Book Review: Channel Blue
Author: Jay Martel
Plot summary: Perry Bunt is an insipid fallen scenarist in Hollywood who now teaches scenario classes. When he follows his favorite student, Amanda Mundo, to her work, he discovers that she is an alien TV producer. Her advanced civilization got rid of violence, impulses and sex millenia ago, and all that is left for them to do now is watch TV all day - reality TV shows produced by filming inferior species on other planets. Earth has always been a very lucrative planet for Galaxy Entertainment because the "Earthles" are so mean, violent, unpredictible... But now, audience rates are dropping and the producers decided to end the show. But beforehand, they programmed a spectacular finale to draw as much audience as possible one more time. Meaning, this is not only the end of the show, they programmed a live destruction of Earth, and Amanda seems to think that only Perry can help her save Earth from anihilation.
Overall - yep, let's start with the conclusion - Channel Blue is a very nice read. It is easy to read - although I should point out that I read it in French, so I can't exactly judge the style itself - and never boring.
I read this book because I am now part of a reading club. And whereas the other members had all summer to read this 472-page long book, I decided to join the club on a Wednesday night and the meeting was the following Monday evening, so I had less that a week to read it... And considering I read veeery slowly, I did pretty well. I didn't finish it on time, but my point is that it is the kind of book that I picked up everytime I had 5 minutes to spare, and it had been quite a long time since I last read such a book.
One of the main characteristics of the book is that there are plenty of twists, and they are all more incredible that the last one, but somehow, you end up going along with it, and in the end, you don't find it particularly ridiculous to read a scene including Elvis and God in the same room.
The whole book is based on a simple idea: what is a good scenario and how do you build it? Indeed, Perry and Amanda aren't going to save the world by destroying an alien vessel or going to war with the Big Brother type aliens, all they need to do is create a show interesting enough for the ratings to go up again. But the problem is that Amanda's race - I can't find their English name, sorry - gets bored very easily and don't have the same criteria for an interesting show as Earthles such as Perry, which makes it quite difficult for him to go along with her plans at first. This is also why the first chapters each end with an example of one of the 7 scenaristic archetypes. At that point, you don't know it, but the whole book is about writing a scenario.
The common theme running through the book is the confrontation of Perry's and Amanda's civilisations. Amanda's is supposed to be very advanced - genetically engineered human being who don't possess the genes for violence anymore, who think that having sex is disgusting and a waste of time - but paradoxically takes great delight in watching the defects that they have eliminated from their genome in inferior civilisations. They are supposed to have a non intervention policy, but Perry then learns that they intervened a LOT - hence Elvis and God as actual characters - in order to move plots forward to an interesting place, but this revelation actually leads Perry, as well as you, or at least me - the "Earthles" reader - to take a defensive position. He is the only person in the book who can actually try to defend his fellow humans, and when he learns that George Bush's election and the War in Irak were actually engineered by alien producers, I surprisingly found myself sort of defending stupid human behaviours based on the fact that if you manipulate us to act like that, you can't be surprised or shocked to see us react like that. If the aliens make sure to create an environment that will lead to violence, is it really the Earthles who are very violent by nature, and do they have a choice at all?
The book therefore opens a number of questions - although it is not really a philosophical book, mostly action/SF - about evolution, what it means to be advanced, to be human - if you don't make babies, don't poop, don't feel certain emotions, can you still call yourself a human? -, the relationship between reality and fiction, what verisimilitude means, non intervention policies, how to save the world - the main idea to save the ratings is to show that Earthles are non only mean and violent people, which now bores the audience, but that they can be good; being a good person and helping others literally becomes the means of saving Earth, don't you find it a tiny little bit ironic??
As I already said, overall, the book it easy and nice to read, you go along with the plot, but one of my main criticisms is that it is a little too long. My fellow readers from the reading club agreed with me on the fact that we lost a bit of interest in the middle, although we found it anew after this long bit. I also found the end a little long and less interesting, although paradoxically, after all the failed intrigues throughout the book, I found /!\ spoilers /!\ the way they finally save Earth fun and interesting but a little easy and short.
Another criticism would be that I sometimes felt that the book plot would fit a film better than a book, because some of the scenes are too graphic - Perry gets beaten up quite a lot of times, as the aliens find it extremely funny - and a little boring to read. This is when I read that Jay Martel is actually a scenarist and this is his first book. I guess this explains that
Finally /!\ big spoilers /!\ I was a bit disappointed by the very end of the book - learning in two sentences that there actually was another civilisation that actually engineered the whole thing, even the events for which Amanda's fellow producers weren't responsible, for their own entertainment. Indeed, as Amanda starts to say that things did not happen for no reason, given how everything turned out, I started to think that everything had be written as a show or something, which would be the ultimate nothing's real revelation, but this being revealed in the two final lines and introducing a new set of players that had nothing to do with the plot felt a bit disappointing to me, although of course it creates an interesting mise en abysme in which the messers were actually part of the messies. So what I didn't like about this revelation is not its existence, but the way it was done.
And to finish this review, I would like to show you the cover of the French edition, so as to confront, in my turn, two worlds, the American edition world and the French edition world:
Tags : scifi, USA, TV, anticipation, society, book
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