A review of Reality Dawn, by Kate Genet

READ FEBRUARY 2014

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: Reality Dawn is a dimension travelling Reality Worker. She’s on our Earth to make sure no unauthorised doors between dimensions are opened, Unbeknownst to most people, this happens quite often – passages from one Earth to another, parallel Earth open without warning, and the consequences can be alarming. Fearless, adventurous Reality Dawn loves her job, and loves having company on her travels, which is why, when Rae meets her after her sister-in law mysteriously disappears, Rae is invited along for the daring rescue from a parallel Earth unlike anything she’s ever seen.

In this first episode, Rae’s sister in law vanishes into thin air right outside her house. No one can figure out how that is even possible, never mind what has happened to her. Until, that is, the equally mysterious Reality Dawn turns up late that same night. Rae is alternately baffled and intrigued by this strange woman who is addicted to tea and biscuits but claims she can get Rae’s sister-in law Morgan back from wherever she disappeared to. When Reality invites Rae along, Rae can’t help but go – this might be the big adventure she was always hoping for. If not, at least it’s better than sitting around twiddling her thumbs. And anyway, if this Reality woman is half as nutty as she seems to be, it’s going to be one interesting trip. She only hopes Reality is serious about rescuing Morgan.

MY REVIEW: To put it simply, I loved Kate Genet’s Reality Dawn. Some time ago — must’ve been almost a year, ‘cause St. Paddy’s Day was coming up — the author mentioned a series featuring a lesbian Doctor Who-type character. Lapsing into my occasional faux-Irish mode, I said the idea sounded “dead fockin’ brill.” Well, folks, the realization of that idea is even better. I’ll warn you in advance: some gushing may ensue.

But, ya know, it’s not enough to say you love a book (film, song, painting, single malt Irish whisky); then, a review becomes just fan a letter, and too damned many of those, along with a plot summary, get posted as “reviews,” already. As inquiring minds do, you want to know why I loved it. So…

Reality Dawn has all the qualities I’ve come to expect and admire from Kate Genet: intriguing premise, logical plotting (within context, it is SF, after all), interesting twists, very likable characters, a decent sized serving of humor, very proficient writing, technically, and a fluent narrative style.

The premise: A Doctor Who-like protagonist who, it’s implied, at least, is a lesbian, and her reluctant companion, who happens to share that orientation, embark on a quest. Make no mistake, though: this is in no way Doctor Who fanfic, or, I suppose, femslash. It simply takes the general concept of a character like the Doctor and asks, as all science-fiction should, “What if?” or pace Rod Serling, “Posit this.” What results is more of an homage (fem-age?) to The Doctor, but, on Genet’s own terms. There are even very brief nods to Tolkien and Madeline L’Engle, in addition to a more obvious one to the Brothers Grimm.

Plotting: Given the above premise, the plot follows logically and events never violate Genet’s created world. While this should be a requisite of any type of writing, it’s absolutely de rigueur in any sort of speculative fiction. In fact, it’s probably the biggest downfall of unsuccessful stories in that genre. Yeah, I know that seems paradoxical, since, in science/speculative fiction, some elements are already at variance with the world as we know it; here’s the thing, though:  once the rules of the author’s fictional universe are established, any deviation can topple the entire house of cards. In other words, having already suspended a healthy chunk of our disbelief, the story mustn’t go beyond that, or we say, “Whoa! Enough, already!” Or maybe just “WTF? “ Happily, even the most unlikely events in Reality Dawn don‘t exceed the boundaries the author has set.

Interesting plot twists: Let’s start with the opening scene. A woman is walking across her front lawn, observed from an upstairs window by her life partner. Suddenly, she just disappears. No, she doesn’t fall into a hole, though hookah-smoking caterpillars and Off-With-Her-Head queens wouldn’t be out of place here. She simply vanishes. Into the proverbial thin air. Twisty enough for you? Good. Then I won’t give anything else away, which would spoil an awful lot of fun for you.

The characters: For me, the most enjoyable thing about Kate Genet’s stories is her characters. Sure, the stories are always really entertaining and the writing itself is excellent, but characterization may be her forte, or, at least, first among equals. Anyway, Reality Dawn is very recognizable as a Doctor Who type, especially the 4th Doctor (Tom Baker — long scarf, long coat, certain mannerisms,  fondness for sweets. Reality also exhibits some of the brashness of the 9th Doctor (Christopher Eccleston — “Stupid, on the whole, but curious at least”, though he, like Reality, would soften the cheeky words with an “impish smile.”) My favorite line, “I don’t have to tell you what I think I’m doing, because I can tell you what I know I’m doing,“ (italics, mine) could have been spoken by almost any of the Doctor’s incarnations, but somehow it’s uniquely Reality‘s, as well. Genet doesn’t try to disguise the similarities, either, as some writers might; in fact, she flaunts them  (“Doctor Who’s Tardis had nothing on this”), and this is exactly the right tack, as well as the source of much of the story’s considerable humor. Despite Reality’s debt to the Doctor, though, she’s every inch her own distinct character, too.

The other main character is Rae, whom Reality cajoles into joining her by saying it will be a fun adventure, and you get the idea that there hasn’t been much fun in Rae’s life, not to mention adventure. It’s a little like Han telling Leia, “You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.” Ostensibly, Rae’s rationale for going is the desire to “retrieve” Morgan, Rae’s sister Bronwyn’s wife (see online summary). Apparently, though, she’s not very close to either Morgan or Bronwyn which makes her willingness to help rescue Morgan all the more admirable. But, whether she admits it or not, the need for excitement is definitely a factor, too; she knows this may be her only chance to escape, even briefly, her humdrum life with its series of dead-end jobs.  Rae is unsure of herself, of her abilities and of who she’s meant to be, so, in a sense, this is also a coming-of-age story. A character discovering her inner strengths is a common theme in Genet’s works, and watching those characters unfold, blossom, even, is one of the true pleasures of reading her stories.

The interaction between the Reality and Rae is, on one level, typical Doctor/companion, stuff. But, and it’s a big one, the potential for romance here is much stronger, the kiss between Rose and the 9th Doctor notwithstanding. Yes, the Doctor does feel affection for some of his companions, but, in Reality Dawn, Rae is genuinely attracted to Reality, and, while Reality doesn’t overtly express her feelings, there’s a helluva lot of hand-holding which you sense could easily turn into something more. The (possibly) developing relationship between the characters helps move the story along every bit as much as the mission to save Morgan. It’s also an inducement to read the next entry in the series, assuming you need a reason aside from the sheer fun you had reading this one.

Humor: I don’t remember more than a couple of truly laugh-out-loud moments, but, that’s okay: that type humor quickly evanesces. Instead, almost every page has at least two or three things that elicit a knowing smile, especially if we’re hip to the Whovian canon, and they leave us with a longer-lasting, warmer feeling of familiarity.

Proficient writing, technically: The lapses so common these days, in grammar, punctuation, and word usage, all of which remove the reader from the story in which s/he’s become absorbed, simply aren’t an issue. Of only a couple of other writers, I’ve written that I’m not sure they’re even capable of writing badly; I now officially add Kate Genet to that small list.

Narrative style: Another reviewer has referred to Genet’s narrative style as “eloquent,” and I’ve used the word “spare.” Essentially, we’re saying the same thing. Eloquent, in addition to meaning fluent and forceful (in the sense of moving or effective) also means appropriate, and what I mean by “spare” is that latter connotation, using the right words at the right time, uncluttered by unnecessary verbiage. In other words, perfectly pristine prose. (Hey, Ursula Le Guin says you should  use alliteration, and who am I to argue with a master, a Grand Master, in fact?) Genet has a knack for choosing just  the right words and avoiding the extraneous ones, while still filling the narrative with plenty of descriptive detail.

A couple of examples might help give you the flavor of the thing: “Black, blighted building;” “deep, dark dusk (Remember what Le Guin said about alliteration? I thought you did.) Phrases like “The words tripped over themselves falling from Rae’s dry mouth” could, for some authors, become mere mannerism, but Genet recognizes that, as effective as personification can be, it can also be overdone, so she uses it fairly judiciously. Similarly, a word such as “perambulation” would, for some, be pretentious, but, here, it’s absolutely right. There are plenty of similar words the author could‘ve used — meander, amble, mosey, but there’s something about “perambulation” that takes Rae’s casual saunter and makes it purposeful. (Note: Lest you think I’ve given you too many snippets, spoiling the reading pleasure in some way, fear not: the story’s chock-full of them, and, anyway, you‘ll be so absorbed in the story, you won‘t even remember I mentioned them.)

In Writing Fiction, one of my favorite books about writing, Janet Burroway tells us “Significant detail, active voice and prose rhythm are techniques for…taking the reader past the words and the thought to feeling and experience.” Genet, whether intentionally or instinctively, makes use of those techniques, and so we become immersed in her stories instead of just being outside observers.

Deep breath, now. Drum roll, maybe: While I’m not completely sure what it is — partly, that ability to know just which words to use and how to put them together to evoke a particular emotion or mood — there’s something about Genet’s writing, that reminds me of Harlan Ellison. It’s a statement I don’t make lightly, folks, ‘cause, for me, anyway, there just ain’t any higher praise.

To conclude (whew!), I’ve used a few academic concepts to explain why this is such a damned good book, and, hopefully, to make you want to read it. I have only one thing more to add: Reality Dawn is a deliciously fun, thoroughly entertaining romp, and a joy to read. Try it. I think you’ll agree.