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An Impenetrable Achievement

By Rhodeworks, author of Not All Heroes

Mar 9, 2019: IN SHORT: The laws of space-time state that the denser an object is, the more it draws someone in. The rules of writing, however, state the opposite. Case in point: The Simulacrum of Dread is dense to the point of being impenetrable.

IN LONG: One of my favorite novels is Blindsight by Peter Watts. In it, an alien species receives transmissions from Earth but cannot make sense of them, the transmissions being packed with too much information they cannot understand. Unable to parse the data as anything but dense, loud noise, the aliens assume that they are being attacked.

My time with The Simulacrum of Dread made me feel like one of those aliens.

I bring up Blindsight because I like dense science-fiction. I like stories that throw you in the proverbial deep end and expect you to swim. I like stories where I feel like I’m learning things. I like stories that aren’t afraid to throw heady words at you, expecting you to piece them together through context and so on. I’m even down for excessively meta stories like House of Leaves or Ship of Theseus. But even to me, Dread is impenetrable.

Dread is interesting. It abandons pretty basic concepts of storytelling, such as explaining what a particular object or thing is, in favor of dense worldbuilding. It’s clear that Staude is aiming for a distinct type of story with a distinct feel and that I may not be part of the audience who gets it. On the other hand, I’m not sure who would.

I spent a lot of my time with Dread confounded. It’s clear that Staude is acting with deliberation. Some of the entries in the glossary (which you will almost certainly need to refer to as you go through the long, wordy chapters) are some of the highlights of the story/site simply because they get to the point and demonstrate that he can add some purple flourish to text without making it as loud and overbearing as an electric neon indigo sunburst.

How do you rate a story like this? A simple one-to-five system doesn’t really fit. On one hand, it does nothing to engage the reader and make them become interested in this sci-fi spectacle of multi-dimensional scope. On the other, it’s clearly written with a purpose and care, probably more than most serials you’d find here. And yet, on the third hand growing out of my chest, what’s the point of writing for a purpose if it is all too dense to engage with?

I like bits and pieces of Dread. As mentioned, there are pleasant flourishes here and there. Some of the setting elements are neat. Some of the names are just nice to say, such as Sebastio Artaxerxes—even if I feel like it belongs to some brooding vampire crime boss. The overall problem with it is that I didn’t feel anything that was conducive to following the story. I was never engrossed, but I was also never interested. The prose was just too dense to allow my brain to settle into the rhythm of the story.

Because I did feel things, and that is respectable too. I was positively daunted by this story. That’s quite the achievement. In some ways, this story is quite monumental. Dare you attempt to conquer it?

Maybe it all just wasn’t for me. Above all else, however, The Simulacrum of Dread is certainly unique and constructed with purpose. That does make it interesting. But I fear the audience for this effort is quite narrow, even among people who might otherwise be interested in it. I respect Staude’s efforts, but it just makes me wish he’d directed his talents toward a story that was easier to get into, with more heart than worldbuilding. It’s like building a grand temple at the peak of Olympus Mons: an achievement, but to what end?

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