The Un-Natural by Michael Grapin – Book Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius gives his thoughts on The Un-Natural by Michael Grapin.
“A well told throwback to classic science fiction and human exploration.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Of all the books we’ve reviewed on The Founding Fields, the Un-Natural is easily the most unusual choice. While it is clearly entrenched within the genre of science fiction, the book takes a very long time to actually reach any point with truly fantastical elements or aliens. Despite that, it’s of an undeniably high quality and remains surprisingly gripping even as it examines the life of the book’s protagonist.
In modern day, Josh Brady is being interviewed. A rising star within the baseball scene, Brady has played a perfect game and drawn media attention for his seemingly impossible skill at the sport. Unknown to all, Brady is far older than he appears. Born under the name Raymond Fitzpatrick the better part of a century ago, he has born witness to humanity’s ever changing nature and life beyond this Earth.
The most unique trait of The Un-Natural is how it makes many elements which would usually be marks against the book, and somehow turns them into strengths. This is especially true of the introduction, which covers the commentary over a baseball game, specifically the one which earns Brady his fame. While usually the problem of telling the audience something rather than showing it would apply here, it adjusts the reader to the style of the book. Nearly every event is told directly to the reader in the manner of first person narration, as if what is recorded is a transcription of Brady speaking of his personal history. Much like the commentary, it skims over certain details, focuses on certain elements which seem unimportant, but it gives a personal element which gives the book an oddly genuine feel throughout its first half. As if what is recorded comes from distant memories rather than something written blow by blow with extensive records to go on. In some respects it is much like Angel of Fire, with intentional quirks and elements which help to truly make the book feel like a memoir of some kind.
As the opening quote suggests, many elements of this book feel like a throwback to tales of science fiction from decades ago. Ideas and how the aliens are presented feel like something from the age of H.G. Wells or the comics of the 1970s, but rather than feeling truly out of place it’s surprisingly charming in its own nature. A big part of this comes down to how the book presents ideas which are oddly outdated, usually genre elements no modern authors would desire to touch, but they are played completely straight faced. There’s no efforts made to show self awareness or truly wink at the audience, and for this reason it becomes easy to help the reader slowly buy into what’s on the paper. It’s only when you really put down the book you realise that the flying saucer, alien observers and many elements brought up feel like something from another age.
While the continual focus upon baseball might seem odd at first, it is a character element which helps to link together the two very different aspects of the story. Despite a drastic change of scenery, Brady’s life effectively repeats itself in an odd manner with his love of the game becoming a major stabilising element he focuses upon. It’s an interesting point which works, as when faced with trauma or a desire to escape anyone can retreat back into something they love, but it also feels like something which would fit someone who has lived so long. For as much as culture and the people around him might change, he can always return to something so familiar and present since his childhood.
This said, the story is hardly without its problems. Chief among them is the length of certain elements, which do feel quite drawn out. The opening narration of the baseball game is effective at first, but it goes on for far too long. Well before it concludes you’ll likely find yourself wanting to skip to Brady’s actual introduction and life. This unfortunately isn’t the only seemingly unnecessary point in the book, as much of what follows from chapter twenty-three onwards does feel extremely superfluous. The idea behind it is interesting at first, but it’s not long before it begins to feel like an inferior version of the book’s first half. Well, that and the fact The Un-Natural places focus on oddly sensual scenes which appear very infrequently, but largely felt unnecessary in their level of detail.
Another big issue is when it comes to the scenes which are not reflections or a retelling of history there is a definite drop in quality. While not terrible, certain points do feel very lacking such as descriptions of the environment or emotive language when it comes to major emotional, even life threatening events. A big part of this comes down to the speed at which the story is told as, despite the different format, the current events of Brady’s life are told at the same pace as his history. This means that emotional or significant events such as reactions to a near-death experience are covered within only a handful of pages and lack the real significance you would expect. That and it gets into the old problem of listing line after line of dialogue in an exchange, with few actions or reactions to really punctuate most remarks.
While it is definitely flawed, I would still recommend giving The Un-Natural a look for its first half. There is some definite talent at work here and in the right mind sent there’s a great deal to enjoy. With better editing and focus this could have been far better, but the book will still keep you entertained for a couple of read-throughs if you approach it in the right mindset.
For more information, please visit the author’s website here.