Book Review: S.


“What begins at the water shall end there, and what ends there shall once more begin.”

With that cryptic opening, famed movie & television producer/director JJ Abrams makes his grand entrance onto the literary stage with S.

S. is unlike any other book you will ever read, as to be expected from the creator of such fare as: Alias, Cloverfield, LOST, Fringe, Super 8, Star Trek (2009), and the upcoming Star Wars VII.  Abrams, one of the most unique, creative minds in Hollywood, is able to make the leap from screen to page in admirable fashion.

The first thing readers will notice about S. is that every few pages, some sort of artifact is presented to enhance the experience.  Maybe you’ll stumble upon a color photo, a typewritten letter, a handwritten note scrawled on a napkin, or even a compass/sextant device used for making astronomical calculations.  None of these peripheries are vital to the main storyline, instead serving as added detail.  In fact, many readers have suggested removing the “extras”, noting on which page they are found, and referring to them as needed.  Even if you come across a copy of S. without any supplements, however, the main plot-lines of the novel can still be enjoyed thoroughly.

As far as the plot of S. is concerned, the story pulls the reader in three distinct directions:

1. The actual text, entitled “Ship of Theseus”, which sees a mysterious man wash up on shore with no memory of who he is or how he came to be at sea.  The only vestige of his past?  An “S.” symbol that keeps making conspicuous appearances as he begins to interact with the inhabitants of the nearest town.  While trying to connect the dots of his identity and potential mission, the mystery man stumbles into a number of different sub-plots, including a strange freighter that continues to “call to him”, a woman who helps him reconstruct his past life, and a societal revolution that threatens his very existence seemingly at ever turn.

2. The mystery of the “Ship of Theseus” author V.M. Straka.  In a lengthy introduction/foreword and with notations on nearly every page, readers gain more and more understanding of who Straka may have been, why he is important, and what potential connections he may have to the story.  Did he write the tale as simple fiction…or is it more of a personal account?

3.  Scrawled in the margins are the musings of two college students.  Eric, the owner of the book and know-it-all graduate snob, is a self-proclaimed Straka expert.  When Eric leaves the book in the library one day, it is found by Jen, an undergrad who strikes up a friendly conversation with Eric in the margins.  As the two get to know each other via personal notes and swapping of theories, they discover just how deep the mysteries of S., Straka, and their own relationship go.

Almost needless to say, S. will greatly appeal to the patient reader.  This novel is an experience to savor, with every new detail providing opportunities to engage the brain.  There are even multiple ways to read the book: main text first, margin scrawling first, or trying to assimilate everything as you go.  This is a book that can easily be read twice, per all its nuances of character, plot, and detail.  Simply put, you cannot speed-read or skim your way through S, that is for sure!

S. is one of the most–if not THE most–unique book I have ever read.  At times it may seem frustrating and unpredictable, but I promise that if you put in at least some amount of mental effort, you will be richly rewarded with a tale worthy of the enormously creative minds behind it.

Zach K.