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Smell collector doesn’t stink.

By Wildbow, author of Ward

May 1, 2014: Our protagonist is a small adult man with no social graces, who lives with his mother, surreptitiously (or so he thinks) sniffing people. As a character driven work, this is essentially the story summed up – following a damaged individual who tries to make sense of the world by codifying its smells.

The Smell Collector (TSC) is a hard work for me to review. I tend to put a lot of stock in the flow of a work: the manner in which A leads to B leads to C, the ability of a work to sweep up the reader in the patter of the writing itself and the segues from event to event. This is, I would suggest, the Smell Collector’s weakest point.

That said, the Smell Collector has its charms, and it’s certainly not a bad piece of work. I read it to completion, and I’ve stopped midway through serials with better flow.

Short, at 55 installments of a few hundred words each, it’s easily an afternoon read. It’s a fairly casual read, which is harder to read due to the change of perspectives than any convolution in the story. Changes in perspective, covering a wide range of characters (from our protagonist to the heroine, to bystanders) and formats (journal entries, experiment progress notes, and third person), are relatively easy to process, all things considered – the author signifies who is talking well enough that I didn’t have to reread to grasp what was going on.

The story doesn’t follow a particularly straight line. With the changes of perspective, we see the story backtrack a bit. The same events from a different person’s eyes, or even the same events from the same person’s eyes. This helps to ground the reader, but it makes the pacing a little staggered. Things are complicated some when some events are shared out of order. Two steps forward, then one step back, if you will.

One can argue that this awkward structure fits the protagonist’s nature. He’s a disjointed little man, one that’s oblivious to social niceties, prioritizing his smell collection at times over social boundaries or even his job. It dominates his thoughts and his notes. However, a disjointed read is still a disjointed read, whatever the underlying rationale or excuse, and particular readers might want to take note. It’s one of two major culprits I would point to in explaining TSC’s lack of flow.

The second culprit is the site structure itself. Read using the ‘next post’ link, and you’re going to see roughly ten or so posts with author updates, random thoughts or complaints about a lack of readers – it takes you out of the reading experience, and in my book, it’s not something so excusable as the last point. Further, the reading experience was interrupted by the layout of the ‘next chapter’ links, which took some hunting to find. The ‘related posts’ and ‘who is the author’ bits below each chapter and above the ‘next chapter’ links are all more prominent. More than a few times, I clicked on the ‘related posts’ bit instead, and this added to my confusion.

Those are my gripes. Take away the (intentionally?) disjointed flow and it’s a rather straightforward story, and the non-protagonist characters are equally straightforward.

That said, TSC’s protagonist strikes a good middle ground. He’s weird, arguably autistic or suffering from aspergers, with no social graces and a peculiar obsession. Author David Hill Burns doesn’t force sympathy down the reader’s throat, but allows the reader to come to their own judgements. For a character-centric story, he has a definite charm, and he walks a thin enough line to hold one’s interest. Very possibly interesting enough to merit a read.

I like for a story to give me something I can take away from the reading, and TSC does that. It’s not a classic by any means, but I found it a good, quirky, casual read. There’s something to be said for that.

If that’s something that appeals to you, maybe check it out.

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