Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Book Review: Syndrome by Ryan Krol

Myth-Chasing Scientists Unravel the Mystery Surrounding a Secret Lab

Syndrome is the debut novel of college-film-major turned writer, Ryan Krol. I mention the author’s educational background because even before reading his bio, I noticed a “movie feel” to the book. Perhaps it was the location and time period—small-town Nevada in the late 1950s. Perhaps it was the events of the early chapters—three curious boys investigating a meteorite crash site on land that was closed to the public. Perhaps it was the existence of a secret, underground research facility nearby funded by an eccentric billionaire. It was easy to imagine these elements coming together in a movie about life from outer space, unauthorized research in the secret lab, and a team of scientists turned myth-chasers to figure it all out. But as it turns out, this drama unfolds across pages rather than on the silver screen. Overall, this mix of plot elements and how they play out are both classic and quite entertaining.

Krol’s film background, however, may have influenced more than plot and setting. For example, he spends considerable time describing how people look and what they are wearing. “So on this Friday morning, Jim and Elizabeth were doing their regular routine in t-shirts, jeans, and boots. Jim had on his jacket. Elizabeth had her shoulder-length brunette hair in a ponytail.” Of course, writers try to paint a scene with descriptions of appearance but the regularity of these updates when they do little to further the plot was unusual. As a new writer, there were also a few glitches in craft. For one, the editing process was cut short and as a result, there are quite a few minor errors in grammar or spelling, e.g., “He seemed to knew something.” For another, characters are introduced with a full accounting of their background rather than covering the relevant aspects of their history as part of the story.

While the issues above were somewhat distracting, it was the unusual shifts in points of view that caused me more pause. The book is written as third-person omniscient—we should know the thoughts of every character. But often, we jump between the thoughts of two, three, or more characters in a single paragraph including what they didn’t yet realize (i.e., the lack of a thought). And sometimes, it seems the point of view is what we, as readers, should be thinking. For example, after one character (Hill) makes a phone call, we have this: “To Hill, it was a matter of life and death. And who was he talking to?” Obviously, Hill would know who he called, so this seems to be what we should be asking ourselves.

Overall, Syndrome is an engaging tale filled with many classic plot elements from sci-fi film and literature. That aspect of the novel is fun and produced (for me anyway) feelings of nostalgia. Some breakdowns in craft, however, reduce its overall effect.

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