Howard Waldman is an exceptional writer. So much so that one seriously wonders how much longer it is possible
for him to roam the wilderness of self-publishing without a contract from one of the major firms. For all I know he may have
been offered one, and may have turned it down, preferring to remain an outlaw rather than compromise for the sake of commercialism.
If this is not the case, then some agent somewhere is missing out, and so are a lot of readers.
I would almost describe this author as frighteningly talented. Frighteningly because his characters and situations
have a slightly scary edge to them. They have depth and complexity, but little humanity. The two central figures in this novel,
Lorz and Dorothea, both bear the hallmarks of the social misfit. Thrown together by the necessity of work, they develop a
kind of relationship which satisfies neither and is a source of discomfort to both. Beyond that, though we may feel pity,
even sympathy, for each of them, the average reader will find it difficult to identify with either of them. The fact that
the story is set in some kind of future, or alternative, world, thus qualifying loosely as science fiction, does not excuse
the author from the obligation of making the reader care what happens to the characters next. If I did care, it was out of
intellectual curiosity rather than genuine feeling.
Mr Waldman’s worst writing habit is the tendency to use pronouns when a name is needed for disambiguation
purposes. In view of the calibre of the rest of his work, I have wondered whether this is a deliberate device designed to
keep the reader on his or her toes. Certainly, writing of this intensity invites brain fatigue after a while, but dozing off
is never an option. Very occasionally the grammar breaks down, particularly towards the middle of the book, where I suspect
that the proof-reading effort was being placed under severe strain by the sheer density of the narrative.
It is the candidate, with his bizarre and mesmerising range of talents, who eventually brings Lorz and Dorothea
together, giving them both a subject for discussion and a reason to conjoin their efforts. Together they conspire to keep
the work inspector at bay when the candidate becomes an employee. Quickly the project takes over both their lives, and becomes
dangerous in an only too predictable way. Not that the story in itself is in any way predictable. Although the presence of
a powerful if undefined connection between Lorz and the candidate is clear from the outset, the nature of that connection
is never fully disclosed, even at the very end.
ISBN 978 1 905202 50 8
BeWrite Books, 2007
Retail price £8.99
Review by Deborah Fisher
The author’s evocation of the dank, colourless world below ground is a more potent echo
of the white-painted office and the white-painted flat. The candidate’s obsession with introducing colour and detail
into his own accommodation contrasts strangely with his growing determination to obscure any threat to the immaculate images
in his subterranean workplace. In the end, it is through a lengthy interment in these surroundings that Lorz comes to appreciate
the outside world. It is unclear what suddenly causes him to snap out of it, and it seems impossible that he will live to
enjoy his return to a semblance of normality.
The final chapters had me very confused. Desperate for a meaningful conclusion, I ploughed on,
like Lorz and Dorothea through the blizzard, but I never got the satisfaction of an answer – or maybe I just didn’t
recognise it when it came. Like Mr Waldman’s other characters, both of them remain adrift in their separate fantasy
worlds, unable to get on with one another and yet unable to do without each other. After what they had been through, one could
only hope that, in the future, at least one of them might be persuaded to take the occasional day off work.