Dunnard’s Pearl: What to Do with the World When You Can’t Get Off

Dunnard's Pearl

Dunnard’s Pearl: What to Do with the World When You Can’t Get Off is the debut novel of Mike Williamson. It was first published in 2013 and provides a satirical critique of big business and the attitude that the 1% hold towards the rest of society.

Following a nasty accident, James Justice awakes to discover that he is no longer on Earth. Exploring the alien surroundings, he soon learns that he has somehow been transported onto a space station called the Dunnard’s Pearl, and that relationships between the various groups of people who live on board is at an all-time low.

At one time, the farmers, the manufacturers and the engineers worked side by side to maintain the vessel, but overtime a fourth faction arose with the perceived notion that they needed to manage the rest. Known as the administrators, they quickly grew in number and contributed nothing of value to society. Consequently, living conditions for the other sectors has deteriorated to dangerous levels.

Realising that something needs to be done, James sets off to speak with the Grand Administrator. On the way, he discovers that he is not the only stranger on the Dunnard’s Pearl. Both Jo Honeydaze (the girl he loves) and Ben Deadwood (the boy who bullies him) have also been mysteriously taken aboard, as well as a shape shifting alien duo known as Harold and Maude. Working together, they seek to find a way to help the less fortunate members of society and find a way to return home.

Dunnard’s Pearl is a novel with a lot to say. It carries a strong message regarding the way we regard people who are less fortunate than us. Inequality is rife within the Dunnard’s Pearl, yet the people on board have come to regard it as the norm. The administrators do nothing that does not either stoke their egos or line their pockets, reassuring themselves that nothing is wrong with society because admitting that there was a problem would jeopardise their standing. They rationalise their actions are necessary through constant assurances that the other sectors are poor because they have made bad choices – that opportunities for them exist but they are just too lazy to take them. It’s an effective message and voiced intelligently, managing never to feel too heavy handed or preachy.

At times, the humour was also very refreshing. The novel did present a world that was surreal and engrossing, filled with rebellious elevators, shape shifters who specialise in soft furnishings and dictators who would risk the lives of thousands of people in order to create an attractive water feature. The reveal as to how the space station received its name was also genuinely unexpected and incredibly creative, and was easily my favourite twist of the story.

Unfortunately, I felt that some other aspects of the commentary were aimed at adults more than teenagers. There is a lengthy section in the middle of the story in which James and his friends sat in a board meeting. In this chapter, there was a heavy critique of big business and how unproductive high management can be – creating blame cultures and always looking to scapegoat rather than take responsibility for their unscrupulous actions.

While this commentary was entertaining for someone who has worked in an office, I really doubt that many teenagers would see the humour here. It was simply not written with a young adult’s area of experience in mind. Some of the pop culture references also missed their mark on a teenage audience, with references to movies from the 60s and 70s rather than present day. While I’m not discounting that modern teens may be aware of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Harold and Maude, for a novel written in 2013 and aimed at young adults they felt incredibly dated.

The story was also a little slow burning, taking too much time early on in setting the stage while very little else happened. Although the second half of the novel contained some very exciting scenes (the escape from the Dead Centre and spacewalk being especially memorable), I really did struggle to reach this point as I had to wade through a lot of dialogue and filler to get there it. Many early events – such as the reality TV show that Jo and Harold featured on – seemed significant at the time but proved not to be in the large scheme of things and it generally did feel as though the story could have been streamlined in order to break up the chapters of heavy debate.

However, the novel did drastically improve as it neared its conclusion. As James and his friends rushed to escape the administrators, I found that the book began to rapidly grow more compelling as it began to pick up steam. Although the story did still contain a number of rather large coincidences – James suddenly stumbles across his uncle at one point with little explanation and seems to occasionally pluck plot twists out of thin air – it was well written and very enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the novel’s weakest point was its characters. Of the five protagonists, all but one were entirely two dimensional; displaying little by the way of individuality and next to no backstory. The only one of the primary cast to receive anything resembling a character arc was Deadwood, who did show a marked personality change by the end of the story, but this still seemed a little simplistic and understated.

Deadwood aside, the other characters just did not feel like real teenagers. Their dialogue and concerns felt like the kind of things that would worry an adult more than a teen and their reactions at times were just abnormal. What kind of normal school kids laugh over the body of a man who has suffered a gruesome death before their eyes? Or maintain an eerie calm when arrested for crimes that they did not commit? The author seemed to have a little difficulty maintaining a realistic teenage voice for his characters, causing them to seem unnaturally wise beyond their years.

So, what did I think overall? Well, Dunnard’s Pearl is well written and delivers a strong message without ever feeling preachy. At times, it is very funny and it presents some incredibly memorable moments. Unfortunately, the novel is not without its flaws. I felt that it was not really aimed at young adults as a lot of the humour is based around work place scenarios and pop culture from 60s and 70s, a lot of which would be lost on a modern teenage audience. The characterisation was also somewhat lacking, leaving its principal cast a little dull and forgettable.

All in all, Dunnard’s Pearl was not perfect but it was an interesting read and I would recommend it to an intelligent reader who enjoys their science-fiction with a lightly humorous twist.

Dunnard’s Pearl: What to Do with the World When You Can’t Get Off can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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