News from Gardenia
By Robert Llewellyn
|Value for money||7/10|
|Did it do what it said on the box?||7/10|
Some good ideas, but ultimately disappointing
William Morris’ 1890 novel News from Nowhere describes a utopian vision of the late 20th century. In News from Gardenia Robert Llewellyn brings the story up to date, with a visitor from 2011 ending up in 2211.
Like Morris, Llewellyn’s vision is deliberately utopian: mankind has not had to experience near destruction at the hands of asteroids, mechanical warriors, zombies, plagues, intelligent apes and/or aliens (delete as applicable), and has averted the worst effects of more gradually acting causes, such as overpopulation, pollution, global warming, corporate greed and rabid bankers.
Llewellyn has cleverly constructed a composite Utopia, with different regions of the world finding different solutions and being at different points in the cycle of economic, political and population development. Overall the message is positive, as the author openly intends, although there is the suggestion that communities such as the Gardenians (British) who have reverted to a largely rural “non-economy” may be sowing the seeds of their own decay, with limited ability to maintain older technology and innovate new solutions. It is not impossible to see them becoming the Eloi of The Time Machine – pretty, charming, but useless.
Unfortunately as a modern novel the book does have several weaknesses. Few short-term problems mean there’s almost no drama in the story. There are tantalising glimpses of some things, such as a new communal game, but no real description, and some of the text is in danger of dating rapidly, such as references to Apple and their current products. The ending comes suddenly and the story just stops. The author’s intention may be to use this as a springboard for another tale in the series, but that’s not clear.
There are also numerous “schoolboy errors”, such as a space elevator system which is not equatorial and somehow manages to complete a rotation in less than 24 hours, or a solar power system with output many thousands of time greater than it could possibly have. Given Llewellyn’s credentials as a technical presenter, I found these disappointing.
This is a relatively short book, and worth a quick read for some of the ideas, but ultimately a more complete development might have worked better.