The Babylonian Trilogy, Sebastien Doubinsky

Review by Stephen Theaker The first part of this trilogy of novellas is The Birth of Television According to Buddha. Though not overtly science-fictional, it reminded me a bit of Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan in tone and subject matter, and in its attempts to make sense of – or at least catalogue – a world that's utterly confusing. I loved the short chapters, which broke what could have been quite a difficult book up into nicely manageable pieces.

It was interesting to read this on the Sony Reader (the publishers sent a review pdf), because it did show up one flaw of the device: if I wasn’t paying attention when new characters were introduced (there are lots in this first part), I couldn’t just flick my eyes back up the page to get my bearings. On the other hand, that means the Sony Reader will encourage me to read more carefully.

I took a bit of a break before reading the second part, Yellow Bull. The problem for me with this novella, about a detective assigned unenthusiastically to a serial killer case, despite how well written and engaging it was, was that I kept forgetting which book I was reading: was it Yellow Bull, or the Chabon book (I’m getting sick of hearing myself mention it) or The City in These Pages? But maybe that’s a problem with me, not the book: I’ve only read a very few crime novels before. Someone new to science fiction might see little difference between Robert Heinlein and E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith. The similarities stick out more than the differences.

Next: the third part, The Gardens of Babylon. This was the first part with a noticeable fantastical slant, in that among other things it’s about the misadventures of a government-licensed assassin and an author guilty of illegal publication (though I suppose both have real world equivalents). After the straightforward, linear narrative of the second part, this is back to a fractured narrative from multiple viewpoints, but again it’s in easy-to-digest bite-sized chunks.

Overall, a well-written, exciting and thought-provoking book. It’s a book I suspect I won’t really understand until I read what other people have to say about it, but that wasn’t a barrier to enjoying it, and the sense that it will repay further consideration is a good thing: a book that you know you’ve probably misunderstood is much better than one that leaves you thinking, glad I’m done with that!

PS Publishing, hb, 286pp.

About Stephen Theaker (306 Articles)
Stephen Theaker's reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Prism and the BFS Journal. Among other work for the BFS, he has been awards administrator, short story competition administrator, Dark Horizons editor, FantasyCon secretary and treasurer, and (briefly) chair.