It’s hard to know quite what to make of this novella. Like the curate’s egg, it’s good in parts. The good part is the lead character himself, Stephen Leeds, with his multitude of ‘aspects’ (hallucinations), who act as independent beings with a variety of personalities and areas of expertise, even though they’re invisible to everyone else. They hold conversations with Stephen, and with each other, and ‘advise’ him during his investigative work. When he needs to speak a new language, for instance, he skim-reads a book and then an aspect appears who translates for him. This is great fun, and the interaction between the different aspects, and between them and Stephen, is terrific. I have no idea whether such a situation is plausible, but it’s an entertaining read.
The actual plot, however, is a lot more flimsy, involving a camera with the ability to take pictures of the past, its reclusive inventor and the various organisations that want to exploit the device. Frankly, this part was quite silly, and the heavy overtones of religious debate tedious (the idea being that the camera could conclusively prove or disprove fundamental tenets of various religions). Then the whole dramatic climax and resolution seemed very rushed to me. I know it’s only a novella, but this felt like a full-length novel that had been cut down to fit, rather than having the structure and pacing of a true novella.
I don’t know whether this is intended as a one off, or whether the author is laying out the groundwork for a series of books later. There’s some unresolved backstory about a former girlfriend which suggests there’s more to come. There’s certainly scope for development, and the aspects have loads of potential (although it does seem a little convenient, since whatever expertise Stephen needs, he can summon a hallucination with the requisite knowledge and experience). Hopefully, any future stories will have a more believable plot. Three stars.