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Dover Beach by Richard Bowker
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Dover Beach (original 1987; edition 1987)

by Richard Bowker

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422273,462 (3.7)6
Member:RandyStafford
Title:Dover Beach
Authors:Richard Bowker
Info:Spectra (1987), Edition: First Edition, Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:science fiction

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Dover Beach by Richard Bowker (1987)

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Post-nuclear noir Boston P.I. gets a clone for a client & everyone goes all apocalyptic. Dover Beach has an interesting plot, strange characters & situations, and well-imagined despair. Oh, and with patches of hope. ( )
  ReneeGKC | Feb 16, 2014 |
My reactions to reading this book in 1992. Spoilers follow.

A surprisingly touching and poignant book.

Bowker’s post-apocalypse America (victim of a limited nuclear war and anti-intellectual riots) is grim but also comprised of many likeable characters. There’s Bobby Gallagher a tough black marketer, scavenger in the ruins for technology and art; yet he won’t kill and has a fondness for our hero. Our hero has a charming dream – he wants to be a private eye in a post-apocalypse world, heir to the literary gumshoes he loves – and possesses two useful mutations: a photographic memory and the need to sleep only one or two hours a day. Gwen is the patient lover of our hero. She, with Gallagher conspires to make possible our hero’s dream and supports his ambition. There is Art the purveyor of porn in a post-apocalypse world, seller of golden accounts of life before the war, but his real love is his endearing interest in science fiction novels about the apocalypse like David Brin’s The Postman. He urges our hero to be an author.

In fact, many people offer our promising young hero career advice. Gallagher wants him to become a black marketer. Roommate Stretch, a dwarf of ambition and a man dedicated to rebuilding the government and civilization, wants him to join him as a civil servant.

I liked the central conflict of this story: Will Wally Sands leave grim America and his lover Gwen and his friends and surrogate family (including Stretch and the dying Linc who urges him to go) to go to England, a better place, a land of his dreams. A lesser conflict is whether Sands will choose Gwen or the Englishwoman Kathy Cornwall. Against this background is an exciting, grim plot involving the obsessive need to procreate, betrayed love, and lost chances. Sands is hired by Dr. Charles Winfield to find Robert Cornwall, a man he believes to be his clone father. However, Cornwall denies that he is Winfield’s father. It’s a lie though Cornwall is as obsessed with the clones he’s made of himself – including Winfield – as Winfield is at finding the love of a distinguished father. Kathy Cornwall also longs for the love of her father who shuns her for the solipsistic concern over his clones. Completing the picture is Dr. George Hemphill, the sterile Dr. Hemphill, who was promised by ex-colleague Cornwall, before the latter immigrated to England, that Winfield would be his clone. In England, a web of murder, arson, betrayal, and longing for love is weaved as it is revealed that the despondent Cornwall has been murdering his clones. He believes, after a lifetime of futily searching for happiness, the quest is futile and wants to spare his clone children grief and despair. He is killed by the equally despondent, angry Winfield.

I used to think the phrase too clever for its own good was a silly phrase, but I think it’s apt here. The book’s flaws are twofold. First, everyone seems to have a secret. Well, not everyone, it just seems like it. Even Irishman Gallagher ashamedly admits he collaborated with the British when they briefly occuppied America. Some of the secrets are sweet like Gallagher and Gwen’s conspiracy to get Sands to England the land of his dreams. Second, the central conflict of the novel, the conflict in Sands’ soul, seems too easily solved with the revelation. Kathy Cornwall’s guilt – both in burning down her father’s house and the much more serious crime of keeping quiet about her father’s murders – causes Sands to leave her – as she pathetically pleads for his love, the love her father never gave her – for Gwen and America. This ending is a very explicit parallel to the ending of the film The Maltese Falcon. While that may be a homage to the private eye story – one of the story modes that forms the novel – it’s not very satisfying.

Still, despite the ending, this is a strong, memorable novel with some very real characters ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Jan 27, 2013 |
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In an America broken by a "limited" nuclear war, no one has use for would-be private eye Wally Sands. No one except for Dr. Charles Winfield, an eccentric scientist who believes he was cloned from a prominent biochemist as part of a top-secret project undertaken before the war.

Sands sets out to find Winfield's mysterious progenitor, but finds himself on the trail of a killer instead.

Now, in far-away, fabled England, Sands must uncover the facts about the case that has brought him to his promised land, and at the same time confront the unsettling truth about his world, his life, and his loyalties.

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