Defining Diana

While attending Ad Astra in Toronto this year, I had the fortune of attending a number of panel sessions moderated by Hayden Trenholm. He was well-spoken, organized and kept the conversations interesting.

His novel, Defining Diana has been nominated for the Prix Aurora Awards for the Best work of SF or Fantasy in a novel or fiction collection by an English Canadian writer, published in 2008. Defining Diana is published by Bundoran Press, based in British Columbia. Strangely, when searching for Defining Diana by the ISBN number (978-0-9782052-0-1), another book by Bundoran Press is returned, The Best of Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine. I’m not sure where this problem originated from, however I would have expected a small press to be more aware of small errors such as this. Defining Diana essentially doesn’t exist on Amazon, which considering that the book has been nominated for an award, seems to be rather strange.

Defining Diana has a distinctive style, that of the detective noir pulps of the past. The main characters are deeply flawed, to the point where they first appear as caricatures. As the story progresses, the characters are fleshed out. Hayden also plays with character point of view in his novel. While most of the story is narrated in third person, the main chracter of Frank Steele is narrated in first person. This was an interesting choice to make. This deepened my sense of the whole detective noir feel, with the lone detective talking to his bottle of Jack Daniels. In conjuction with the noir style, the switch in POV was quite distracting early on.  The first part of the novel was an introduction to the characters, and while I could appreciate some of the stylistic elements, they weren’t familiar ones to me.

Once I overcame my problems with the style, and the main plot had developed more, the story did indeed become gripping. I found Hayden’s vision of a future Calgary fascinating. The merging of the noir theme with cyberpunk and posthumanist motifs was quite interesting.

I admit fear at one point, where something similar to the phrase “he had suffered for his research, and now so would I” was written, but thankfully that was once again a conscious decision by Hayden where he then painted  a vague outline of the necessary science, rather than forcing an infodump on the reader.

Instead of focusing on the technobabble, Trenholm digs down to some more interesting philosophical questions regarding bio engineering, and the definition of what it means to be human.

Despite the slow hook, Defining Diana finished quite strongly, leaving several interesting possibilities for the planned sequel, Steel Whispers.  I wish Hayden Trenholm well in the Aurora Awards this year (attending members of Anticipation 2009 can vote here) and look forward to reading Steel Whispers.