Upon its release in September 2012, Danie Ware’s debut novel, Ecko Rising was lauded as a sophisticated juxtaposition of science fiction and fantasy. Indeed, the hype surrounding the book’s release was vast: Ware is after all a publicist and event organiser for Forbidden Planet, and with her prodigious experience in the science fiction and fantasy community, no doubt great things were anticipated. Perhaps I missed the memo. What I encountered in Ecko Rising was a poorly executed attempt at a genre mash-up, and although some of the concepts were interesting, they were by no means original. Furthermore, it is guilty of the worst crime in my pocketbook of offences – it was badly written.
Let me begin with my accusation of the ill-attempted synthesis of genres: the novel opens in a dystopian London of the future in which the population is drugged into an apathetic stupor, content to work, sleep and play video games. It is here that we meet our protagonist, the eponymous Ecko – a technically enhanced assassin whose cybernetic modifications include skin camouflage and ocular implants.
Upon a reconnaissance mission as part of a rebellion group against the pharmaceutical company that created this stagnant existence, Ecko finds himself in a strange world with outlandish place names and eccentric customs. Believing himself to be caught in a program designed to analyse his brain, he views this world as a type of video game, and so his adventure among strange people and their fantastical world ensues.
The transitions between dystopian London and the fantasy landscape of the Varchinde are serrated: the narrative jumps backwards and forwards, not just between these two worlds, but among the large myriad of characters that Ware haphazardly introduces throughout the novel. Furthermore, the very worlds that she is trying to juxtapose feel all too familiar, even to the most elementary reader of science fiction and fantasy.
The depictions of the fascist grip on a pharmaceutically controlled population who obey and enjoy their servitude were, for me, the most engaging parts of the book. However, in this portrayal of a futuristic London, resonances of the somnolent masses of Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and the evolutionarily degenerate Eloi of Wells’ The Time Machine (1895) are undeniable – perhaps even a little disturbing to the literary purist such as myself.
On the other end of the genre spectrum, the fantasy elements of Varchinde reek of an attempt to recreate or pay homage to Tolkien’s Middle-Earth: I kept expecting Bilbo Baggins to turn up at the teleporting pub ‘The Wanderer’ and share a flagon of ale with the high-tech, futuristic Ecko. Even in the world of the Varchinde there are echoes of the fin-de-siècle literature of the 1890s that, in its post-Darwinian state, was preoccupied with the idea that civilization may be on the brink of evolutionary degeneration. And in Ecko Rising, this is what Varchinde is experiencing. There are lines from this 2012 novel that could have been plucked from any of the late-Victorian forefathers of science fiction, for example: “The world [Varchinde] was stagnating, just like his own. It was in stasis; it learned nothing new […] Its population wasn’t growing, either in number or in enlightenment.” (p. 158).Tags: dani ware, ecko rising, sci fi, titan books