... awareness of echoes and borrowings merely enriches an already exciting story ... simply quoting a few passages from Invisible Things hardly conveys its bounce and energy, though matters do grow a bit heavy-handed in the second half ... For a final act of pulp chutzpah, Johnson’s last page suddenly presents a melodramatic image that could have easily graced the cover of some 1940s issue of Astounding or Thrilling Wonder Stories.
... a chilling, bitingly funny sci-fi allegory ... The theme of inescapable oppression sits heavily, but incisive observations and over-the-top confrontations both support and cut the tension. This horror story in comedy's clothing may intrigue sci-fi fans but should find its warmest welcome among readers looking for insightful food for thought served in an unconventional package.
Relentlessly cynical and sarcastic, Mat Johnson's Invisible Things offers sociopolitical commentary wrapped in the trappings of a classic space adventure ... avoids soapbox territory as Johnson focuses instead on engaging, often funny conflicts between his well-drawn characters while the plot circles around two key questions: Will New Roanoke's inhabitants and the crew of the Delany band together to escape the colony? And who put them there in the first place? The intriguing mystery combined with Johnson's irreverent sense of humor make it easy for the reader to engage with the satirical elements—a refreshing trait given that social commentary in modern sci-fi is often either watered down, thrown in by default or both ... a wonderful sci-fi ride full of lovable characters that dissects modern American capitalism with a barbed, sardonic wit.
There’s nothing subtle about this work, and some might find it too on the nose, but there is power in addressing these issues so unflinchingly. His writing style is fairly cerebral, which mutes some of the emotional impact, and that’s the point: Johnson has an argument to make, and the story humanizes it enough for it to really hit home. His characters are vivid and compelling, and even the villains retain their full measure of humanity, with motivations that make sense. The ending veers unexpectedly into the fantastical while offering a welcome measure of hope.
There’s a lot going on in this book, and the results are mixed. As a satire of American politics and class issues, it’s a little too obvious and clumsy. But as a science-fiction novel, it’s saved by Johnson’s charismatic writing and sense of humor. The book doesn’t quite live up to its high ambitions, and it’s far from Johnson’s best work, but it’s still unquestionably entertaining ... Clumsy in parts but, overall, a lot of fun.
All too soon, Nalini’s sharp observations of the Jovian city’s culture blur into academic bloviation, and long-winded caricature becomes the book’s defining feature. Johnson is too intentional a writer for that to be accidental, but purposefulness does not equate to an enjoyable reading experience. It’s sharp, but it lacks heart.