Book Review: Sauntering Vaguely Downward

Sauntering Vaguely Downward

Nessa L. Warin

Dylan Rojers is excited about Dragon*Con—a huge convention in Atlanta celebrating pop culture, science fiction, and fantasy—but he and his last-minute roommate, Brendan Stone, get off on the wrong foot. It seems that every time they manage a tentative truce, something happens to set them back, and by their second day at the convention, both think there’s no way they can get along.

But maybe Dylan and Brendan have more in common than they thought. Once they start talking, the sparks that were starting arguments ignite a different sort of passion. Through the four fabulous days of parties, shopping in the Dealers Room, costume parades, and discussion panels, Dylan and Brendan grow ever closer. There’s just one problem: they live in different cities, and Dragon*Con doesn’t last forever. Will Dylan and Brendan risk a long-distance romance or is a lasting relationship just one more all-too-brief fantasy?

Sauntering Vaguely Downward, a title which is apparently a paraphrase of a line from Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, is a fun and humorous romp, although occasionally a touch confusing.  It takes place over the course of the Dragon*Con sci-fi and fantasy convention in Atlanta.  Warin, as mentioned in the preface to the book, is a lover of Dragon*Con, and this book is as much a tribute to the convention as it is an exploration of the relationship between Dylan and Brendan.

I have to admit, I had some hesitations when I read the preface.  I think I actually read the preface months ago and then decided not to read the book yet.  I find books that are meant to “show” the reader something, or to teach them something, are generally irritating.  (The later works of Michael Crichton, some of the works by Orson Scott Card, and the later works of Frank E. Peretti come to mind as particularly annoying “teaching” books I’ve read.)

Warin, though, expertly evades the typical structure of a teaching novel.  While she is, indeed, teaching the reader about the wonders of Dragon*Con while telling this story, she does not come across as over-explaining or exaggerating or fall into the trap of lengthy pointless explanations.  She explores Dragon*Con in a way that offers teaser highlights to the con, but don’t distract much from the story itself.

So, for that, she has done a good job.

I also enjoyed the back-and-forth between Dylan and Brendan.  Their sense of humour is truer to the geek culture than what I often see among geek characters in fiction.  I could see my own humour in her characters’ dialogue and it came across as true to life.  I did, however, think that the characters were much younger, like early 20s, rather than the early 30s we later learn them to be.  It’s possible to have that geek humour, but still write the characters as older.

And that’s where things got a little confusing for me — the characters.  I didn’t find Dylan and Brendan to be distinctive enough from each other, to the point where I sometimes had trouble remembering who is who.  Whenever there was a defining comment, such as referencing a costume worn to Dragon*Con or a reference to hanging out with a certain group of friends, I would quickly piece together who is who by working my way backwards through the sequence of events.  What might’ve helped would be for the characters to have more distinct personalities that come across when writing from their POVs.

Speaking of POVs, the entire book was written from first person POV in present tense, alternating between Dylan and Brendan. At times, I found this writing choice to allow the book to move quickly, as that choice adds immediacy to writing.  A few times, though, I had wished it was a little more withdrawn, say, written in third person past tense, as this would allow for a little more exploration into character background and motivation that would in turn help clarify the characters for me.

All the little nit-picky things aside, I found the blooming (and sometimes floundering) romance between Dylan and Brendan to be quite cute.  I also, like I said, really enjoyed the rather accurate portrayal of the characters as geeks — which also led to a fun-filled exploration of geek culture (without poking fun at it like the show Big Bang Theory does).  It was fun to read and reminded me of special memories at my local sci-fi convention.  😉

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