Review published on March 19, 2013.Reviewed by Ian Simpson
Nudge Reviewer Rating:
Two of the biggest questions in physics and theology are tackled by Tom Holt in Doughnut; who is God and what happened to cause the Big Bang. Wow. And this is a comic fantasy novel. You can’t really call it science fiction, although it is based around quantum physics, multiverse theory and time travel. Science fiction relies on the internal rules behaving consistently, but in Doughnut, that would spoil the fun. So, what is it about? Well, imaging if you could turn the many-worlds theory into a money-making social media, virtual reality style product. A bit like YouTube combined with Second Life. Only real. You could even call it YouSpace.
Meet Theo, the most unlucky man in physics, who is now world famous for blowing up the VVLHC (that’ll be the Very Very Large Hadron Collider). His wife subsequently left him, he lost all his money, his brother died and his sister has a restraining order out on him. He finds himself homeless and working in an abattoir when his only friend and mentor passes away as well. Theo’s left with the contents of his friend’s safety deposit box, which is the start of an extraordinary comic adventure. What Theo discovers is that Pieter, his former Professor, had cracked the problem of journeying between universes. The aforementioned YouSpace. However, obviously, this being a Holt novel, not everything is what it seems. He finds himself working in a clearly fake hotel with odd characters who clearly up to no good. Thing is, Theo is a genius and he quickly figures out what he thinks is going. He discovers the truth about his brother and the Professor, all the while, travelling to a variety of peculiar universes. These include a one where cartoon characters are real, another where everyone lives on floating platforms held up by millions of helium balloons, and an odd purgatory where you can play Ludo for 6 years.
So what does a doughnut have to do with anything? Well, in this type of comic fantasy novel, there needs to be a thing. There are always a series of running jokes (of varying success) and one-off gags – which do bring a smile to the face – but there needs to be the MacGuffin. And in Doughnut, it is, well doughnuts. I won’t spoil the story by explaining, but it could have been anything. In fact, in the last third of the novel, it’s almost as if Holt has forgotten about them. Which brings me to the main issue with the latest of Holt’s 20 plus novels published since 1987: for a comic fantasy addressing such concepts as the multiple universe theory and the big bang, and even referencing relatively unknown scientists like Everett, Doughnut is rather insubstantial. And it drifts. A bit like a sugary pastry type snack on lost at sea. Don’t get me wrong, Holt has a great wit and clearly understands the subjects. There is enough suitably weird content to keep his fans happy. His characters are warm and funny. The universes are imaginative and most of the ends are tied up neatly in the conclusion. Some people might have a theological problem with said conclusion, but then this book and its humour are not aimed at those people. However, I think a slightly tighter plot would have made for a more satisfying read.
Tom Holt can be found alongside the likes of Robert Rankin and Douglas Adams, and he won’t find any new fans with his latest offering, despite it being a highly enjoyable read. Doughnut unsurprisingly lacks depth, despite concerning itself with the biggest of questions, but that’s ok, because this is good fast-food. Doughnuts are great after all, and you can’t eat vegetables all the time.
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