Certain books have all the markings of cult classic. Despite often simple and predictable plotlines, they are rife with mythology, creating strange new worlds inhabited with characters as quirky and bizarre as their most avid readers.
Steven Hallâ€™s first novel, â€œThe Raw Shark Texts,â€ is one of these books. Released in 2007, the bestseller has been hailed as one of the most original pieces of fiction created in the new millennium.
â€œThe Raw Shark Textsâ€ uniquely mixes wit and thrills, which could best be described as a blend of Douglas Adamsâ€™s classic â€œThe Hitchhikerâ€™s Guide to the Galaxy,â€ â€œThe Matrixâ€ and the work of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. If it had to be assigned a genre, I could only describe it as â€œepistemological fictionâ€.
The novel opens like all too many modern thrillers: Our protagonist, identified throughout the book as â€œthe second Eric Sanderson,â€ wakes up with no memory whatsoever. Who he is (or was) and what has happened to him is a complete mystery.
In the process of reassembling Andersonâ€™s life and identities, Hall departs from what at first looks to be a clichÃ©d plotline. Rather than being the product of a top-secret government brainwashing program, Andersonâ€™s amnesia, he discovers, is the result of an attack by a â€œconceptual fishâ€ called a Ludovican.
Hereâ€™s where that originality bit comes in.
After about 100 pages of suspenseful fact-finding, Anderson is launched down the rabbit-hole and into a world inhabited not only by schools of conceptual fish, but by those rare individuals, living on the furthest fringes of society, who study the creatures.
In Hallâ€™s fictional world, radio broadcasts, written texts, even passing thoughts compose an unseen sea of concepts and ideas where creatures like the Ludovican live and feed (on the memories of hapless victims like Eric Sanderson).
Despite the bizarre nature of the setting and characters (throughout his journey, Anderson meets a number of odd personalities, including a professor who inhabits a compound constructed of used telephone books), the plotline of â€œThe Raw Shark Textsâ€ follows a tried and true formula.
Boy meets girl, boy realizes the true, unseen nature of the world, boy discovers he is the one true hope for humanity and boy saves world.
The story, told through a mish-mash of narrative, letters and illustrations (including a 45-page flipbook animation), never fails to keep the reader turning pages. Hall does an excellent job of immersing the reader in his strange world and keeps them rooting for its unlikely heroes even in the most absurd situations (SPOILER: the climactic scene is an obvious imitation of the end of the movie â€œJawsâ€).
This blend of compelling, easy-to-read storytelling and imaginative world-craft has created a predictable cult of follower for Hallâ€™s book.
The following has become so large, in fact, that Hall has started a hunt for the novelâ€™s 36 â€œlost chaptersâ€: strange, tangential additions to the story that he has spent the last three years writing and scattering around the Internet or hiding within new editions of the book.
Whether youâ€™re the cult fascination type or not, though, â€œThe Raw Shark Textsâ€ is a fresh take on an age-old thriller model and promises a fast read while avoiding the pitfalls of clichÃ©.
News Editor Matt Minich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.