This first novel from Mr. Watson is an old Victorian explorer novel archetype – like Haggard or Conan-Doyle –  where a band of explorers find strange and unexpected things in an isolated part of the world. This is the backbone. The story is fleshed out with elements of Michael Crichton (who loved stories about technology’s impact and was noted for his research), Isaac Asimov (who wrote strong stories about how engineers and practical people interacted with the sci-fi future) and just about every major thriller writer who dabbled in how the plucky heroes deal with Government, for good or ill. Plus a generous dose of Harlequin Romances.

The plot revolves around a research expedition to a remote island in the Azores.  There to perform studies related to their PhD theses on volcanos, the group of students, a thesis advisor, a last-minute captain and a stowaway, are sidetracked by a mysterious explosion, and the appearance of strange rocks that appear to have peculiar properties. I believe it is no spoiler to say that these rocks are not what they seem, the US and UK Govenment ride in with a warship, and there are passages where the personalities take a backseat to science, ecology, politics, nano-technology (whispers of MC’s “Prey” can already be heard among the club). More cannot be revealed without telegraphing substantial developments in the plot.

“Geonesis” is a self-published novel, and benefits and suffers from this one fact.  It was clearly a labour of love from Mr. Watson, and in today’s fierce book-publishing market where piles of worthy manuscripts never even get read by a scout, it’s no surprise that self-publishing is a route taken by some. It’s relatively cheap, it aspires to no great audience, and it is better than a tattered printout somewhere that no-one will ever read.

Where it suffers is in the kind of first-novel mistakes that a more seasoned, less emotionally invested editor would have pruned or corrected. Adverbs abound, characters are superficial at best, speak unrealistically about personal events and in the first part of the book, seem to be introduced at the whim of plot. There are a few spelling mistakes, grammatical mistakes and uneven plot lines which often confuse. There is no one central character, but the point of view keeps jumping from one person to the next, somethimes between one paragraph and another. Romance and sex are handled in what can at best be described as childish. And characterization lacks subtlety, depth or complexity: each character in the story is given one major defining trait and more or less stays there: Mary’s independence, Doug’s grief, Joby’s playfulness, Cat’s confusion…but that’s more or less it.

Mr. Watson shines – as Crichton did – in his science. There’s no question  he loves and knows what he is writing about, and throwaway details are always interesting (the whole business about the gekko’s feet is a good example).  What he lacks is presentation, a way to thrillingly bring this alive in the mind of the reader, and the often stilted dialogue does much to undermine the fascination of his central thesis.  Too many extraneous threads are introduced that interrupt his narrative flow – worst are the shipboard romances and whininess of the Beresfords, which are key to derailing what should be a terrific premise and story, and distracting the reader. Crichton and Asimov, who both shared this flaw, got around it by concentrating fiercely on the science – here, this is not the case.

To its credit, the strength of the story transcends most of these weaknesses. As Curt noted, it started self-consciously and then got into its flow. It’s interesting, if nothing else, and tackles a subject not often seen, not often examined in this realistic kind of setting. The themes one can take from it will undoubtedly make for good discussion.

As an editor, my advice would be to correct the obvious flaws, proof more rigourously and keep going until it’s right. As a reader, my feeling is that Mr. Watson will – and should – publish more, but sincerely hope he will develop more polish and a stronger sense of pace and character in the work going forward.

Last note: Shoemaker-Levy did not crash into Saturn but into Jupiter.

 Posted by at 8:09 pm

  15 Responses to “Geonesis”

  1. I can’t believe we didn’t get autographed copies.


  2. @Curt
    I would ask my brother to autograph mine while I am in UK but I think his head will swell too much.

    How come the picture doesn’t come thru?


  3. @Robert
    It does…but not in the office. Obviously blocking the originating site or something. (?!?!) My tachnical web savvy shining through for ya. 😉

  4. Okay.

    37 pages left. Will finish tonight.

    First things first…David…you lurking out there? We expect your thoughts here too. Five days until we hook up to discuss this thing.

    I think I was about a hundred pages in when Clint said…”Ooooooh…you’re about to go down the rabbit hole”. I started reading faster, and wow…left turn!!

    This story is a quirky little read that went way off in a direction I did NOT expect. (Almost a little Michael Crichton in there?).

    Better get writing, David. Robert’s next book selection is only 6-7 months away.

  5. The Hippie summarized the book well: “Needs an editor. Can probably be published on its own merits.”

    Nuff said.

  6. Well, well.

    I heard this was a high stress affair for David. Being reviewed by a (relatively) impartial group of peers.

    Sharpen the knives!

    Kidding. Consider this review #2, as Lance and I diverge a little here, though end up in the same place.

    David…I SINCERELY urge you to push this book. Get an editor or proof-reader. A few passages could be shortened…a few things need to be fleshed out a little more. The book would likely benefit from another 30 or 40 pages devoted to character development. It needs some polish, and a few mistakes cleaned up.

    That being said, you have a strong handle on language, interesting characters (though some need a little more dimension), a brilliant and innovative concept and plot, strong science (as mentioned, a la Crichton) and you handle pacing quite well when the action ramps up.

    We were unanimous in being seriously impressed with what you have here. I think we agreed it was a neat opportunity to read your book, but as a self-publishing, were wary of it. I can speak for all (based on Friday’s gathering) when I say all concerns were unfounded. Do not doubt this…it is a good book. If it doesn’t sound too condescending…well done. We are looking forward to your next book.

    Keep sending this out to publishers. We all believe it would sell.

    Good luck, and thanks for a good read.

  7. More under “Gatherings”. See the review of the eve.

  8. Should clarify as well…where Lance and I diverged here. He gets pickier with issues of grammar and such than I do.

    I look at this book as almost all positive with a little work needed. The briliance shines through. The hard work is done.

  9. Hi to all at Liquorature, I’ve been awaiting this day of judgement for a while. Bob has of course bigged you all up and told me what a bunch of heartless book shredders you are. I was genuinely worried when ‘Catcher In The Rye’ was the previous book selection, it suddenly seemed like such a bad idea…that Bob had…

    Then of course he came over to England and ‘Lost At Golf’ to his brother, an event that transcended all previous insults we have ever exchanged. I wouldn’t ask him, or tease him about it, I’m sure the grief is still too raw. But, I wasn’t counting on his support in defending my book as a consequence. Indeed he has since teased me mercilessly by email about my ‘Day Of Reckoning’.

    So, all in all when I finally dared to look at the site I was pleasantly surprised. Not savaged but it definately took a few knocks, as one would expect for a first time and self published work.

    On your comments I’d say overall fair and perceptive, it certainly concurs with my own view, a strong storyline, some good science and some patchy characterisations through inexperience. I’d love to have got a publisher and have a professional editor help me sharpen things up, improve the graphic art of the front cover (you guys didn’t crucify me over that, but others have…).

    I’m kicking myself about the whole Shoemaker Levy thing, I hate getting science wrong and I don’t know what I could have been thinking. I want to tease Lance however by letting him know that there is (at least) one even more embarrasing howler in the book that I have been waiting for someone to point out. I’ll say no more but Shoemaker-Levy is but a minor factual blip compared to this other howler. No-one has yet mentioned it, which is of course different from spotting it. Needless to say all this would be corrected in a published release…

    If you’ve tried to publish a book in these times you’ll know that it is an almost Herculean task to get any interest whatsoever. The reason I self published was to recognise that this first book was not going to be any sort of commercial success but did need to gather me some readership and feedback.

    The killing thing about submitting a book and having it rejected is that you get no reason for that rejection and therefore no feedback on what needs improving. If I hadn’t self published I wouldn’t have gained the feedback that I have. What that has told me is that I can command an audience, but that the technical quality of my writing needs to improve. I’m on it…

    I’m encouraged by your comments but have, for the moment, shelved plans for a sequel to Geonesis. I had a trilogy in mind, with Geonetics as the next title, tracking the Beresford five years on and during a period in which the organism is showing rapid genetic adapation. I had quite a lot of interesting ideas based on the creature copying insects to move around, insect plagues, etc. I doubt I will write it now because I cannot see a way to shift the dynamic over publication of the original. The trouble with a trilogy is, you have to get book one to be a killer to carry through the sequels. Sadly the Beresfords will probably languish now, their lives cut short.

    I have started another book, but I am not at all sure about finishing it. It is a psychological thriller this time, no humour and written in the first person by someone that has become deranged through trauma. Given your comments it seems a bit ambitious in retrospect. I’ve done enough to try and tempt a publisher, if they don’t bite I’ll probably can it and try another approach. Without a publisher a book is doomed and therefore, once you realise that, a waste of your life completing. Geonesis was about me proving something to myself, I think future books will need to make the threshold somehow of publisher awareness.

    So, thank you for reading Geonesis, thank you too for the honest comments. I can almost smell the whisky in the glasses and have seen pictures of the acreage. I’d have enjoyed hearing the craic over Geonesis and winding up my brother over his golf. In the absence of that I hope you guys will help me out…!

    Thanks again.

    Dave Watson.

  10. Damn, now I have to read the whole thing again in order to find that more glaring mistake.

    Publishers, I’ve read, do not read “cold-submissions” very often (= almost never). They prefer to stay with their established stable of proven wrriters, and do little to develop and nurture new talent – they poach it once it’s known. So it is smaller, independent, almost specialty houses that have the time and make the effort to read new work and assess its worth.

    I hope you don’t stop writing. If you had a trilogy in mind, then you had a general story arc developed already, and given the interest we had in your central theme, you’ll have willing readers (and critics) over on this side of the pond.

  11. David,

    Thanks for dropping in.

    At risk of beating a dead horse here…

    You can write. You wrote a book that had seven people with divergent tastes all sit up up and take notice. Every one of them enjoyed it, and said it should be a published book. We even spoke about who would be cast in a movie adaptation. Your concepts (both in Geonesis and what you mentioned above for a possible sequel) are UNIQUE and WILL command an audience if word gets out.

    You were compared to Crichton and Asimov.

    I hope you do decide to continue this tale. We will be waiting.

    Further…I would love to see how you handle another genre, such as psychological thriller.

    If you don’t find a publisher, we’ll all send you ink and reams of paper. We’re not picky. We can read what comes off the printer at home. 😉

  12. Have now added an edited version of the above review to Kept the self publishing thing out of the review, and awarded three stars out of five.

  13. David, I don’t think that any writing is ever a waste! even if not that many people read a piece of material it still affects the ones who do. Plus I’m sure not every piece of work Stephen King ever wrote made it through to publishing! As long as one learns something each time they write they make it worthwhile because it will make their future pieces of literary genius better. Keep it up if you have the passion for writing! I for one really enjoyed the book

  14. @Curt
    No link required. Just look for the book under and my review will be down under “other reviews”

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