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Night of the Animals: 09/02/18
Night of the Animals by Bill Broun has sat on my wishlist so long I don't recall the circumstances that inspired me putting it there in the first place. Last summer as I was facing an uncertain time between addresses, sojourning in an apartment in the catchment of my children's schools, I relied primarily on ebooks and digital audiobooks as they didn't take up a lot of physical space.
I will be upfront and say that some of my reaction to this book is probably due to the medium I chose. Some ebooks — especially ones written for adults — tend to explode when converted to epub. The UX reasoning is to make the typeface adjustable to help readers who might need a larger size. A large typeface on a small screen (especially on my little iPhone) disrupts the textual flow and makes an already long book (560 pages) an extraordinarily long book (more like 1700 pages).
Add to this reading experience two other problems. The first was that the book, for whatever reason, kept forgetting its digital bookmarks. The second is that I was in serious need of glasses but didn't have the time to get my eyes examined during the craziness of selling our condo. Combine the two and I was re-reading entire chapters (sometimes multiple times) in as small a typeface as I could manage.
On a night in 2052, homeless man Cuthbert Handley decides to listen to the animal voices he's been hearing and release the animals from the last remaining zoo in the world. It happens to be the London Zoo. The United Kingdom is run by King Harry 9, a rather Trumpian sounding extrapolation of current Prince Harry. His reign is set against a world that has been taken over by a Wikipedia equivalent — again with the recent Russian hacking and influencing of U.S. politics via Facebook, Twitter bots, and some election hacking, not that hard to envision.
Handley has a social worker / doctor who wants to help him off the mind altering and highly addictive drug he's on. It's a drug that has flooded the nation and has hit the poor especially hard. It's again not to hard to imagine given the opioid epidemic that is so often on the news.
But here's where things started to fall apart on me (and this is in part due to the unfortunate re-reading glitch) — the proportion of world building to plot was off. So much of the book is devoted to explaining how the internet driven dystopia of 2052 got there that the basic plot — man wants to free animals in zoo because he believes they can talk — gets lost in the endless details of how the drug was invented and distributed, how Harry 9 came to power, how social media was used and corrupted and reformed into a global Big Brother.
Then there is a side plot of Handley trying to find his long (very long) lost brother. Handley is elderly and his brother was even older. The chances of his brother actually being alive are slim to one but we still have to slog through Handley wondering what happened to him and his eternal hope that he can find him.