Grade: Ψ — (Psi) A very good to fantastic book that breaks rules and/or has a setting or style that is markedly different to those of its set genre. This means one should set aside all expectations normally associated with a genre and just let the writer do the driving.
Ephemera is the highly enjoyable, if at times challenging debut novel by Jeffery M. Anderson. It falls fully into the category of interstitial literature, which means it dips it toes into a huge number of genres. Exciting, engaging and wryly funny, I greatly enjoyed this book, but feel that others may find its genre slipping style challenging. Regardless, I suggest you come to it with no expectations as to where it will take you, and I suspect you will enjoy it as much as I did.
Where to begin? Well, I suppose I should note that, yet again, I’ve come across a book that made me modify my grading system. Why? Because Ephemera‘s truly interstitial nature makes it difficult to review… but that is also why I found it so enjoyable. While I truly loved this book, there were some elements of the story that I felt stopped it from being a true must read, and thus get an Omega rating.
In brief, Ephemera is the story of Nestor Cab, a professional blogger who works for the Reviewers Review; a blog that reviews the reviews that other bloggers write. He lives in Manhattan of the near future, a city where life is dominated by advertising. Every square inch of the city seems to have adverts printed, projected or otherwise scattered across it. It’s an America where anyone can hire out their conversations for product placement, and politics are driven by a desire to promote this new status quo. Yet from the get go, we know something even more nefarious is going on, for the first chapter opens with Soldiers being killed in what has all the appearances of a nuclear explosion.
To that end, the book is effectively a science fiction conspiracy thriller, and yet to call it that would significantly mislead the reader. It is also a character driven, very dark, wry satire. Indeed, its structure has more in common with a comedy (or even a farce) than with a thriller, and as such, one should prepare one’s suspension of disbelief to be held in greater check than one would normally do for either a straight Science Fiction or Conspiracy novel. Yet, unlike most comedies, each of its reveals required deep attention to have been paid to earlier sections of the text, for subtly mentioned plot points suddenly come to the forefront. To that end, I am still struggling to find an easy place for it in my archaeologists’ categorical brain…. And yet, I really enjoyed it.
Perhaps it is because of the humor: scenes like the one where Nestor is renting a car and has to choose a color (beige or tan), or his abysmal synthetic dog with its awful grinding preprogrammed responses, or the head of the rebel/terrorist organization who dresses like a baby, or…you get the point. Perhaps it is because the book manages to be patriotic while making a cutting commentary on the nature of American culture. Or perhaps, just perhaps, it is because the book did not assume I was an idiot, but rather challenged me across the board.
It is funny, it is sad, and it makes me think. That’s pretty high praise from me.
Having said that, the book is not without some problems; at times its flow of language turns a bit too much into a torrent, with sentences that are so complex that I had to reread them a couple of times. Additionally, there is a slight structural problem in that we spend the first few chapters in a relatively tight third person narrative focused on Nestor, only to suddenly find ourselves in several other characters’ POVs for whole chapters. To this end, it would probably have been better to have had a second POV introduced in the third chapter, and had the first chapter (the one with the soldiers) presented as a Prologue.
What is more, the plot somewhat meanders a bit in the middle. This is normal in a piece of literary fiction, but is not common in a conspiracy thriller. Since the dark nature of the humor starts growing very dark at the same time, some readers could lose faith at this point. I suggest that you stick with it, even though the villain’s reveal at the end was a bit monologuey.
Yet for all that, I truly enjoyed Ephemera, would love to see more books like it published, and look forward to Anderson’s next book. Ephemera is not for everyone, and far from an easy read, but it is a good one; one that is ideal for an extended period where you can sit and read and let the flow of the language, humor and ideas pull you through in a single sitting (e.g on a vacation, when you have a few consecutive evenings to curl up and read, etc.).
As such, I would seriously recommend this book to anyone who wants to be challenged. Just remember to set aside your expectations, pay attention to little details, let the plot go where it goes, and enjoy the telling of the tale as it takes you to its final destination.
 i.e. Nestor would be writing a review of this review, not of the book itself… a blogger’s worst nightmare really… but a really funny concept.
 Dark wry comedy, would that be pumpernickel?
 And that is coming from me, who likes and uses complex languages.
 These are EXACTLY the kind of elements that a good content editor can help an author overcome. Things that would have made this an Omega book.