The Wrong Reflection
by Gillian Bradshaw
Reviewed by Christopher DeFilippis
On the surface, Gillian Bradshaw’s The Wrong Reflection has all the elements of a gripping Science Fiction thriller. But, like a reflection, The Wrong Reflection has no more depth than a pane of silvered glass and doesn’t show us anything we haven’t already seen.
After a terrible car accident, a man identified as Paul Anderson awakes in a hospital bed suffering from amnesia. Only there’s one thing he is sure of—he’s not Paul Anderson! He remembers nothing of his classified work for the elusive Stellar Research, despite the assurances of his boss and supposed friend Sir Philip Lloyd. In desperation Paul turns to the one person he feels he can trust: Sandra Murray, the woman who stumbled upon his wrecked car and saved his life. Together they set out to discover the truth about who—and what—Paul really is.
From the outset, the possible solutions to the mystery of Paul’s identity should be fairly obvious to most SF fans. But worse than its predictability is the infuriatingly slow pace at which the story unfolds. Part of this is because Bradshaw abandons the traditional “one chapter/one point of view” format in favor of a multiple P.O.V. approach that keeps the reader haphazardly head-hopping from character to character—sometimes as many as four in a single page—throughout the entire book. These constant shifts are annoying at best, confusing at worst, and serve mainly to slow the story to a glacial pace as the reader is forced to endure the individual reaction of every character to every bit of new information, no matter how trivial.
As if this isn’t bad enough, the prose is lousy with filler that adds nothing to advance the narrative. For instance, is it really necessary for us to know the exact route Sandra takes from her flat to the hospital to visit Paul, complete with every right and left turn? In another scene, one of the characters pops in a Beatles CD, with the result that the reader becomes obligated to know which song is playing in the background at any given time—and Bradshaw lists them all. It makes you wonder if she wasn’t listening to the same CD while writing the chapter.
As a result of all these unnecessary elements, scenes that might normally be worthy of a half-page drag out for six or seven.
As far as the characters go, you have a fairly clichéd bunch to work with: the unscrupulous corporate CEO; the dogged journalist who will do anything for a story; the hip urban youth to lend a dash of street smarts and comic relief; and the main female lead, Sandra, who is nothing more than a 21st Century version of the “Earth Mother” archetype that seems to be the inescapable lot of women in genre fiction. In this case, the herb-lorist/wise woman/witch has gotten a modern day makeover: she’s a plant pathologist. And, as in so many other books, we are forced to endure Sandra’s hackneyed internal conflict as she falls in love with Paul, despite herself.
The “strong-independent-woman-resisting-love-i.e.-vulnerability-only-to-give-in” character seems to be a prerequisite these days, which is a pity, since it has become nothing more than a crutch for lazy writers to fabricate a bogus internal conflict/resolution cycle that merely mimics character growth. Surely there are more interesting emotional story-arcs for women in modern fiction? What surprises me most is that I see this trope used most often by female authors.
Granted, The Wrong Reflection is a bit of a departure for Gillian Bradshaw, who has carved out quite a career for herself in Historical Fiction circles, with close to 20 novels under her belt. But while The Wrong Reflection might make for a passable Science Fiction thriller to her Historical Fiction fans, it certainly has nothing new to offer even the most cursory purveyors of SF and Fantasy.
If you’re looking for Science Fiction worthy of reflecting upon, The Wrong Reflection is the wrong choice.