Thursday, April 26, 2012

Acts of Conscience - William Barton

This is the product description from
"This is the story of Gaetan du Cheyne, Class 10 Spatial Machinery Mechanic at the great spaceship refit station known as Stardock. Gaetan du Cheyne. No mother, no father, no children, no wife, no friends, no home, no nothing. Just a job. A empty man, a hollow man, paid well enough for his complex skills that, when he's not consuming a steady diet of net porn, he gets to play the stock market.

Until, one fine day, he finds himself in possession of a prototype FTL starship, and goes out among the worlds in search of... something. Anything. Maybe only the lost, empty dreams that were all he had as a child, dreams that deserted him as an adult. What he finds, in the end, if you can understand the man, if you can understand his lost dreams, may change you forever, if you're lucky."
I don't really agree with this eblurb. Gaetan du Cheyne is not a tremendously pleasant person, and at various points other characters describe him as 'a bit odd'. He's introverted and a loner; a highly-talented mechanic but hopeless with relationships. He has no ambitions or goals in life and is classically 'alienated': 'life's a bitch, and then you die.'

If his employers required him to take a Myers-Briggs test, he'd score ISTP. But buried away in his subconscious is a conscience, a sense of morality. It's well-hidden and often suppressed, but over the course of this complex novel Gaetan begins to pay attention and perhaps to rejoin the human race.

Reviewers have described this as Barton's best novel, and it's true he writes with deep anger at the cruelty of humanity. Du Cheyne traverses an arc through violent down-at-heel bars, seedy brothels and genocidal shooting parties: his novel is peopled with characters who never met a stranger or sentient being that they didn't want to beat-up, violate, kill, and/or eat.

What makes Barton controversial, especially in matters sexual, is not that he gets masculine thoughts and desires wrong (nobody would then pay the slightest attention). Rather, he gets exactly what someone like Gaetan du Cheyne would think and do and writes it down unsparingly. That's what's so shocking.

I don't think this novel will change your life, but it's well-written and packed with energy, with the bonus that the author is emotionally vested in every word.


I've packed away the extension leads and replugged everything back into the wall sockets. The electrician has replaced the faulty fuse-box blade and everything works again.

As I write Clare is taking a nap and still recovering from this really bad cold which has afflicted the two of us this past fortnight. I think it'll be next week till she's truly over it.