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Babylon Babies by Maurice G. Dantec

01/08/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Babylon Babies in the USA - or Buy Babylon Babies in the UK

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pub: Semiotext(e) Native Agents/MIT Press. 526 page enlarged paperback. Price: 12.95 (UK). ISBN: 1-58435-023-7.

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Most of the books we get here at SFCrowsnest to review are written by people whose first language is English or even American English which I guess is close enough. Rarely, do we get French translations so there's little to compare as to whether any problems encountered is purely that of the author or just prevalent attitude of a nation's authors or something lost in the translation.

In many respects, 'Babylon Babies' tends to start of more like a thriller before a change mid-way where its author, Maurice G. Dentec, translated by Noua Wedell, suddenly remembers that this is actually supposed to be a Science Fiction novel and then chucks everything in that way for concept over story to complete it. In that regard, the two halves of the story ultimately fight each other. Dentec is actually quite a good storyteller, depicting realistic characters under stressful situations. It's when he goes in the opposite direction that he somewhat loses the plot (sic).

No doubt had he incorporated what he did into the first half into the second half, this book would have been larger or even two volumes but at least it would have been more cohesive.

Hugo Toorop, ex-soldier and mercenary is hired as leader of a small team to transport and look after a girl, Marie Zorn, as they take her from Russia to Canada. Delays extends this longer than they thought. Zorn turns out to be a schizophrenic and the reason for her transport is because she's incubating diseases. A lot of people want her dead, including some of her own people, and Toorop has to both kill and save her to fulfil the mission, none of which is helped by the fact that Zorn is also pregnant.

This stage of the story is more a spoiler as to what else is going on. Dentec drops and replaces characters at a rapid pace so you end up not really caring for the supporting cast as much as you should. It still remains a page-turner simply because you want to know what happens next but it loses the emotional content it had at the beginning.

Translated books often have to deal with unusual turns of phrase and apart from a couple words that seem out of place in English. I mean would you masticate or chew for example or misnaming a member of the Discovery crew from '2001: A Space Odyssey' as Frank Bowman - although granted it could be perceived as a story character making the mistake - it holds together pretty well.

As long as you're aware of these rather odd changes around mid-way, then you might well enjoy this book. As we have another Dentec book in the pile, I'm curious to see how much he learnt from doing this book.

GF Willmetts

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