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Book Review

Book Cover

Bernice Summerfield
The Weather on Versimmon


Author: Matthew Griffiths
Big Finish
RRP: £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 618 8
Available 29 February 2012

Inveigled into a survey of botanical art on Versimmon, Bernice is disappointed to get bogged down in an unseasonal cold spell - and to discover that Ruth has some radical ideas about how the living archive should be managed. Why is a hailstorm bringing back memories of a war two generations gone, where are Versimmon’s first animals appearing from, and who can Bernice trust on a planet full of budding artists? As the forest world is bombarded by ice and the collection’s guards start disappearing, the archaeologists find themselves getting back to their roots and branching out into local politics. All the time, the weather on Versimmon is changing, and its inhabitants will find that revolutionary times demand revolutionary works of art...

Like the trees that lie at the heart of The Weather on Versimmon, this debut novel by Matthew Griffiths takes a while to grow. For example, the “memories of a war two generations gone” mentioned in the synopsis don’t really exhibit themselves until a third of the way into the 200-page narrative, while the “budding artists” and their “revolutionary works of art” don’t come to the fore until close to the end of the book.

What is immediately apparent is that the colonists on Versimmon have a tree-based culture, which even pervades their language. Their archive of artefacts and artworks (to which Bernice’s apprentice Ruth wants to gain access) is located within the roots of a giant tree, their capital city is called Crowne, military ranks include canoptin (rather than captain) and carpel (rather than corporal), people speak of rings instead of orbits or years, and “litter” is an expletive term based on waste organic matter. The population has made clever use of the plants: the author describes membranes engineered into doors and windows, and tree sap repurposed for use as medicine or hydraulic fluid to drive lifts.

Other aspects of the narrative take longer to get a handle on, and consequently I wasn’t engaged by the story until about halfway through. The author’s penchant for short scenes hampered my ability to get into the plot, as the focus kept shifting from Bernice to Ruth and back again just I was getting to grips with each strand. Griffiths’s text is sometimes difficult to follow, and uncorrected typos don’t help matters - such as a missing word (perhaps “motioned”) from the sentence “Verral them inside and followed” (p150). The divided nature of Ruth’s thought process (with her stream of consciousness indicated by brackets) seems confusing and pretentious at first, but it ultimately proves to have a purpose.

What is also less than clear is where this book fits in with Bernice’s audio adventures. I can understand Big Finish not wishing to deter casual readers with a “this book takes place between...” kind of note, with its implication that they need to listen to the audios in order to appreciate the books and vice versa, but those who follow the entire range, like me, might like to experience the stories in their intended sequence. I had initially assumed that this book simply follows the box set Road Trip, but that release ends on a cliffhanger that leads into the next collection. Professor Trout from Bad Habits (disc two of Road Trip) gets a mention, so The Weather on Versimmon must take place after that story. Therefore the events of this novel probably fit in between Bad Habits and Paradise Frost (the third and final disc of Road Trip). Don’t try to wedge the book into the box set though!

This tale of titanic trees, which includes some tense moments down among the roots and out on the edges of tall branches, is undoubtedly better suited to prose than audio. However, the text could have done with more careful pruning.


Richard McGinlay

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