Ideas can only get a book so far. Which can be frustrating, but it’s the truth; no matter how engaging and interesting the ideas of a novel are, ultimately, as Roger Ebert said (and I quote so often), stories aren’t about what they’re about; they’re about how they go about it. And it’s that quote that explains why I was so put off by Arthur M. Doweyko’s Algorithm, despite some interesting ideas at play and a couple of genuinely neat concepts.
It’s not just the frequent grammatical errors and typos that put me off – although, I’ll be honest and say that having three of them within the first two pages doesn’t fill me with confidence about the book I’m about to read. No, it’s the haphazard nature of the plotting. When you have such a neat hook – which revolves around a gold medallion uncovered in a lump of coal, buried for thousands of years, which leads to a young man making connections not only with an alien race, but possibly with the origins of human life itself – sometimes, you need to realize that you have enough. That goes doubly when you’re as ambitious as Algorithm is, mixing discussions about the purpose of DNA, evolution of humankind, alien life, and so much more into an adventure story.
Instead, Algorithm throws in literal Nazis, cackling about world domination in the most cartoonish and ridiculous way imaginable. And a shape shifting religious alien zealot (maybe?) who comes and goes as the plot needs him to, and otherwise conveniently stays offstage. And shoehorned in exposition. And badly written dialect that grates. And a female character who’s constantly described in terms of her looks and whose whole purpose to provide “tension” and “banter” with our hero. And all of that is just in the book’s (admittedly lesser) first half, before the second half throws all of that out and gets more complicated and somehow sillier still, with continued reliance on some one-dimensional characters and overly contrived plotting that obscures the interesting ideas Doweyko is wanting to explore and play with.
There’s a great book buried somewhere in Algorithm, and I mean that honestly. I really liked the shape of what Doweyko was going for, and the revelation of what the medallions were used for was genuinely surprising (if a bit nonsensical, if you try to think about it). But in the end, to get through that, I had to get through some flat characters, a lot of grammatical issues, inconsistent actions, convenient plotting, and so many other problems that I can’t recommend this book. The ideas are great, but sometimes, that’s just not enough.