Shades of Grey is a novel about an imaginary future in which people have developed a very strange sort of color blindness. The society is structured on the basis of a caste system which is graded by each individuals ability to see a specific color. Some are reds, yellows and blues others are greens, purples and oranges. The degree to which one can see ones color, or combination of colors in the case of the non-primaries, determines one's place in the social order. The greys, who can see no color at all are at the bottom of the heap.
The purpose for all this, and the cause of this strange color blindness is revealed in dribs and drabs throughout the book. I found it somewhat frustrating at first because Fforde did not seem to be in any hurry to fill in the details of the strange science fiction world he had created, leaving me, the reader, in a kind of limbo. Fforde seemed to be violating one of my tenants of good science fiction: Make your fictional universe internally consistent and understandable to the reader. Of course nobody pays any attention to me anyway.
In the end, the world of Shades of Grey is shown to be very consistent and clearly understandable. It takes most of the book to do that because the consistent structure of Fforde's world turns out to be the major driver of it's plot. The book is written like a mystery novel, but one in which figuring out the significance of the strange sci-fi premise is the mystery to be solved. Fforde's protagonist, Eddie Russet, only begins to realize that this is his task, along with the reader, near the end of the novel.
It is also written in such a way as to lend itself to being the first installment of a series. I hope Jasper Fforde knows this. Perhaps there will be people who are hopelessly unable to spell in the second book of the series.
keywords: fiction, science fiction, crime fiction
Sunday, April 18, 2010