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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Early Riser

Jasper Fforde

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To purchase Early Riser

Title: Early Riser
Author: Jasper Fforde
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018
Length: 416 pages
Availability: Early Riser - US
Early Riser - UK
Early Riser - Canada
Eiswelt - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : unexceptional but reasonably entertaining

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 30/11/2018 James Lovegrove
The Guardian . 7/9/2018 Eric Brown
The NY Times Book Rev. . 3/3/2019 Charles Yu

  From the Reviews:
  • "As Charlie uncovers a conspiracy connected with a viral dream, Fforde keeps the puns and neologisms coming thick and fast while exploring every facet of his novelís intriguing premise." - James Lovegrove, Financial Times

  • "Early Riser is a zany send-up of all things British and an often hilarious account of Charlieís stumbling, hare-brained attempts to work out the secret of the authoritarian HiberTech company." - Eric Brown, The Guardian

  • "Early Riser has all of the elements and sensibility that have earned Fforde a sizable and devoted following: wordplay, allusion, a playful exuberance and -- of course -- his signature method of World-Building via Copious and Suggestive Use of Capitalization, often in the service of creating Imaginary Socioeconomic Hierarchies and Related Governmental Agencies. (...) Fforde writes witty, chewy sentences, full of morsels, and delivers them deadpan. (...) Itís not so much that the book is less than the sum of its parts. Itís just that there are so many parts. Early Riser, while never underwritten, can be at times a bit underfelt, the verbal dexterity crowding out the room for emotion." - Charles Yu, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Early Riser is set in a slightly alternate world, one where the temperatures are considerably more extreme -- and, in the winter, much lower than ours --: "Average temperatures across Wales are a balmy sixteen degrees, but with seasonal highs and lows of plus thirty-two and minus sixty-eight" (Celsius). Humans have adapted, in particular by hibernating during the time of extreme cold -- though not everyone does. For all the sleeping that is done, there's little dreaming in this world: anyone who can afford it or has access to it takes Morphenox, making for a: "dramatic drop in stored energy requirements", since dreaming is a calorie-consuming process. So relying on Morphenox means there's less risk of burning through however much one has stored up through pre-hibernation gorging. However, there are also downsides to Morphenox -- notably that: "for every two thousand users, one would arise from hibernation as a nightwalker", a kind of zombie (who, in search of calories once awake, shows: "a dismaying penchant for cannibalism").
       Early Riser is narrated by Charlie Worthing, a slightly disfigured twenty-three-year old with no family who, as winter slowly approaches, grabs the opportunity to interview for a position as a Winter Consul -- a dangerous job, but with sufficient perks to make it worthwhile. Charlie does have an exceptional memory, and the interviewer -- Section Chief Winter Consul Jack Logan -- sees something in him that makes him pick the unlikely recruit.
       Charlie stumbles along through his training and first assignment, which does not go at all the way it was meant to. He winds up in Sector Twelve, which everyone seems a bit leery about. He's warned:

'But be careful in Sector Twelve: there's something contrary about.'
     'Contrary ?'
     'Unusual. Spooky. Y'know all those weird Winter legends and fables you hear about when you're a kid ?
       Sector Twelve is also where HiberTech is located -- the ones who make Morphenox, and are researching other things as well. The Head of Security at HiberTech is the fearsome Aurora -- "A shit of the highest order" -- who, above all, can't stand the local Winter Service Chief Consul, Toccata. The two are constantly at odds, deeply loathing one another, and Charlie is repeatedly warned about their relationship. He eventually has to deal with both of them repeatedly -- a difficult balancing act between the two, since they're almost entirely contrary. Almost, but not quite: as Charlie learns to his great surprise, Aurora and Toccata also have more in common than the stories about them might have suggested, Fforde's most clever little twist in the novel, and one that supplies a lot of the fun and tension to the ongoing story.
       Quite early on, Charlie accidentally nods off -- and only wakes up four weeks later, deep in winter, already dangerously emaciated. Not too much changed while he was dozing, but a few things have. Most significantly, Charlie has also found himself dreaming -- and dreaming things he shouldn't and couldn't really know.
       HiberTech appears to be engaged in some nefarious activity. Nightwalkers -- this by-product of Morphenox-use -- do have their uses, as they can be trained and redeployed to do simple tasks: they can serve as uncomplaining drones, in essence, human robots of sorts, and so HiberTech actually has an interest in increasing their number ..... Meanwhile, Charlie continues to dream and in this way gain more insight into and information about what's going on -- and possibly a means of returning nightwalkers into their true human state. All the while, there are the dangers of the weather -- cold and snow, which make getting around nearly impossible -- and the various people and creatures that remain in a waking state (of sorts, in some cases) over the cold season. These range from the Villains -- English aristocracy, who continue to act comically entitled -- to a mysterious being called the Gronk, whose existence everyone doubts but which certainly seems to be active around (and protective of) Charlie (as well as being very fond of Rogers and Hammerstein).
       There are frequent confrontations, many also involving the various weapons that are available here, whose use (and consequences) Fforde enjoys describing in detail. There's a decent bit of tension in how the confrontations often turn out quite differently than one might have expected, because of the various agendas being pursued by the characters -- while Charlie mostly feels (and indeed is) quite clueless. Yet no one else manages to get their way for long, either, their best laid plans generally quite quickly upturned by unforeseeable circumstances. Indeed, revealingly, near the end, Charlie admits:
I sat in the back without a plan of any sort -- I'd seen too many plans come to naught recently to have any hope that if I made one, all would be well. But if I'd learned anything from Logan, it was that plans often get in the way of fast-moving incident-rich landscape, so better to have on-the-hoof flexibility -- and objectives.
       Fforde relies a bit much on 'fast-moving incident-rich landscape', which makes for a reasonably enjoyable ride, but it feels a bit of a cheat as well, the author tossing in whatever might be needed to twist the story this way and that. Resorting to the dream-world (in which reality can be shaped and guided any which way) generally makes for less than satisfying fiction -- there are simply no constraints to it whatsoever; they're worlds where anything goes -- and even if Fforde grounds the idea a bit here -- after all, hibernation and sleep are important in this story -- it all seems entirely too facile.
       Fforde does adventure and description well, and Charlie's struggles in the extreme conditions -- and with the unusual characters he has to deal with -- certainly are quite engaging, but Early Riser never really convinces with the high stakes of the story. The exchanges between Charlie and the various characters are good -- and Charlie proves to be quite quick on his toes and is generally able to adapt to a very wide variety of situations -- but the outcomes, episode by episode, feel forced and almost arbitrary.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 April 2019

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Early Riser: Reviews: Jasper Fforde: Other books by Jasper Fforde under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Jasper Fforde was born in 1961.

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© 2019-2024 the complete review

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