Friday 19 February 2010

Jumper and Reflex by Steven Gould; books and film

I first read Jumper in the early 1990s, shortly after publication. I enjoyed it a lot, along with several other books by the same author in the same time period (I reviewed Wildside here on 25 July 2008). Gould's writing style is clear and accessible, appealing to young and old adults alike, and his concentration on the development of his young characters is impressive and convincing despite the fantastic nature of the situations he places them in.

When the film of Jumper came out, I noted that it was heavily criticised by fans of the book (so what's new?) but I only recently got around to watching it. Fortunately, I had forgotten all but the basic premise of the book, so I wasn't making direct comparisons. I thought the film of the boy who discovers he can teleport himself by an effort of will was a mildly entertaining piece of film-making but I was left dissatisfied, as if I'd had a meal consisting solely of side-orders. It all seemed rather pointless with an indeterminate ending and I was left thinking "well, OK, but so what?"

This did, however, prompt me to re-read the book along with its recent sequel, Reflex. Reading Jumper after the film was a revelation; I was gripped yet again by the story of David Rice, the young adult struggling to cope with his suddenly-acquired paranormal ability while simultaneously trying to create a life for himself and deal with relationships, good and bad. What struck me most was the amount of thought Gould put into the story, the way in which he got inside the heads of his characters and worked out what really would be the problems and how they might respond to them. This perceptive intelligence adds hugely to the appeal of the book as it draws in the reader; it is almost impossible not to think "what would I do in a similar position?" This also revealed to me the influence this must have had on my own novel, Scales, which follows a similar trajectory until mid-way, when I provide an inevitably rather wild explanation for what had happened which takes the plot in a different direction.

I was also struck by the considerable changes in the plot of the film, most especially that David's teleportation ability was not unique but was shared by many others; and furthermore that there was a secret organisation, the Paladins, which had for generations been dedicated to tracking down and killing the teleporters, whom they regarded as unnatural. This seriously detracts from the principal fascination of the book - the credibility of the story (apart, obviously, from the teleportation itself). It turns the tale into yet another popcorn conspiracy fantasy. To sum up, the book is a diamond, the film is paste.

Fortunately, Reflex is the sequel to the book and not the film, despite what the cover of my Tor paperback edition claims (those who go straight to this book after only seeing the film will be sorely puzzled - what happened to the Paladins and the other teleporters?). It is always difficult to write an initially unplanned sequel to a popular book which is not a disappointment, because the novelty of the basic premise has worn off. Gould succeeds with this one, though, writing a tight and gripping story which significantly develops his original idea. It is difficult to review without some spoilers, so if you like everything to be a surprise, stop reading NOW!

Reflex is set ten years after the events in Jumper. David and Millie are married, living in their desert cliff home and working elsewhere; David is rich due to working for the NSA on a freelance basis, using his unique ability for various clandestine operations. Then disaster strikes; David is kidnapped, leaving Millie stranded in their home. She discovers (the hard way) that she has also acquired the ability to teleport, and the story then follows two tracks; with David, as he struggles to overcome the restraints placed upon him, and with Millie, as she fights to discover what has happened to him.

As is only appropriate given the increased age of the protagonists, Reflex has a more adult and somewhat darker feel than Jumper. The long incarceration of David lasts for most of the story, during which he is systematically tortured and sexually tempted in order to break his will and condition him to obedience; for some, this may be a bit too realistically portrayed for comfort. However, the story is very well-written and exciting, and is highly recommended to anyone who enjoyed Jumper (the book, that is, not the film…). As a bonus, the book's ending dangles enough future possibilities for another book in the series. Bring it on!

1 comment:

Bill Garthright said...

I'm glad you enjoyed Reflex, Tony. As I've said before, I would never have believed a sequel to Jumper could be that good. David is not a kid anymore, and he's learned the hard way not to assume he's invulnerable. Besides, how could you keep him imprisoned, and what good would that do anyone?

But Gould pulls it off. He made it all sound very plausible (at least, if you accept the premise about teleportation in the first place, as every reader must). This author keeps impressing me.