Dispersion: A Review
Updated: Jun 7, 2020
I was given an ARC through Netgalley. I am thankful for this opportunity to give my honest opinion about this novella. This review will contain no spoilers for the actual plot of the book.
"Dispersion" by Greg Egan is a science-fiction work set in a world almost like our own, with some major changes. Everything is made up of a combination of six "fractions", which seem to work like "elements" in alchemy. When in balance, these fractions exist peacefully in harmony. When out of balance, it seems to create a wide-spread disease called Dispersion. This disease not only causes painful death but has caused calamity between and within communities. This Dispersion has been effecting this world for about ten years and shows no signs of stopping or slowing.
My first thought when reading the synopsis was that this was a world that I was excited to know. The "six fractions" that were the basis of creation seemed interesting, and the disease based on these fractions was fascinating. I loved how this was a "low-tech world" and was eager to see how this very disease would be solved.
Once I got into the story, however, I was sorely disappointed. I did not know where I was half the time as there was little-to-no description of the settings. This is particularly true between chapters when the settings change. When we finally got to the discussion of the disease, what it was, and what it did, I was confused. I also had a hard time looking past the fact that this was an info dump of a chapter. The writer gives the reader no breaks, even strucurally. Sentences are ridiculously long and overcomplicated.
I was not drawn in by the characters, either. The way people speak has no nuance or characterization. Their vocabulary is ridiculously high for a low-tech (undereducated?) society. Our main protagonist, Alice, doesn't feel her age, and her characterization is fragmented. This is true for almost every other character in the novella. I can't tell you what these characters look like or how these characters are different from one another. They are vehicles for the story.
Often I found myself wondering what the author meant. I only have a vague understanding of how the "fractions" work, and I had to go back several times just to understand that much. This lack of understanding extends to small details of the world as well. I ended up skipping over the sentences that I had questioned, and frankly, it didn't matter in the end.
The work as a whole is fast-paced, leaving no room for reader misunderstanding. Additionally, there are tonal changes that feel as if the story has been patched together from different drafts. The first few chapters are polished (even if I have issues with the sentence structure), and then that polish drops off.
While I understand that I received a digital advanced copy of the work, the formatting was atrocious. It made some chapters painful to read. I sincerely hope that this is fixed before it goes to retail.
I also feel that the retail value of $40 is severely overpriced for a novella of this size. Even the name attached to the work does not justify this price. If I were to just take into account the quality of the work, I would say it's shameful to be charging that much.
"Dispersion" is set for publication August 31, 2020.
Overall rating: 2 stars
Would not recommend