World-building is a crucial part of sci-fi writing, especially if an author is writing about decades or centuries in the future, when the world may look very different than it does today. In Meet the Unimaginables, a wildly clever novel by Paul Slutsky, a relatively normal man named Alan Norton gets the opportunity of a lifetime: intergalactic travel to contact and learn about other forms of life. Although his career has been dedicated to seeking out and contacting other life forms, his task becomes far greater once he has the doors of the universe flung open for him as an agent of the Search for Life program.
Attempting to wrap his mind around the impossible definitions of existence, while also pushing for a collaborative project to artificially create life, Alan Norton careens through an incredible adventure, interacting with vengeful local alien tribes, witnessing nuclear explosions and everything (un)imaginable in between. Through it all, he retains his oddly charming personality, and his vision of making the world a better place.
Uplifting and exciting, this book delivers what it promises: an unpredictable romp through space. However, there are a few notable stumbling points. The tone of the writing is very direct, and Slutsky doesn’t give readers much time to deduce things on their own, or draw their own conclusions about the characters. The narration feels abrasive at times, as though a story is being told to a rapt audience, rather than a book being read and experienced.
This also makes some of the more beautiful concepts of the book harder to swallow. The poetic nature of interacting with other life forms in the cosmos – an experience that would be truly incredible – comes across as somewhat sterile in Slutsky’s writing: “He believed that he was ready to accept any form of life if it was able to think. It turned out that was not the case. It turned out that what looked like another creature could frighten, disgust or even force him to run. Alan felt that he was not yet ready to meet with the new.”
The ideas behind the book are interesting, and the questions it raises are unique in the genre of sci-fi and fantasy futures, but without being expressed at the proper level of awe and emotion, the high-impact concepts don’t always thrill and excite. The premise of human beings not only discovering and interacting with other forms of life, but also working together with those beings for an even greater goal, is something that any fiction reader can sink their teeth into, but the experience of reading the book could have been more gripping.
Additionally, scattered grammar mistakes, syntactical confusion, and a lack of polish could be improved by a thorough edit, and some of the prose could have been left on the editing floor. The formatting and flow of the dialogue between characters often comes across as unnatural, which makes it easy to get distracted. Few things are worse than needing to re-read dialogue or descriptions 2-3 times in order to understand what the author intends to say. Complex writing is completely acceptable, but proper sentence structure and directness of meaning is also important.
Despite the blank canvas for cosmic adventure that the premise of this book presents, as well as the action and intrigue of the endlessly creative plot, the novel still slightly misses the mark for overall readability. For those with a soft spot for eccentric space-based odysseys, Meet the Unimaginables is a winner, but it could use a bit more refinement.
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