It isn’t uncommon for many science fiction stories to feature a lot of precise scientific detail and exposition and consequently lack any artistic flourishes or colorful phrases. Yet never before have I seen technobabble written side-by-side with purple prose in the same story… and that story is The Weather Machine by Bruce T. Wilson, Sr.
Here’s the plot in a nutshell: A young Danish scientist named Hans Duber has a concept to build a machine that can control the weather. After several rejections and one steamy affair, he finds financial backing and creates it, earning the attention of several international intelligence agencies in the process. The machine is branded as a nationalistic triumph for Germany, where it was built and funded, but upon its activation, it slips beyond human control and screws around with the atmosphere for several months before its inevitable destruction by the United States Air Force.
With such a large-scale plot, one would expect that the story itself is quite long, but in fact it’s only a hundred and twelve pages long, so the action and dialogue races by in this story without too much impact. And for some strange reason, the author decided to break up his writing with the actual dates for when he wrote this story. I’m not sure if this was something that was supposed to be edited out before publication or just something he felt proud of, but from a reader’s perspective, it just makes the story very choppy.
With regard to the actual writing, a lot of the time we get very straightforward descriptions and sometimes run-on paragraphs with a lot of scientific detail that starts to merge together after the first few chapters. However, the rarity is that sometimes the reader is treated to such verbose and flowery lines like these:
“Her succulence was further intensified by the contrastingly ravenous filaments originating from her principal ganglia” (Wilson 12).
[Translation: The highlights in her hair made her all the more attractive]
“The time of the year was when maturity was on the verge of decline and the latter equinox converged on its counterpoint or solstice ” (15).
[Translation: It was December]
“He stared up at the heavens watching the cloud formation pass and wondering what plot they had in store for us helpless carbon units pinned to this nonluminous celestial body by the natural phenomenon known as gravity” (58).
[Translation: He looked up at the sky, wondering what Fate had in mind]
“The morning of the first day and the third month of the Gregorian calendar was overcast with temperatures in the teens” (75).
[Translation: It was a cold, gray March morning]
I can appreciate that sometimes writing lines like “It was a cold, gray morning” can seem a little lackluster, but at least it gets the point across. The problem with some flowery language is that it makes the reader struggle to understand what the author is trying to say (which is why to this day I can’t stomach anything written by Henry James).
After sifting through this story, I haven’t found too many redeeming features. The characters are mostly bland despite their distinctive European names (and unfortunately for the protagonist Hans Duber, his name reminds me of Hans Gruber, the classic antagonist from Die Hard). The dialogue is either bland or melodramatic, and when there isn’t dialogue, usually the author is violating the cardinal sin of “Show Don’t Tell,” just rattling off details without bothering to dramatize most of it. In the end, for all the drama and wonder that this story promised, its execution was unimpressive.
I received a complimentary copy of The Weather Machine as a member of the Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team. Visit dorrancebookstore.com to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.
Bibliography: Wilson, Bruce T. The Weather Machine. Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing, 2004.