Imagine for a moment that you’re reading a book where the protagonist stumbles across a gate in the back of his house, which opens onto an alternate world uninhabited by man and populated by mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. Starting from that premise, which of the following plots sounds the most intriguing to you?
- An adventure story: The protagonist goes through the gate, and explores this mysterious new world, encountering peril and danger and perhaps unearthing deep mysteries.
- A gadget story: The protagonist studies the gate to find out how it works, encounters deep mysteries, and explores the ramifications of the technology in unexpected and novel ways.
- A logistics story: The protagonist incuriously decides that the best thing to do is exploit the new world for mining gold, and proceeds to plan out the complex-yet-dull details of doing so, holding forth on such fascinating details as where to get health insurance for his employees, the legal benefits of doing business as a limited-liability corporation, and the construction-related difficulties of setting up a base on the other side of the gate.
If you picked the third option, then a) I feel sorry for you, as modern literature has mostly ignored your tastes, and b) boy howdy, is Steven Gould’s Wildside the book for you.
I picked up Wildside because I moderately enjoyed Gould’s Jumper, which is one of those ordinary-person-gets-magical-new-ability novels, and was interested in reading what I figured would be a light adventure story. I couldn’t reasonably have predicted how tedious Wildside would be — you’d think that if you had a portal to a savage and wild land, you could do something interesting with it, but for the first 100+ pages of this book, we see one interesting event, tops; the rest of that space is filled in with tedious logistical details.
It gets better at the end, thankfully. About halfway through, the characters finally start getting curious about things and engaging in interesting plot activities instead of time-killing filler; but it never gets good enough to make up for the tedium that preceded it. If you enjoy books that start out incredibly dull and get readable in the second half, you can throw Wildside on your pile of idiosyncratic favorites along with Robert Jordan’s Winter’s Heart; if you prefer your books to not-suck through their entire length, though, you can skip it.