Summary: This book begins as the matrix, and ends as the Matrix 2.
No, wait, that won’t make sense yet…
Eric Sanderson wakes from mostly dead with no memory of who he is. He has a home that’s been stripped of all personal effects, the number of a good psychiatrist, and the first in a series of letters signed, “with regret and also hope, the First Eric Sanderson,” as if he’d somehow thrown his memories away. Also, Eric Sanderson is being hunted by an unimaginable monster from an environment that he doesn’t even know exists.
Who was the first Eric Sanderson? The one who wrote and planned hundreds of letters describing how to camouflage himself from the “ludovician” and its strange world? Why does he keep saying he’s “so very sorry”? And who was Clio Aimes, the girl he did “it” for? Those are all immediate mysteries.
SPOILER WARNING But Shark Text is built on an even bigger mystery: If I describe to you a lake—complete with crystal clear water, stretched shadows of sunset, and the little boat in which you float upon it flaccid surface—something amazing happens. That lake that was in my head … Steven hall’s head, more accurately … is now in your head. It’s flowed into your brain through those bits of shared information, a new puddle in a constantly expanding torrent of images and concepts that spread like oceans and rivers and streams and brooks across the collective human consciousness and the works it’s created.
This world of communication is a living, breathing environment in Shark Texts, and it has spawned its own forms of life. Conceptual fish that live in the time stream and information flows of our communication. There could be schools of them in this very text, passing from my mind to yours, your mind to the next reader’s, sitting here and multiplying until a new flow of information takes them elsewhere. Bait fish, bottom feeders, predators… all swimming in our shared information, breathing, breeding and hunting.
That’s the world our Eric Sanderson must discover to find the first.
My Thoughts: The Raw Shark Texts reads like the bastard love child of The Matrix, Jaws and The Da Vinci Code. That’s already been noted, right on the official website in fact, but those comparisons are inescapable. It wraps the reader in one mystery after another, always leading you on to the next revelation. Conceptual fish is a surprisingly strong premise, and it hooked me right away. But even before I knew what they were, before I’d considered that the Shark Text’s monsters may be a mystery in themselves, I was already wrapped up by the tone of the first Eric Sanderson’s first letter and the personal mystery of what the hell happened to him. The secrets come layered and braided together, and excellent tapestry woven into a thrilling adventure. And they're punctuated by cool text images throughout the book, including one 50-page stretch that makes a sort of flip book without using a single actual picture. I've seen other reviewers who thought these were distracting. But to me, the visual puzzle of figuring out why that "Distance" is in such a funny font, then realizing it's actually a shark, adds a lot to the atmosphere of the book.
However, it’s good there’s more to the book, because the difficult idea of conceptual fish doesn’t hold together for the entire book. In fact, after an excellent and terrifying first encounter, the mystery of the conceptual fish devolves becomes secondary, slaved to the more essential mysteries of the first Eric Sanderson, and that’s where this book goes from first The Matrix—a brilliant concept that at first makes you set the book aside to consider its implications with Keanu Reeves’ “whoa” on your lips—into The Matrix 2—where all that cool stuff boils down to Neo can fly, here’s a lot of heart-pounding action.
By the end of the book, conceptual fish has gone from a brain-stretching idea to, “here are some fish that can move through air and land too, and they’re all really bad for you.” They’re little different from any other noncorporeal threat in any horror or fantasy book. That disappointed me. But at the same time, the heart-pounding action and ever deepening mysteries of Eric Sanderson were getting much stronger, so the read was still good.
There is one other flaw to the book: the climax is an homage to a very famous movie you have almost certainly seen, and that sometimes takes the element of “what’s gonna happen next” out of the equation. And this scene happens to be the climax, which plays out over several; chapters.
In short, the book moves quickly from what you could call speculative fiction, to something that’s much more thriller and mystery focused, and in the end somewhat cliché. But all in all, I still tore through the end of the book. I came away wanting to know more about conceptual fish, the new Eric Sanderson, and exactly what was swimming deep in these words I’m spilling into you.
4 stars out of 5, and I’m a harder grader then Shannon. ;-)
About the author: Steven Hall was born in Derbyshire, England—you’ll notice that in the book, too—in 1975. This is his first novel, and it’s beginning to pick up steam. The paperback version should be appearing in stores about now, and there’s talk of a film in the distant future.