Friday, July 31, 2015

Science Fiction: Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

A couple of years ago I had read Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker and was impressed enough that I decided I would read any other newly published books of his. So here I am having read last year's Tigerman and ready to give my views on it. For me, Harkaway writes the kind of science fiction that I find accessible. The worlds he creates aren't so far out there that someone like me has a hard time keeping up.

The Situation: Lester Ferris is a sergeant with the British Army and is more or less ready for retirement. Never married and with no kids, Lester has certainly served his time in the army and is ready for a break. So he has been assigned to the island of Mancreu, biding time until the island is to be evacuated and then destroyed. Due to the toxic pollution that can be found there, Mancreu as an expiration date, and the citizens know it, including the young boy that Lester has befriended. The kid is smart, great with computers, has a love for comic books, and is able to navigate the seedy streets of the island on his own. But Lester worries that there isn't anyone to take care of him. And if there isn't, he would be more than willing to step into that role.

The Problem: Mancreu may have an expiration date, but it also has plenty of people managing to make a living on it. Some of these people are making their living in less than honest ways, making the island a dangerous place to be for someone who doesn't know what they're doing. The mysterious and dangerous fleet of ships that sits offshore are enough of a threat when things are quiet and calm, but things get worse as society begins to devolve into violence at the announcement that the end of the island is near. When a good friend is killed, the boy assists Lester is making a suit - more like a costume - that leads to the stories of Tigerman: a hero of sorts who takes on criminals in the search for truth and justice. Unfortunately, both truth and justice remain illusive on an island that is to be destroyed within days. And while Lester and the boy bond over Tigerman, the furry hero may not be what either Lester or the boy needs to survive.

Genre, Themes, History: I gave this post the heading of science fiction only because of the boy's affinity for comic book references and chat speak. Also, the creation of Tigerman himself kind of reaches outside of the realm of possibility. But really, I can see how some people would not necessarily see this book as falling under science fiction. It may even lean more towards fantasy. Since Lester is a sergeant in the British Army, there is plenty of discussion regarding politics and the roles various countries are playing in Mancreu's future, especially when it comes to the fleet of ships sitting just offshore. Lester is British, but Kernshaw, the man he seems to take orders from the most, is American. Then there is the Japanese scientist Kaiko Inoue, who is doing research on the pollution that has given the island its death sentence. The whole thing is a very international affair with almost every major country having something to lose or gain when it comes to the island's future. Then there is the relationship between Lester and the boy, who is never really given a name. Lester learns it at some point but manages to forget it immediately. The sergeant feels incredibly paternal towards him, but feels as if he would lose him if he were to ever admit it. The book isn't all about masked quasi-superheros saving the day, but also what it really means to be a family, and the hero you want to be versus the hero someone actually needs.

My Verdict: While quite good overall, this book has long stretches of Lester over thinking between short bursts of action. One thing I certainly wish the story had more of is Tigerman himself, although I kind of understand why it doesn't. For one, Tigerman is crazy and gets into a lot of trouble. There is only so much of that kind of action one person can take, even if they are wearing a heavily armored suit. Plus, the more exposure Tigerman got the more of a chance Lester's real identity would have been revealed. Even so, I wanted to see more from him. And while I understand that all of the politics and military discussion was necessary because of Mancreu's situation, it would have been nice to have had less of it, and just more story in general. Also, there are long periods where the boy is mysteriously absent, and it is never quite clear what all he is doing when Lester isn't around. I feel like I was only able to get some of what was going on much of the time, probably because there was so much there, and Lester had a habit or exploring every possible avenue. 

Favorite Moment: When Lester makes his first appearance as Tigerman and impresses the boy immensely, leading him to proclaim the Tigerman is "full of win."

Favorite Character: It would be easy to choose Lester, as he is a decent guy who cares for this boy that he really has no official ties to, but I also liked Kaiko Inoue. She is another character I wish there had been more of, but the little bit that was there was enough to convince me she was worth liking.

Recommended Reading: Naturally, I recommend Harkaway's Angelmaker, which I think I liked slightly better than Tigerman. It is a very different novel, and certainly falls more within the science fiction genre.

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