Jim Bronson is a man of limited social skills and emotional range. His only friend is Mother (Maybelline lipstick, stale coffee, Channel #5, Finesse Moisturizing Shampoo, cigarette smoke, and spearmint gun). He has a rare condition that gives him an extraordinary sense of smell and it has become his primary way of being in his world of loneliness, nostalgia, and isolation.
He is a scientist and a collector. He collects and studies smells of places and moments in time. But has he crossed the line when he collects the smells of other people?
Marie (rain on early spring birch leaves, the filament of an orchid, and the slightest hint of cardamom ) thinks so, but she finds herself in need of Jim's unusual gifts.
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I once read a novel that trying to invite you into a life of someone with autism. It's fascinating read, a bit difficult to follow, but it left a deep impression nevertheless. I feel the same way with Whiff. That's why in only a few paragraphs, an idea floated up my mind, "Does the writer aim for Pulitzer?"
Whiff open with a snippets of a man with acute olfactory sensitivity (is that a correct word chaining?). It follow his peculiar lifestyle: not speaking, intruding anywhere he's allowed, neglecting people privacy, for curious activity of dissecting, identifying, and finally taking in smells. He wrote his adventure, that understandbly perverse to other's eye, in his journal. He tried to pin down smell that synonymous to whatever subject he is chasing. To sum it, Whiff is vibrating, and intimate, version of Perfume.
I'm not really into his character, but what he did intrigued me. His desciption of smells are personal. His interaction with people are, uh, poignant. It's like following a dog in a shape of a man. So different than many fiction I ever read. Because it so much more. It besotted me. And I fully regret started reading this, because after letting myself intoxicated for a full hour, the last available chapter was reached.
(I reserve the last star for when the story is whole)
CONTAINS SPOILER INFO.
This isa fascinating work about a human who inhabits a different world/ or interrogates the world through a different sensorium. Obviously there is a potential for culture clash with our audiovisual based way of life. There are also huge potential opportunities for him if he can “find a niche” for his talent. It should be obvious that he is “highly eccentric” to put it mildly, but that is due to a completely different worldview and makes this interesting from a Sci Fi point of view. Too much SF is just about external matters/ tech, very little explores the inner world and how even a slight genetic variation (or altered cognitive-sensory apparatus) might affect just about everything.
The powerful linkage (proven neurological science) between smell and memory means it is probable that his “smell library” allows him to genuinely experience the past in a way audiovisual memoirists cannot (even if eidetic,) and the emotional content also comes along (very strong links between smell, memory and emotion centers via Limbic system). So not only does he have a different sensorium but he also probably lives in a different “now”, almost like a time traveler/ true flashbacks than memories as “we” understand them.
i am curious about his (very caring) interactions with a (very passive? Deceased?) mother figure and his fascination with a transition smell people might have at time of death. Is he trying to smell the departing soul? The way the work is written means it is possible, but not entirely clear, that his mother is already dead. There is a highly dependent relationship there so He would clearly repress this, but This storyline has not really opened up yet.
As you may gather this is a very eccentric individual who is “odd but harmless” as my ancestors would have put it, even if our modern intolerant society has much less space for genuine eccentrics.
Just imagine if aliens landed and they communicated like dogs do - so our diplomats would have to have a good mutual butt sniff before discussing any treaties etc. Scene “what the humans refused a good butt sniff, well they are untrustworthy then and they can shove their treaty”. Yes Rover I completely agree. There’s a Gary Larson style cartoon there somewhere LOL.
Well the MC is human but in a way he is like a benign alien life form trapped in a human body and a human society that is not well disposed to what would be normative behavior in a smell-reliant species. There is great scope for exploring the challenges of an individual “trapped” in this situation.
So far, I am “disappointed” by the reaction of the (in my view) extremely selfish female lead of this story, who requested (and got) the help of our hero and then caused him to be fired from his job, and has offered no apology for that act of harm. I am happy with the writing, but not with her lack of morality.
She is now either in the process of trying to swindle him out of his life’s work or possibly entering into a mutually beneficial agreement - albeit in a most ungracious way. Given her behavior up to now I suspect the full swindle is in play. While I appreciate the swindle is a common expectation for unrelated females interacting with males of this type (extremely shy and not very intelligent about people), I hope that the author has her future actions move in a less selfish axis.
i think this is a fascinating concept for an SF novel (major sensorium variant individual SF) although it could easily pass for regular literature about a talented but eccentric person too as there are a few rare humans who have superb olfactory senses. In Europe they are often snapped up by the various industries where smell testing is critical to product innovation and design. The best of them would be ranked as great artists in their fields.
I look forward to reading the rest of our hero’s journey, I can see a few rocks on his path.....