Will Henry stats that this is a story that Dr. Warthrop did not want told…and proceeds to tell it anyway. When a British man shows up with a package being delivered under duress, Dr. Warthrop is ecstatic to realize it is the nest of the Magnificum–the holy grail of monstrumology. Dr. Warthrop decides to leave Will Henry in New York while he pursues this beast. But when his monstrumologist companion returns claiming that Warthrop is dead, Will Henry and two fellow monstrumologists travel to Europe to track him–or his body–down.
Not as engaging or thought-provoking as the first two books in the series, I can only hope that this third entry is suffering from the common penultimate book malady where the book which must set everything up for the finale of the series can sometimes drag.
There are two problems in this entry that make it fail to be as engaging or thrilling as the first two books. First, Will Henry is left behind in New York for a significant portion of the novel. We are thus left with a whiny teenager bemoaning Warthrop’s choice to be responsible for once and keep him out of danger. We also are left with very little action for far too large a portion of the book. The second issue is perhaps a bit of a spoiler but suffice to say that the monster is disappointing and its disappointment is easily predicted. If we had a lot of action with a disappointing monster, that’s still engaging. If we had less excitement with a surprising, phenomenal monster, that’s still thrilling. The combination of the two, though, prevents this thriller from being as thrilling and engaging as it should be.
Of course there are other elements that still worked, which is why I kept reading it. Yancey’s writing is, as ever, beautiful to read (or listen to) and contains much depth.
“So many times we express our fear as anger…, and now I think I wasn’t angry at all, but afraid. Terribly, terribly afraid.”
The settings are unique, and the characters are strong and leap off of the pages. Will Henry becomes more fully fleshed-out in this entry as we start to see his descent into a love affair with monstrumology. We also get to see Warthrop at what he himself perceives of as his lowest point. It’s a dark bit of characterization but it works very well for the story Yancey is telling.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed, purely because the first two entries in the series were so phenomenal. The third book is still a very good book. Fans might be a bit disappointed, depending on how attached they are to the unique thriller aspect of the series, but the characters and writing still make this well worth the time. Fans will remain in eager anticipation of the final entry in the series.
4 out of 5 stars
Book Review: The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey (Audiobook narrated by Steven Boyer) (Series, #2)
Will Henry, 12 year old orphan and assistant to renowned Monstrumologist, Pellinore Warthrop, is shocked to find a refined woman on Warthrop’s doorstep. She is the wife of Warthrop’s best friend who has now gone missing in rural Canada while looking for the elusive wendigo (aka werewolf). Warthrop insists that there is no such thing as a wendigo, but he agrees to go looking for his missing friend anyway, even if he believes his mission was ridiculous and an affront to monstrumology’s reputation.
I can’t believe it took me this long to get to the sequel of one of my rare 5 star reads, The Monstrumologist. I gave my dad a copy of The Monstrumologist for his birthday, and his enthusiasm for the series brought my own back to me, so I joined in with him to read through it. I had a bunch of credits stacked up on Audible, so I went with the audiobook versions. My speedy father reading in print quickly outpaced me, but that’s ok. I’m really enjoying the audiobooks, although I’m sure I will be reading the final book in the series in the fall when it comes out on my kindle. Can’t wait around for the audiobook! All of which is to say, my enthusiasm for the series remains high, if not steady, and the audiobooks are just as enjoyable as the print.
Yancey does something brave for a second book in the series. Instead of following the formula that worked so well in the first book and basically doing a monster-of-the-week-in-our-town method like Buffy and so many other urban fantasies, he changes things up. There is a monster, yes, but it is entirely different from the first one. This is a monster that might not even exist, unlike the anthropophagi in the first book who are almost immediately clearly real. Additionally, Warthrop and Will must travel away from New England to go looking for the trouble. It does not come to them. Another good plot twist is that the story does not entirely take place in Canada. It moves to New York City. Thus we get both the dangers of the wilderness and the dangers of the city in one book. These plot choices mean that what makes this series a series is the characters, not the fantastical nature of their world. By the end of the book I was thinking of the series in terms of the relationship between Will and Warthrop, not in the context of what nasty beast we might meet next. It thus does what great genre fiction should do. It looks at a real life issue and dresses it up with some genre fun. And the issues addressed here are big ones. What is love and what should we be willing to sacrifice for it? Is it more loving to stay with someone at all costs or to let them go to protect them? At what point do you give up on someone?
The horror certainly felt more grotesque this time around, although it’s possible I just wasn’t remembering the anthropophagi that well. This is a bloody book full of horrible things. Precisely what I expect out of my genre. There’s not much more to say about the horror than keep it up, Yancey. Also that this might not be for you if blood and guts and profanity are not your thing. But they *are* mine and, oh, how well they are done here.
Just as with the first book, the language Yancey uses is beautiful. It’s rich, eloquent, visual, and decadent. It’s a word-lover’s book. An example:
But love has more than one face. And the yellow eye is not the only eye. There can be no desolation without abundance. And the voice of the beast is not the only voice that rides upon the high wind….It is always there. Like the hunger that can’t be satisfied, though the tiniest sip is more satisfying than the most sumptuous of feasts.
The characterization here remains strong for Will and grows much stronger for Warthrop. Will grows and changes as a 12 year old in this time period in his particular situation would be expected to. With Warthrop, though, we get a much clearer backstory and motivations for his actions. In the first book we came to know Will. In this one we come to know Warthrop, although Will is not left without any development. It’s a good balance. I also enjoyed the addition of two female characters, who I thought were well-written, particularly Lily, the budding young feminist determined to be the world’s first female monstrumologist. She is truly three-dimensional in spite of her rather limited screen-time compared to Will.
The pacing doesn’t build steadily from beginning to end. It rather builds to a first climax, comes back down and builds again to a second climax. This makes sense, particularly in a werewolf book, but I must admit it felt a bit odd in the moment. It almost felt like reading two books in one until it all came together in the end. In fact, this is one of those books that gets better the more you look back on the story as a whole. Be prepared to enjoy it more in retrospect that in the first reading.
The audiobook narrator, Boyer, has a tough book to work with. There are a wide range of characters of multiple nationalities to act out (Canadian, German, French, New York, Massachusetts, etc…). Additionally, at least three different languages are spoken (English, French, and German). I’m not fluent in anything but English, but I did take German in university, and I can say that his German accent is at least passable. He also does an excellent job creating a unique voice for each character. I only rarely got lost, and that was generally due to rapid-fire conversation where each character only had a word or two. I must say, though, that he does mispronounce a few words, which detracts from Yancey’s gorgeous writing. I blame the audiobook director for this, though. S/he should have realized and corrected this. Overall, though, the mispronounced words are only in a couple of locations and do not deeply affect the reading of the book.
Overall this is an excellent follow-up to a remarkable first book in the series. It brings to the table that which made the first so powerful: YA horror with rich language set in a historic time period. But it also changes things up enough to avoid falling into the monster-of-the-week trap. The entries in the series are part of a larger story, and that can be seen. Fans of the first book should pick up the second book asap.
5 out of 5 stars
The Nigerian-Biafran War (or the Nigerian Civil War, as it is also known) is seen through the intertwining lives of four different people. The daughter of a wealthy Igbo couple, Kainene, with a fierce business sense. Her fraternal twin sister, who is also the beautiful one, Olanna, an academic in love with a revolutionary-minded man named Odenigbo. Kainene’s boyfriend then fiancee, the white English writer Richard. And Ugwu. Olanna’s houseboy who came to them from a rural village. Their lives are irreparably impacted, and in some cases destroyed, by the war for a cause they all believe in, but that the world largely ignores.
I originally intended this Nigerian book to be my final read for the Africa Reading Challenge 2012, but even though I started it in November, the audiobook took over three months to get through, so it ultimately missed counting for the challenge. I thought it was much longer than my usual audiobook fare, but a quick check of the listen length shows that it is 18 hours and 56 minutes long, which is only about 7 hours longer than my norm. So why did it take me so long to finish? Well, I just didn’t enjoy it that much.
I believe I was expecting something else from Adichie, since I had previously read her book Purple Hibiscus (review), which is far more character driven than this novel. In this novel I would say the main character is actually the war, and that is something that simply does not work for my reading style. Perhaps also playing into this general feeling I got was the ensemble cast. Instead of getting to know just Olanna, for instance, and seeing her life before, during, and after the Nigerian-Biafran War, truly feeling as if I was her and living it through her, the reader is constantly jostled around among four different people. It left me unable to truly connect to any one of them, which left me feeling like they were just there as a device to let Adichie talk about the War. And it was truly an awful, horrible war precipitated by a genocide of the Igbo people, and it absolutely deserves to be talked about. It’s just for me this type of ensemble piece with the War as really the main character isn’t the best method for me to learn about a War or an atrocity. I prefer to get to know someone and see it through their eyes. Given what I had read of Adichie’s work before, I was expecting that level of connection, just with multiple characters, but that is just not what happens in this book. Perhaps it was too large, too sweeping, too much for one book. I’m not sure. But I was left without an emotional connection beyond the horror at the war atrocities, and that simply is not what I am looking for when reading a fictional piece set during a war.
As far as the plot goes, it was interesting but it was a bit confusing. Part of my confusion could have been because I listened to it, but from my understanding when I was listening, first there was an affair, then we jumped back to before the affair, then we jumped forward, then we jumped back to a different affair that came before the first affair. It was profoundly confusing. Particularly with a child referred to only as Baby (with no explanation about this for quite some time) who also randomly shows up and disappears. There was already so much going on with four different main characters and the war that this non-linear plot felt unnecessarily extraneous and confusing. However, it is possible that this plot is more clear when reading the print version, as opposed to the audio version.
The language of the writing itself is pretty, and I found periodic astute insights that I’ve come to expect and enjoy from Adichie. For instance,
Why do I love him? I don’t think love has a reason. I think love comes first, and the reasons come later.
Passages like these are what helped me enjoy the book to the extent that I did.
There is one plot point in the book that truly distressed me, so I feel I must discuss it. It is a spoiler though, so consider yourself spoiler warned for this paragraph. Throughout the book, the narration style is third person limited, which means that it is told in third person, but the reader knows what is going on in the main character’s head and is generally limited to that character’s perspective. The point of view is switched around among the four main characters, one of whom is Ugwu, the houseboy. We thus get to know him as the houseboy, he gradually grows up, and then later he is conscripted into the Biafran army. At this point, he participates in a gang rape on a waitress in a bar. I read a lot of gritty things. I routinely read books offering up the point of view of sociopaths or serial killers. I’m not averse to seeing the world through a bad person’s eyes, or through the eyes of a person who does bad things. But it has to be handled in the appropriate manner. I felt that there was entirely too much empathy toward Ugwu in the case of the gang rape. Adichie sets it up so that he walks in on his fellow soldiers gang raping this woman, and he says he doesn’t want to participate, they question his manhood, he admits in his head that he is turned on by the view of her pinned to the ground crying with her legs held apart having just been raped by a different soldier, and he participates. I think what disturbed me the most about this passage was how the narration makes it seem so ordinary. Like it’s something any man would do in that situation. Like it’s only natural he’d be turned on and get a hard-on from seeing a woman forcibly pinned to the ground so she can be gang raped by a bunch of men including himself. I think it’s awful to treat men like that. To act like they clearly are incapable of standing up for what’s right or that they’ll get a hard-on any time they see an orifice they can physically bang. Men are human beings and are entirely capable of thinking with more than their penis. Now, obviously there are men who rape, but there has got to be more going on there then I have a hard on and there’s a woman who I can stick it into. To treat rape that simply is a disservice to men and women’s humanity alike. Part of the reason why this reads this way is that we don’t know Ugwu well but we know him well enough to think that he’s an at least moderately decent young man. We don’t see a gradual downfall. No one holds a gun to his head or even implicitly threatens him with death if he doesn’t participate. It makes it seem like war makes men, even moderately good men, rape, as opposed to war simply providing more opportunities for rapists to rape. That is a perspective that I do not endorse, that I do not enjoy having sprung upon me in my literature, and that I found triggering as well. I was shocked to see it in a book by Adichie. Shocked and disappointed. It left me wishing I could scrub my brain of the book. Wishing for those hours of my life that I spent listening to it back.
Now, let me take a moment to speak about the narrator, Robin Miles. Miles is an astounding narrator. Her audiobook narration is truly voice acting. She is capable of a broad spectrum of accents, including Nigerian, British, and American, and slips in and out of them seamlessly. She easily creates a different voice for many different characters. I absolutely adored listening to her, in spite of not enjoying the book itself. Her performance of this book is easily a 5 star one.
Overall, though, the high quality narration simply could not make up for a story that failed to hit the mark with me on so many levels. It covers an important time period in Nigeria, and the highly important human rights issue of the genocide of the Igbo, but the style in which it does simply misses the mark for me. If this was all, I would still recommend the book to others who are more fond of a more impersonal, sweeping narration style. However, I also found the treatment of rape in the book to be simultaneously offensive and triggering. For this reason, I cannot recommend this book, although I do recommend the audiobook narrator, Robin Miles.
2 out of 5 stars
It’s 1979 in Atlanta, Georgia, and someone is kidnapping–and killing–black children. How this terror haunts one fifth-grade classroom is told through three different perspectives. Tasha, whose parents are “living apart” for a while. A painfully intelligent boy named Rodney who does not actually consider himself lucky to still have his father at home. And Octavia, better known as Sweet-Pea by her family and Watusi by her classmates. She’s the darkest-skinned child in the classroom, and is ridiculed by them all, but she has a spirit that outshines everyone.
The Atlanta child murders of 1979 to 1980 were a real thing that overshadowed the author’s own childhood. Jones clearly remembers what it was to be in fifth grade and relates those emotions with raw detail, but she also brings along an educated adult’s understanding of race and race relations in the American south. This all combines to create a powerful story that sweeps the reader away to another place and time while simultaneously leaving them with greater understanding.
The book is divided into three sections. Each child’s tale is told through a different narrative method. Tasha’s uses third person. Rodney’s second person, where the reader is told “you are” in an attempt to put the reader closer into Rodney’s shoes. Finally, Octavia’s is told in first person. Tasha’s story covers the first part of the school year, Rodney’s the second, and Octavia’s goes through January. It’s an interesting narrative choice that ultimately works. The reader sees three different reactions to the child murders and race relations at three different points in the crisis, in addition to the children’s observations of other people’s reactions. It provides a multi-layered perspective that clearly demonstrates the complexity of all points the story touches upon: crime, race relations, broken families, class issues, and even just the process of growing up.
I appreciate the narrative complexity that Jones chose, but I do feel the story told suffers a bit. I identified so much more strongly with Octavia than either of the other two children because her voice and personality were able to shine through so much more clearly. Of course, it’s possible that this is the whole point. In fact, it does feel a bit like the whole book is just building up to Octavia’s story. But although I had a similar level of attachment to Tasha, I simply didn’t feel that way for Rodney. Part of that could have been the narrator chosen for Rodney. His voice was rather flat and dull without the nuance of the other two narrators. But I don’t think that the second person narrative tense helped much. Thankfully, Rodney’s portion of the book was quick, and the other two sections more than made up for it.
Speaking of the other two narrators, I feel bad that I was unable to find any of the ensemble’s names. The women who narrated Tasha and Octavia did a phenomenal job. They captured both the age and the dialect of the children without once slipping into a tone that could be perceived of as false or mocking. They truly embodied the little girls, and I felt I got something extra from listening to the audiobook, which is precisely how it should feel. It’s unfortunate that the narrator for Rodney failed to do the same thing, providing a rather lackluster, mediocre performance.
The social justice commentary enmeshed in the book is brilliant. One cannot possibly read this book and not see how racism and entrenched classism negatively impacts children and families. Even at ten, these children get it that the media and police care less about them getting kidnapped that they would if they were white. Even at ten the children have already learned racism so well that they ostracize the darkest child in their class. (This book made me very interested in reading more about racism within the black community). Most powerful to me, though, particularly after reading the books in The Real Help Reading Project, is how subtly Jones demonstrates the difficult choices parents and other adults must make to provide what is best for their children and how that is exacerbated by inequality. I’d be more clear, but that would give away the ending of the book. Suffice to say it’s a powerful message presented in a subtle manner through a little girl with whom it is impossible not to establish a connection.
Overall this is an engaging, thought-provoking piece of historical fiction. It brings the reader directly into a classroom of fifth graders to see how not just a kidnapping and killing spree but also enmeshed racism and sexism impact the present and future of children. Recommended to fans of historical and literary fiction.
4 out of 5 stars
Jack Halloway–disbarred lawyer now contracted prospector on the planet Zarathustra–just wants to collect his massive amount of money from discovering a large sunstone vein. He seems to be doing fairly well at finagling ZaraCorp into giving him the sizable portion of the profits that he totally deserves, but one day some local creatures that he dubs Fuzzies invite themselves into his home. Small and cat-like, only with hands, the Fuzzy family quickly endear themselves to him. When he shows them to his ex-girlfriend, a biologist, she starts to suspect that they are sentient. And sentience would mean a cessation of all mining on the planet. What’s a morally ambiguous guy to do?
I picked this up for three reasons. 1) It was on sale at Audible. 2) I read John Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream and found it hilarious. 3) It’s narrated by Wil Wheaton. It is certainly an entertaining read, but I must admit it was not quite up to the level that I was expecting from a Scalzi/Wheaton collaboration.
This book is interestingly a reimagining of a YA series written in the 1960s (starting with Little Fuzzy). I have not read the original but I can tell you that this is not a YA book. It is definitely your more general adult scifi. Scalzi explains this as a tradition in scifi movies and tv shows that he thinks should also be carried out in books.
Scalzi’s writing is humorous, although, with the exception of the first couple of chapters, not to the laugh out loud level found in The Android’s Dream. I particularly enjoy how good he is at giving personality to non-human characters, such as the Fuzzies and Jack’s dog. The first half of the book is hilarious and well-plotted, complete with adorable aliens, a dog who can trigger explosives, and velociraptor-like native creatures to add to the danger factor. The second half of the book, though, falls into this void of courtroom proceedings. I know some people enjoy reading that, but it felt so stark and lacking in life compared to the much more fun first half that included things like the Fuzzies making sandwiches from Jack’s limited Earth supplies. I’m not really a courtroom procedural reader myself, and frankly the two halves of the book almost felt like two separate books entirely. I’m not sure what else could be done, though, since the basic plot is proving the sentience of the Fuzzies, which given the parameters of the world that this takes place in, can basically only happen in the courtroom.
As an animal rights advocate, I appreciated the basic storyline that just because you can’t hear creatures communicating doesn’t mean they don’t have relationships and caring amongst themselves. I wasn’t a fan of the way that sentience was determined with such a human bias or that killing a Fuzzy is only considered truly heinous if it is established that they are sentient. I would have preferred an ultimate conclusion rejecting speciesism, rather than the quite conservative focus on proving the human-like qualities of the Fuzzies.
Wil Wheaton’s narration was great for the first half of the book. It’s Wil Wheaton. If you’re not sure if his acting style is for you, just look up his scenes in The Big Bang Theory. I found his narration very similar to his appearances there. My one complaint is a bit of a spoiler, so consider yourself warned. His voice for Papa Fuzzy really grated on my nerves. It was just so….blech. And not adorable Fuzzy-like. Otherwise though, he’s a good match for Scalzi’s work.
I don’t often comment on the cover, but I must say that I don’t think that this cover does the book justice. I particularly dislike it when a cover tries to draw out an alien creature that frankly comes across as much more adorable within the book. Also, even the background of the planet itself doesn’t look right.
Overall, this is a witty piece of scifi with adorable alien creatures that call to mind websites like Cute Overload. I recommend it to fans of scifi who also enjoy some courtroom proceedings in their reading.
4 out of 5 stars
Hello my lovely readers!
Yes, I realize it’s technically Saturday, but things have been rather quiet around here the last couple of weeks, and I didn’t want to leave you hanging any longer! So why have things been so quiet?
Well, first, it was Labor Day weekend here in the States, and I actually for once went on vacation for it. Shocking, I know. I went camping in the Green Mountains. This was the view from my tent:
Gorgeous, eh? And it was such a great break! Zero technology. My cell phone didn’t even have reception. I got disgustingly filthy, and I loved it. I went for a swim in the pond and for a hike and cooked over a campfire.
Oh, yes, and the boy I’ve been dating asked me to be his girlfriend, and I said yes. He’s an awesome boyfriend, and I love him.
Beyond the vacation and personal development, it’s the start of the semester at work, so I’ve been incredibly busy with beginning of the semester library classes, orientations, and just general helping out the new students. Also, the audiobook I’m currently reading while completely *awesome* (Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi), is also super-long. The other book I was reading on my kindle that will be reviewed next week was kind of dullsville, so had trouble holding my interest. All of these things came together to make for a bit of silence, BUT! Never fear. I will always return! With bells on.
Happy weekends all!
Oscar is a reporter and lands an assignment with Stars and Stripes to go over to Kazakhstan and report on the new war between the US and Russia over resources needed for technology. This is a new kind of warfare. One fought mostly underground, and with the soldiers permanently wearing suits. Plus they’re fighting side-by-side with Genetics–human-looking robots who are all female and all look alike. Oscar started out just wanting a Pulitzer in between his drug addiction, which is easily fueled in Kaz. But Kaz changes people.
It’s been a while since I ventured in military scifi. I usually stick with the more sociological/psych experiment or cyberpunk areas of the genre, but this one just stuck out to me. I think its combination of aspects is just intriguing–a drug addicted journalist, a future war on earth, underground warfare, and robots. It certainly held my attention and flamed my interest in military scifi, plus it wound up counting for the MIA Reading Challenge, which was an added bonus.
Oscar is a well-rounded character. At first he seems flat and frankly like a total douchebag, but that’s because he’s a depressed drug addict. We learn gradually what landed him there and how he grows out of it with time. It’s an interesting character development arc because although many arcs show how war leads to alcoholism or drug addiction, in Oscar’s case although it at first makes his addiction worse, it ultimately helps him beat it. Because he ultimately snaps and realizes that the drugs are not helping the problems. They’re just making them worse. This is so key for anyone struggling with an addiction to realize. Pain in the present to feel better in the future. And McCarthy does an excellent job showing this progression without getting preachy. Sometimes you want to throttle Oscar, but you ultimately come to at least respect him if not like him. I wasn’t expecting such strong characterization in a military scifi, and I really enjoyed it.
The world McCarthy has built is interesting. The war itself is fairly typical–first world countries butting heads over resources in third world countries. But the content of the battles and the fighting methods are futuristic enough to maintain the scifi feel. There are the Genetics of course, and they are used by both sides. It’s interesting that the Americans use only female Genetics, and that is explained later on. There are also different vehicles and weapons that are scary but still seem plausible. Of course there’s also the suits the soldiers permanently wear, the front-line tunnels (the “subterrene”). It all adds up to a plausible future war.
Now, I will say, some of the battle scenes and near misses that Oscar has seem a bit of a stretch. I know odd things happen in war, and anyone can get lucky, but. Everyone’s luck runs out eventually. It seemed sometimes as if McCarthy wrote himself into a corner then had to figure out a way to make his main character survive. Escaping danger is fine, and necessary for the book to continue. But it should seem like a plausible escape. And if you have one that seems miraculous, it seems a bit excessive to me to have more than one.
The audiobook narrator did a fine job, in my opinion. He didn’t add anything to the story but he also didn’t detract from my enjoyment. I will note, however, that he pronounced “corpsman” wrong, saying the “s,” which is supposed to be silent. This only came up a few times and didn’t really bother me, but some readers, particularly ones who have been in the military themselves, might be bothered. Nothing else was mispronounced, and the voices used fit the characters nicely.
Overall, this piece of futuristic military scifi showcases both war and addiction in an engaging manner. Some readers may be off-put by Oscar at first, but stick it out. It takes many interesting turns. Recommended to scifi fans, whether they generally like military scifi or not.
4 out of 5 stars
Diana doesn’t have much going for her–a bad job and perpetual unwanted singledom, plus she’s been sleeping on friend’s couches since losing her apartment. So when a room in a building with a quirky landlord shows up, she grabs it instantly. Only to discover that a monster called Vom the Hungry is in her closet waiting for her to let him out, at which point he will probably eat her. In fact, the whole building is oddly connected to other dimensions full of monsters, creatures, mayhem, and madness….not to mention tentacles.
I obviously had to read this book. The cover has tentacles on it, and it’s clearly a Lovecraftverse story. These are both basically automatic must reads in Amanda-land.
The storyline is fairly straight-forward as far as the Lovecraftverse goes. There’s a place where the lines between dimensions and reality fade and threaten mere humans with madness. The monsters that Diana meets within her own apartment are fairly creative. There’s Vom the Hungry who is pretty endearing, there’s the hedgehog looking guy (whose name I can’t remember and can’t look up because: audiobook) who spawns copies of himself when he’s upset, and of course there’s the giant floating eye with tentacles who tries very hard to be prim and proper. They’re creative and funny.
The foes–the cult of the moon god–are not so creative. They’re your typical moon-loving shapeshifters, and the moon god even has three forms just like a certain other god of a religion we’re all familiar with. Compared to the creativity of the apartment and the apartment’s monsters, it just doesn’t feel like a worthy foe.
Similarly, although I liked Diana and the world she’s living in, she has basically no backstory. I have a hard time believing she’d have such an easy time mostly abandoning her friends and family from her time prior to the apartment. I can believe she’s not afraid and can handle the horrors, but it’d be nice if we got at least a toss-up to the concept of her having a family or even a mention of estrangement from them, if that’s the case. That doesn’t happen, so I was left feeling that Diana is very two-dimensional.
Given these elements, I’m sure I would have skimmed through it very quickly in print and probably missed the humor that it does contain, except that I read the audiobook. The audiobook narrated by Khristine Hvam. And she is an incredibly talented voice actor.
Every single character had their own entirely unique voice, and the voices perfectly matched the character, even an eyeless faceless omnivorous Vom the Hungry. Hvam is just….just so amazing to listen to! I kept listening more to just hear her perform than due to a true vested interest in the story. In fact, I looked up her voice actor page on Audible after just to maybe get another one of her books. She mostly narrates scifi/fantasy, unfortunately mostly YA, which we all know I don’t like. But I will be keeping my eye out for more of her adult work. She is just so amazingly talented.
So, overall then, the story itself rates 3 stars, but the narration rates 5, so my rating must average those two out. Be aware, though, that I recommend Khristine Hvam over the book, but if you are intrigued by the book and don’t mind a lack of backstory or average villains, then I recommend picking the audiobook for twice the fun.
4 out of 5 stars
When the world goes through an apocalypse consisting of virulent strains of the flu, lack of food, and nuclear warfare, one wealthy family manages to survive because they saw it coming. Made up of highly intelligent and highly educated people, such as doctors and scientists, the family creates a 200 bed hospital and uses this as their home base. But there is a serious fertility problem, and how they address it just might change the core of humanity.
I love reading classics of scifi. It’s endlessly fascinating how different people in different times imagine a future (or an apocalypse). This award-winning book had the bonus of being written by a woman, which isn’t always easy to find in older scifi. I also was intrigued by the cloning theme. How would someone in 1977 view something that was, as yet, nowhere near as close to a reality as it is now, with our cloned sheep?
The book starts out incredibly strongly. So strongly, in fact, that I actually had nightmares from it, which never happens to me ever. I am basically a rock of horror and scifi, but this one creeped the bejesus out of me. It’s that creepy combination of incest and cloning. The family are really not people you would want retooling the world. They’re everything that can be (and usually is) bad about the 1%. They’re selfish, self-centered, snobby, and routinely employ nepotism. I found the incest in the first third of the book talking about the first generation of the family to be an interesting metaphor for how the elite can become so backwards and grotesque from sheer isolation. It’s powerful and moving, and a scenario that will remain in my mind.
The second third of the book focuses in on a woman, Molly, from the first generation of clones. This is disturbing in its own way, because they don’t just clone everyone once and have done with it, no. They clone everyone multiple times until there are clusters of the same person at different ages wandering around. They call these clusters “brothers” and “sisters” with the name of the original person as the name of the group, even though the individual ones have their own names. It is profoundly disturbing. This second third looks at the society of clones that the original family unintentionally made. It’s fascinating in its own way and an interesting different way of telling a post-apocalypse story. Often we get only the first generation, but here we get multiple generations.
The last third, unfortunately, didn’t live up to the first two-thirds of the book. Without giving too much away, it looks at a boy who came about by natural methods who gets integrated into the clone society at the age of five. They decide not to clone him and give him brothers for unclear reasons. This last third then looks at his impact on the clone society. I didn’t feel that this worked as well for multiple reasons. For one, it’s almost as if Wilhelm freaked herself out and backed off from the profoundly disturbing story she was telling and went a more conventional direction. That was disappointing. For another, I found it disappointing that she chose to make this game-changer a boy. I expect women scifi authors to be at least a bit cognizant of the need in scifi for more female main characters. In this one, the first third is a man, the second third a woman, and the last third a boy. That is not the best stats from a woman author. I also found certain parts of this to be very boring and slow-moving compared to the first two-thirds. That makes for odd pacing in a book.
Of course, my complaints about the last third backing off, being more conventional, and being rather dull don’t take away from the first two thirds at all. They bring about so many interesting societal questions. For instance, is the incestuous nature of the elite necessarily bad or will it one day save humanity? Will cloning remove something that makes us human, even if they look right? Is it better to cling on to technology at all costs or release it and go back to simpler times? And what about sex? Is monogamy natural and polyamory unnatural? Or is polyamory more welcoming and loving than potentially possessive monogamy? The questions go on and on, which is what is great about scifi.
As for the science itself, it is quite well-done. Wilhelm clearly thought through both keeping a closed-off community alive and cloning and bringing to term embryos. She also put thought into the scientific basis for why clusters of clones would be different from individual humans, touching on psychology and twin studies. I was a bit irritated that she bases the survival of these people on cloning farm animals, when that is not a good use of their limited land resources. Studies have shown many many times that a combination of farming vitamin-rich plants and hunting/gathering are the best use of limited land resources, so this particular element rang a bit of bad science. However, I am not certain how much land usage had been studied in the 1970s, so that could possibly just be a sign of the times.
Now, I did read the audiobook, so I should touch on the narration. Overall, Anna Fields does a very good job. I really enjoyed that they chose a female narrator for a book written by a female author. It let me almost imagine that Kate Wilhelm herself was reading it to me. Fields mostly strikes a good balance of changing voices for different characters without going over the top. The one exception to this is when she narrates children. The voice for that made me cringe, but they mercifully speak only a few times. Mostly, Fields reads smoothly and is easy to follow. She narrates without accidentally putting her own interpretation onto the work, which is ideal for an audiobook.
Overall, then, this is a fascinating classic of scifi. It examines the apocalypse through the lens of the elite, thereby analyzing and critiquing them, but it also looks at possible consequences of cloning and ponders what ultimately makes us human. Although the last third of the book is a bit less creative and more conventional than the first two, it is still a fascinating read. Recommended to scifi fans, particularly those with an interest in group dynamics.
4 out of 5 stars
Jasper can’t believe he’s actually homeless, although a lot more people are homeless now than used to be. But still. He got his BA in sociology. He’s worked hard. How did this happen? He’s living with a tribe of other 20-somethings. They keep hoping things will get better, but somehow they just seem to keep getting worse. The economy doesn’t improve. Home-grown terrorists known as Jumpy-jumps start routinely terrorizing people. Driving anywhere, having dependable food, actual working police forces, they’re all a thing of the past. Not all apocalypses happen overnight.
I actually hesitated over keeping this book on my wishlist, but I’m very glad I did. I found it to be not quite what I was expecting. In a good way.
I think a lot of men in particular will enjoy it, because it kind of reminds me of a Judd Apatow film. There’s this complete and utter loser guy who you entirely hate (and I suspect McIntosh hates too) but who is just so damn funny you keep reading it. A lot of apocalypse books focus in on a strong leader type, but Jasper is actually a coward who just keeps trying to squeak by. On top of that, he claims to be looking for true love, but is actually completely lacking in any understanding of women. One of his “apt” observations, for instance, consists of stating to a guy friend, “Have you noticed that fat women have been getting hotter?” He’s trying to say that the more starvation threatens, the more attracted he is to women who obviously have enough to eat. But he isn’t philosophical about it at all, and that’s kind of hilarious. He also tries to impress a girl at one point by commenting on the fact that she’s reading a book, but he says it in such a way that it’s obvious he himself doesn’t read at all, which is utterly baffling in a world that no longer has electricity or other entertainment. Basically the whole book is laughing at a cowardly dude-bro, and that’s fun.
The apocalypse itself is quite creative. As the title and blurb imply, it’s a slow one. Gradual. Things get bad and just never get better then more things get bad. It’s a creative mix of economics, homegrown terrorist groups, scientists trying to make things better but actually making it worse, and international politics. None of it came across as utterly absurd or ridiculous, which shows that McIntosh did a good job.
There are two scenes that are truly horrific, which of course I loved. There’s a very creative death scene that I think will haunt me for a long time. (Again, that’s a good thing). The plot overall is a bit meandering, but that makes sense since Jasper isn’t the most focused or proactive dude on the planet. I’m a little sad the book ended when it did. I get why McIntosh ended it there, leaving things open-ended for readers, but….I could have read about Jasper much much longer. Yes, he’s a guy I would hate beyond all reason in real life, but I guess that schadenfreude factor is what makes the book so fun.
Now, I did read the audiobook, and I have to say I was very disappointed in the narration by Erik Davies. It does not live up to the content of the book at all. My main problem with him is that he does that awful thing of putting on what he thinks is a woman’s voice every time one of them speaks, but what actually sounds like a small child and nothing like us. I actually had to stop and rewind a couple of times to double-check if I was angry at how the book was portraying women or if the narrator was making it seem like the book was portraying women as childish idiots. Suffice to say, it’s definitely the narration, not the book. Yes, Jasper objectifies women and basically calls any woman who doesn’t fit into his definition of what a woman should be “crazy,” but the whole book is laughing at him, so really the book is showing how ridiculous it is to view women like that. The narrator reading women in this childish voice really messes with that whole presentation. So, definitely don’t get the audiobook.
Overall, then, this is a fun apocalyptic scifi featuring a cowardly loser who is delightful to follow and laugh at. I highly recommend it to scifi fans who also enjoy slacker flicks, but definitely get the print or ebook versions, not the audio.
4 out of 5 stars