Sunday, January 6, 2019

Yellow Dawn: Dog Eat Dog Review

This is my second book review for the Yellow Dawn setting, the first being Black Lake. Yellow Dawn is a really cool setting that's sort of post-apocalypse, post-cyberpunk, and Lovecraftian but with many original mythos-style entities in addition to the pre-existing Lovecraftian lore. The game is designed for Call of Cthulhu / Basic Roleplaying, and the 3rd edition was going to be based on the current version of CoC. Unfortunately, the creator of the game and setting committed suicide several years ago, and the book was never published, despite being almost complete. I've been trying to see if the manuscript can be recovered and if this game can one day be published, so I've been reading the novels set within Yellow Dawn and reviewing them in order to bring awareness to this creator. I hope this will inspire others to make a push to get this book recovered / published.

Dog Eat Dog Review
This review may contain minor spoilers. It is intended as a broad-level discussion of the book and not a detailed plot synopsis.

    So, I liked Black Lake a fair bit. I felt like that book told a solid story in the vein of stories like At the Mountains of Madness or The Thing, but back-loaded too much of the setting and lore. Dog Eat Dog also feels rooted in a genre, in this case in the vein of gritty political thrillers such as the Bourne series or the grittier Bond stuff.
    Compared to Black Lake, this book feels much more deeply tied to the setting. The political factions that drive the plot of the book are all part of the lore of the setting, as are the Living Cities in this post-cyberpunk, post-apocalypse world. To me, this book confirmed some of what I felt Black Lake alluded to about the setting, which is that despite being a cyberpunk Lovecraftian post-apocalypse, it's surprisingly optimistic. The corporate conglomerate that had basically controlled the world in the cyberpunk era has been largely overtaken by a new global democratic government, and humanity seems on its way to stability and rebuilding in the wake of the disasters of the Yellow Dawn event. I really like this setting; for as familiar as it is in some ways, it has some interesting wrinkles, and I wish more cyberpunk or post-apocalypse settings were as thoughtful and well-realized.
    That being said, the book itself is... ok. It's written well enough, it follows two characters, one a government agent and the other an enforcer-type in the criminal underworld, and their reasonably likable characters, for being unlikable people. I think Carlos, the government agent / "good guy" comes off worse, in part because his motivations seem a little awkward (he's got major daddy issues), and in part because there were times where I couldn't tell if Rodger was making him intentionally unlikable, or if I was reading into something he hadn't consciously intended for the character. Mikhail, the criminal enforcer, is a bad dude, but as a result I'm more willing to accept when he says or does some really sexist or otherwise bad stuff. Both characters rely on being "clever", and I think mostly succeed (something easier said than done), but I definitely think Mikhail, despite being an enforcer-type, ultimately read like the more clever one.
    The plot involves labyrinthine political schemes that can be difficult to keep track of since there are so many acronyms for setting-specific organizations or events, but on the whole I found that even when I was losing track, it didn't really affect my enjoyment of the story either way. The writing is solid, but I think this book really suffered from a meandering plot. If it seems like I'm being vague, that's in part because I'm just not a detail-oriented person, but also because there really isn't anything cohesive to hang the hat on in trying to explain the plot of this book. It felt like the first 80% of the book was just spinning its wheels to get to the last 20%, and as with Black Lake, I would have preferred if the supernatural elements and lore and been more evenly distributed. It almost felt like the book was written to be a TV show, and I think it would have worked better if it had been written in a more explicitly episodic way, with a full narrative arc across each of the story arcs that ultimately get the book to that last 20%. To make it work as a single narrative, literally the majority of the book could have been cut, just going from the first 10% or so right to the last 20%, and then that could have been expanded upon. The book just tried to do too much without consideration for how it all comes together.
So with all that being said, if I'm being honest it's hard for me to strongly recommend this book, but if nothing else, it not only did not diminish my interest in the setting, but actually has me even more interested. I would feel really bad if somebody read this review and as a result were less interested in Yellow Dawn as a setting. The plot was a bit of a mess, but the world was not. I would have liked to have met David J. Rodger and talked to him about the setting and about the characters in this book. I have very... complex and conflicted feelings about this, but if you're reading this and have any thoughts of suicide or depression, please at least call a hotline, or seek professional help. I imagine Rodger had so much more to say, but unfortunately what he's given the world is all we're going to get, so even though I didn't love this book, I still appreciate it for the rare insight into the mind of an interesting person, someone who maybe could have been my friend, someone who is no longer with us. 

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