I picked up this book for my Science Fiction/Fantasy book club. I was really excited because I was going to be reading a book within weeks of it being published. I never do that! And yet… I knew within 5 pages that I would likely DNF this book. By the time I reached 38%, I was done. I couldn’t read another word in The Fortress at the End of Time.
The premise of the book is simple: The clone of a soldier exists on the other side of the universe from his origin. Here, at the most boring and worthless post in the universe, he diligently does his job while being an emotionless self-absorbed jerk until he has an existential crisis and tries to “ascend” by committing a crime he is imprisoned for. If that plot catches your eye, don’t fret– there are plenty of other reasons not to read this book.
First off, our narrator and protagonist is completely unlikable. That is in some cases a selling point for me. I do enjoy the occasional unlikable narrator. But Aldo… he is melodramatic and incredibly self-obsessed. He doesn’t listen to anyone around him, always assuming that even though he is the lowest on the totem pole that he knows what to do best in all situations. He also seems to be completely emotionally detached from everyone and everything. I never got the sense that Aldo was engaged in what he was experiencing.
Our plot is completely glacial. It is alluded to in the beginning that Aldo has done some terrible thing which has landed him in jail. In the almost 40% of the book I read there was no rising action taking us towards this moment. He mentioned it and then we just heard about his daily life at the Citadel for pages and pages. Nothing. Is. Happening.
You might be thinking, “But, Jackie! I have loved some books with slow pacing!” Ah yes, but did you love books with slow pacing where you weren’t immersed in the world or their characters? The secondary characters have no personality. They are forgettable, interchangeable, and completely static. They exist in my opinion, as a way to drag the text on for pages while Aldo recounts his dreary interactions with them. As this is a first-person narrative, we don’t see anything about these characters or their personal arcs other than what Aldo wants us to. Since he doesn’t care about them, we don’t either.
After talking with my book club, no one would really recommend The Fortress at the End of Time; either for me to finish reading it or for someone else to pick up. It’s like McDermott wanted to explore philosophy but wasn’t certain how to, so he just wrote until he felt done. One of my friends even said, “This would have been a great 80-page novella.”
Sorry, McDermott, your first attempt at a novel didn’t work for me. Perhaps it’s best if you stick to short stories?
What do you think?
- Have you read this book, or is it on your TBR? What do you think? Why are you interested in reading this?
- Have you read any of Joe McDermott’s short stories? What do you think of them?
- What do you think of DNF reviews?