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Issue 1804 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London


Keep the Cat Free


Terminus: A Book That Could Do Better

A book propped up by its storytelling, but weighed down by its inability to tell the story of what actually motivates its characters

Terminus Cover

Books

in Issue 1804

“The end of the line is just the beginning…” 

Peace is in the answer (somewhere, somewhat). And Power™ is the vice. By the end of the self-titled “biopunk psychedelic” or psychedelic-punk thriller, peace—as an idea or literary quality—is lost in the space between the numerous analogies that author Proto Dagg uses to dream up a world of pervasive addiction, which he does soon after awakening from. An event-driven roundtable of action, visions, hallucinations, love interests, more action, and more visions, is what carries Terminus, but what it needs to elevate its harder-thought-of thoughts alongside its peers is some literary scaffolding, or a greater sense of its own system.

Terminus is set in a titular city where an addiction to Power (a drug; tangible, and probably trademarked) is abundant and highly prevalent (like an American opioid epidemic). However, Proto Dagg does not spell out the roots and germinations of a true addiction — “I mean, everyone is addicted to something” — that he then goes on to muse about, nearly enough. This philosophising is exemplified by “we all want something; some just want it more than others”. And thus, at times and in many ways, Terminus is far from rooted in true reality, outside of its own ornamental descriptions of life.

“Addiction is such an ugly word,” begins a now-infamous energy drink account manager, Power addict, and the YA protagonist Matt. Matt meets the energetic Priya one night at a nightclub peddling Peace (another drug (excessive?); this one not trademarked). And as his designated potential love interest, Priya is written, and fated to entangle him in the typical lengthy antics of any Young Adult novel focused on system subversion, things like war, like revolution, and, of course, like love.

And, largely, he succeeds in doing this. The ‘he’ in question being Proto Dagg; the this however – his modified, and intermittently elegant, used, tried, and true re-telling of a Hero’s Journey — is somehow both insufficient and overfed, vis-à-vis the guests at the metaphorical table of musings and themes set by him. Themes which include the commodification of change, the genesis of a cult versus the birth of movement, and many more of such powerful, but often ineloquently presented, ideas.

It seems Terminus is propped up by its storytelling, but weighed down by its inability to tell the story of what actually motivates its characters to act in the ways that they do, or are written to. Terminus, in summary, should come with a cautionary label for oncoming readers: “requires patience - and a handful of tolerance - for its zealous intentions”, although it at least bears the sweet fruit of ambition, and a singular vision.

A Brief Footnote: On the Matter of Reality

Virginia Woolf does this, Joseph Conrad does this —Sylvia Plath, Flanner O’Connor, Gustave Flaubert, and Enid Blyton have all done this. These are examples of writers I have read in the last ten months, (or, for Enid Blyton, in the last ten years).

Black identity, both in the physical and social sense, is often used as a prop in literature. It seems in this case that Proto Dagg is keen on utilising imagery from our world - this reality, consisting of religious systems, people, cultures, and places - to create a creased backdrop for the fictional world of Terminus with its futuristic cars and hyper-urban buildings.

Take this sentence: “When the drug hit streets, it swept through the city like a tsunami, taking the young and old, black and white, rich and poor.”

There are instances - including the character strangely named “Rasta Man” - when things an author writes are obscured or exposed by the mind that writes them. The specific use of Black people to demonstrate the ubiquitous nature of a drug is unqualified here. I can only hope that some of this rhetoric, which is common to the writers I have previously stated, is down to plain ignorance, a misguided attempt at thought-provokingness, or just poor writing. In Terminus, I extend enough grace to (hopefully) believe it is the latter of these three, a symptom of the White gaze that still persists in the field of Literature.

The portrayal of women is a whole other story, and one in which evidence of such in what is a brief footnote, should serve no purpose to embarrass the author. That is not my intention. A work must make a case for itself, alongside personal interpretations. And what Terminus says, with its many desperate fixations on the female body corrupting its much finer prose, is not encouraging. It is instead unfortunate, a symptom of, this time, a pernicious male gaze. 

On the matter of reality, the act of reading feels like walking into an empty room. The depiction of characters is often representative of the lens through which an author writes and sees the world. Sometimes you may walk into a room of what seems like cardboard cut-outs. Sometimes the room feels like there is an organic verisimilitude with which the writer approaches even the tiniest character. It comes down to how the author approaches the world around them, and whether they hold a perspective with or without a common dignity.

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