Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bad Twin: An Appetizer For Lost Fans, Less For Anyone Else

The Good: One or two good lines, "Lost" references
The Bad: Somewhat predictable reversals, Light on character development, Reads like pulp
The Basics: This marketing stunt, er, novel, indirectly ties in to the television show Lost, but is unlikely to satisfy anyone looking for something decent to read. This is pulp.

Once upon a time, there was a little television show called Lost. The television series began with a plane crash and while the turbines from the plane were still spinning in the first episode of the first season (click here for my review!), a man got sucked into the engine and killed. That man was Gary Troup. In an episode late in the second season of Lost (click here for my review!), the character Sawyer is sitting on the beach reading a manuscript by Gary Troup. The manuscript is for Bad Twin, which was published by Hyperion with Troup being credited as the author (it's a pseudonym as Lost is obviously fictional). I mention all of this at the top of my review of Bad Twin for one simple reason: if you don't care about Lost, you won't care about Bad Twin. This is a marketing tie-in and in some ways it's offensive to have to pay so much for a pulp novel which is mostly in existence to advertise Lost and get fans enthusiastic about the third season and beyond.

The fundamental problem is, it's not much more than that.

Paul Artisan is a private detective whose work around New York City consists mostly of investigating fraud allegations for insurance companies and tracking down minor evidence for supporting materials in cases when he is approached by billionaire industrialist Cliff Widmore. Widmore hires Artisan to find his twin brother, Alexander, a freeloader who seems to be traveling the globe, spending money. Estranged from Cliff and their father, Arthur, Zander is lost in the world and Cliff wants him found before Arthur dies.

After consulting with his good friend, Manny, Artisan begins a hunt that takes him to Long Island, Miami, Cuba, the West Coast and even Australia, always a step behind his target. As he hunts for clues to Zander's whereabouts, he is disturbed to learn that death is following in his tracks, eliminating every lead he has recently contacted. With life and death being the stakes, Artisan becomes more determined than ever to find Zander and bring him home alive.

This is an action-adventure book, what I suppose some might call a thriller, though it's not terribly thrilling. It's not exactly a mystery and it does very little, save occasionally ramp up the stakes with a chase scene or the insinuation of potential for sex. Truth be told, it reads a lot like William Shatner's Tek novels; short chapters, simple lines, a fast read. The book is almost entirely about maintaining a sense of movement.

Except when it is namedropping. Bad Twin is set in the Lost universe and as a result, the novel makes direct allusions to aspects seen in the flashback sequences of Lost or in the hatch mythology. So, fans of the television show will catch references to Mr. Paik (Sun's businessman father who is a brutal CEO), Mr. Cluck's Chicken (where Hurley worked) and the Hanso Foundation. As part of the advertising to tie this book into the Lost series, the "Hanso Foundation" took out an ad to repudiate the way it was presented in this book, but Hanso and his foundation are merely a footnote. I suppose that's clever advertising. I just felt gypped.

For those who are particularly awake to Lost, even the object of the search is significant. As part of Desmond's storyline, there is the important character of Penny Widmore. Like the Widmores in Bad Twin, Penny's father is filthy rich and able to influence people and circumstances using his vast wealth. Penny is not directly referenced in this book. For the careful readers, there are numerous examples of the all-important numbers from the hatch (and Hurley's storyline) coming up throughout Bad Twin.

I think I've been polite long enough: this is pulp, pure and simple. Gary Troup, the attributed author of Bad Twin, is not the world's best novelist. I understand defying the conventions of grammatical correctness; I think every writer does it these days, usually to make dialogue sound more like reality. Troup appears to be attempting to do that, but his inability to construct proper sentences or even senses that make genuine sense, is irritating. So, for example, when Artisan meets Widmore family patriarch Arthur, the old gentleman says:
"Zander took something completely fundamental to what I've always believed, and he stood it on its head. Turned it completely upside down. And the damnable thing is that I've been coming to feel that maybe he's right and I've been wrong. That's part of the reason I want him found. So I can tell him that. While there's still time." (p. 73)

Without being a stickler for grammar and its protocol, we can live with the fact that three of those six sentences are not truly sentences, but the problem is, they do not sound like real sentences uttered by a healthy adult. Perhaps a stroke victim would speak with such staccato sentence fragments as Arthur speaks at the end of that paragraph, but not most people. I have a tendency to use run-on sentences and many people when speaking tend to do that as well. Either way, these annoying sentence fragments pop up throughout the book, often from the narrator.

The point being, this is not a terribly well-written book. While it is not the worst-written novel I have ever read, I did find myself disappointed by the diction, dialogue and overall construction of Bad Twin. Which leads me to the character of Manny. Manny is Artisan's best friend, an older gentleman and a retired professor that Artisan once had back when he was in college. Less of a character, Manny pops up to namedrop classic novels and books of philosophy in order to help Artisan develop clues. These references range from the obscure - like "Trent's Last Case" - to the obvious, like Manny explaining the prodigal son. Troup assumes the reader is a complete idiot and drops in references for no other reason I can divine than to make this ordinary and lifeless book seem like something more than it actually is.

Conversely, Manny also has some of the best lines. Manny's observations - and the observations Artisan has when conversing with Manny - are some of the best moments of the novel when he tries to make grander statements on the world at large. Part of the problem with this is that the rest of the book does not fit Manny's world-view generalizings. As a result, the scenes with Manny and Artisan have the feel of being a series of non sequitors.

Late in the novel, Artisan encounters a woman and the pairing comes as too little, too late for my taste. The net result is that Bad Twin feels like a book written to a checklist, like "These are the conventions of pulp action novels, make sure you use them all: . . ." At 258 pages, Bad Twin is not a long novel and so with all the traveling and phone conversations to Manny and Cliff Widmore, Artisan barely has time to develop as a character.

This is certainly a more plot-driven novel than character-driven. Artisan is more empathetic in the beginning of the book when he's slumming around for the insurance companies than when the book concludes. Either way, with all of the various convoluted theories Artisan has about where Zander is and what his nature is, much of the book is filled with random lines that contemplate complete red herrings. The book is a pretty standard chase, dragged down by incessant references to things related to Lost and Artisan's musings on what Zander must be like.

The problem here is that Troup simply expects the reader to swallow his ridiculous notion: that one twin must be good and the other twin must be bad. Troup continually has Artisan musing on opposites and convinced that twins are mirrors of one another. This ridiculous notion was played out in Star Trek: Nemesis with Shinzon and Picard and at least there, Picard had the good sense to observe that both he and Shinzon were individuals capable of making choices independent of one another and/or good and evil. In Bad Twin, author Gary Troup expects that the reader will accept the premise that either Zander or Cliff will be bad and the other will be good. Those of us who look at the world as being filled with more colors than that will be easily and thoroughly disappointed with the book from when that notion first pops up (and it comes up early!).

In the end, the book becomes impossible to even recommend to fans of Lost; it does not provide real or genuine clues to anything that has not been in the show already and while it's amusing to read things like Artisan's reaction to Mr. Cluck's, it doesn't add anything to the Lost experience. Instead, it's more likely to leave the reader feeling used and cheated than genuinely entertained.

That said, it's a fast read and every now and again, there was a decent line, earning it status as a mediocre book, even if it is still not worth it.

Bad Twin does allude to a few items that come up in the third season of Lost (read my review by clicking here!)

For other genre novels, please check out my reviews of:
Neuromancer - William Gibson
The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner - Stephanie Meyer
Vineland - Thomas Pynchon


For other book reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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