The holistic nature of all things. Chaos theory. All that good interconnectedness stuff. In tribute to the dominant paradigm of chaos theory itself (a butterfly flapping its wings in the rainforest, creating currents that start a knock-on chain of events...culminating in a devastating hurricane on the other side of the globe), Mortal Chaos begins with a butterfly. After emerging from its cocoon, the butterfly in question takes flight in Chaunchy Wood, Wiltshire, England. The insect's flapping startles a young rabbit, which dashes out of the woods and onto a racecourse. Spooked by the bunny, a racehorse throws its rider. Kuni Hideaki, a talented eighteen-year-old Japanese climber, begins a solo ascent of Everest's North Face. In rural Wiltshire, airline pilot Tina Curtis leaves for work later than usual and drives narrow country roads at breakneck speed in her Audi TT, hoping to reach Heathrow Airport on time. Elsewhere in Wiltshire, two young boys play truant from school, heading into nearby woods with a gun to have some fun. In Glasgow, a Japanese businessman boards a flight for Heathrow. Happy to be six, birthday girl Sophie opens her presents in Southwark, London. Sophie's father - an avid gambler - decides which horse to bet on in that day's Newbury races. A deer grazes happily in Sauncy Wood. On the shores of Lake Malawi, East Africa, a six-year-old boy named Bakili guards his family's corn crops from invading baboons; terrified and armed with only a stick, Bakili tries to scare away the savage beasts which, desperate for food, are rapidly losing their fear of humans. Video editor Kev Grupper assembles a news report in Washington DC. In the Champlain suburb of DC, Shelton Marriner prepares a bomb to blow his ex-wife and two children to Kingdom Come. Flight operations manager Ross Hawker juggles some flight times at Heathrow Airport. Maria Coster and her film crew suffer a puncture while driving towards the Malawian village of Chinchewe. Trainee astronaut Calder Lawton peers out over the city of London as his flight from Chicago descends to land. Airport thief Mick Vines surveys Terminal One of Heathrow, looking for a suitable victim. In Chinchewe Village, pilot Tina Curtis's husband Martin - a doctor at an Africa Frontline Care clinic - treats a child with an unusual injury.
The characters and incidents above represent just the beginning; each of these mini-plots twists and soars on its own, yet - like a literary alchemist - Matt Dickinson blends them all together in a masterful way...eventually. The chapters are super-short, so much so that each one could be a piece of flash fiction in its own right. The combination of brief chapters, perfect pacing and tight plot kept me gripped throughout. Over 200 pages in, I wondered if Dickinson could tie the myriad story strands together into a coherent conclusion. A few pages later, literary Tourette's kicked in and I found myself shouting (in the style of Scotty from Star Trek), "He'll never dae it cap'n! It cannae be done! There jist arenae enough pages left tae tie aw thae wee stories thegither!" But - somehow - Dickinson managed to connect the diverse story arcs into an ending that is not only satisfying and plausible, but also intricate and eloquent. The depth of interconnectedness in Mortal Chaos isn't on a par with that in, for example, Midnight's Children and it doesn't have the socio-cultural significance of Rushdie's masterpiece, but Dickinson's book isn't intended to be a multi-faceted social statement wrapped in a story of ages, plus it's aimed at a slightly younger market. Mortal Chaos is pure, visceral story...and a damn good one too. I rattled through the book in one sitting, unwilling to put it down. That's always a good sign. Dickinson has no literary pretensions; he sticks to active voice, clipped sentences and short chapters, but tells his tale with an inspired confidence. Very, very impressive.