My recent tryst with Frankowski’s fin de siècle work continues, mostly because I haven’t read this one in a while, and needed something I could read in a night. As with so much of his catalogue, Frankowski’s Fata Morgana is a maddening blend of neat science fiction and really sloppy execution.
The basic story is that of Treet Nyugen and Adam Kulczyinski, a veritable Odd Couple, who are the owner and the star engineer of a Special Machinery plant in Michigan. Frankowski spends considerable time talking about Special Machines (basically, custom-built machines that make machines or machine parts), which is apparently a dear topic to his heart, and damn me if I wasn’t interested. By some plot mechanism or another, they built a giant ferrocrete boat1 and end up crashing into a floating Island in the remote Pacific—the mythical Western Isles, which in this case is a 28± mi2 floating island formed out of volcanic featherrock, and which houses a strangely archaic people devoid of metals and minerals.
I was taken by Frankowski’s setup, which was itself interesting, however implausible. I always find that Frankowski has good ideas for his novels. What was really aggravating was a two-fold fault in his writing.
(1) An almost total lack of conflict. Treet and Adam are damn near invincible, genius engineers who miraculously have a boat full of gold and silver coins, making them instantly the most wealthy persons on the island. And they have women who fawn over them. Whenever there is danger or antagonism, the two manage to escape it by such a wide margin as to make the conflict itself an afterthought. The book reads like a Frankowski daydream.
(2) Frankowski writes a lot of himself into all his books, it’s true, but in this particular case, I believe he made characters out of his two warring sides. Treet is an cynical atheist, Adam is a nonchalant Christian. Both are conservative in an irritating/ridiculous “Women’s Lib is a bunch of dykes and there’s nothing wrong with the word ‘nigger’ because it is a derivative of the Latin niger” kind of way. And Frankowski will completely stop the action so Treet can ruminate in this fashion2 or Treet and Adam have discussions in which both seem to agree that, boy, the government sure does suck, or women are naturally dumber than men, or some other silly blathering. I like Frankowski when he solves technical puzzles, not when he climbs on his soapbox.
The Fata Morgana can be a fun read except for the overabundance of unimportant blather. I would have liked to see a much larger book, or possibly a series, devoted to all the interesting topics that arise (culture shock, immunology, horticulture, engineering, &.c.), but it seems to end just as it’s getting good. What a shame.