space opera. There are villains named Garter Grudnt (pronounced "grunt") and unwitting accomplices named Joley Jordan, and horny pansexual teenage suburbanites just itching to get swept up in the action. In the first scene, the main character is arrested, impounded, and rescued by a man who uses super technology to temporarily mind-control her into his willing sex slave, at least until she heroically (and hillariously escapes).

Now, this is all well and good. I have no problem with glitzy, trashy, over-the-top cyperpunk flavored space opera with silly names and improbable plots. The pulp is strong with this one, and that's great.

The problem is that Jenkins turns around and expects us to take other parts of the story very seriously. The main drive of the plot is a murderous and economically complex conspiracy and the characters deal with some very real emotional fallout of their choices. Unfortunately, it all rings a little hollow.

Now, this kind of thing can be done well. I... um... can't think of any examples off the top of my head (if you can, tell me in comments), but I'm sure it's true. You can start with something glitzy and trashy and over-the-top and take it somewhere the audience doesn't expect, dragging them sideways into a story far more serious than they realized they were signing on for. Jenkins doesn't quite pull it off, though. Every time I was just about to get sucked back into the emotional reality of the story, the reflexively dastardly Garter Grudnt showed up and twirled his (proverbial) mustache and threw me right back into pulpland again.

The second problem is far more serious. The Plitone Revisionist is infected by a bad case of tell-don't-show. The characters spend long scenes contemplating their emotional problems rather than acting on them - or at least talking about them with other people, which is less exciting but still dynamic. As a result, the story seems extremely slow, especially the latter chapters. I make it a point to give every one of my characters someone they can talk to about their feelings so that when I have an emotion that can't be acted on it can at least be talked out.

Would I listen to The Plitone Revisionist again? Certainly not. Would I listen to it the first time if I knew what it was like? Probably not. Do I regret the time I spent listening to it? No, I don't think I do. There were some awesome moments, some thrilling plot twists, and some really neat, sexy scenes, and I definitely don't want the time I spent on it back.

But I'm back in the market for a podcast novel again - preferably something either finished or with a huge archive - and I'm hoping for something better this time.


Scattercat said...

I haven't listened to any lately, alas. The two I did listen to underwhelmed me severely, so I'm leery to try another one. It takes a good hour or two of listening to realize you're on a mediocre book instead of ten to fifteen minutes of reading.

Paul S. Jenkins said...


Thanks for your comprehensive and insightful review. Feedback such as yours is extremely useful (and I'm glad you found at least something in my podcast novel that was worthwhile).

As a neophyte novelist I find specific criticism far more constructive than "great!" or "yuk!" and while it's ego-boosting to receive good reviews, those that actually point out faults are more likely to lead to improvement.