Speculative

Let’s Discuss — Hypothesis by Ana Bastow

There are scrolls that state that the reason magic exists and affects us is because of our…spiritual component. If you are immune, then you might not have a soul (89)

My first review of 2014 and I’m doing something a little different…How is this different you ask? Well…I was asked to review this book. That’s right. I didn’t pick this book, it just fell into my lap, showed up on my doorstep, or more accurately revealed itself in my email inbox.

Before you read this write-up you should remember three things: (1) I am very honest and (2) I’m sort of a snob BUT (3) I am open-minded (for the most part) And so with an open-mind, I ventured into the world of Nekapolis by reading Hypothesis. In this book readers will discover something of a hybrid between the realm of Harry Potter and Twilight…I suppose this can be both good and bad. Good if you like those series. Bad if you don’t. Awful if you’re sick of all things magical and vampire-related. I’ll let you decide which one I am after I’ve said my piece…

So we have Gabrielle, an undergrad physics major, aspiring Nobel Prize recipient and overall nerd*. Gabrielle’s world consists of schoolwork, a part-time job, an alcoholic mother, light doses of self-loathing and a not-so-existent love life. That is until she’s forced into working together as lab partners with a handsome brute named William. Gabrielle and William are seemingly from different worlds, but that quickly changes. William is more than just a face and a body–he’s a sorcerer. Their partnership leads them into a conflict that Gabrielle didn’t know existed: a war in the shadow world.

A man named, Sekeem Soulless, has partaken in a form of wizard-vampyrism (yes, drink magical wizard blood and become a sorcerer) And he’s done it so much that he’s become all-powerful and decided to quest for world domination under a God-like complex. He’s sort of the opposite of Voldemort**–a mudblood that wants to kill all wizards except he absorbs their magical essence…yeah…Less specified and somewhat superficial but still notable as a conflict is the idea of Science and Magic; a dichotomy that switches between a versus and collaborative situation. I hoped there would be more of that in this first book.

I have to talk about Gabrielle. She is all over the place….what do I mean by this? Well…to start she has three personalities (perhaps sides or voices is more politically correct, I don’t know) And all three have names; Brie, Elle and Gabe. Now I’m not placing judgment on having multiple personalities–no way. I’m placing judgment on the fact that not one of these voices enriches Gabrielle’s character. They don’t add dimension. I personally couldn’t identify and I felt they were just an extension of superfluous inner monologues and very cliché. I’ll go into this a little more later.

I also have to talk about William. His aura, or rather the aura the author tries to create for him, is supposed to be one of a handsome and mysterious Casanova, something akin to I-don’t-want-to-say it*** (take a guess) If I had to sum him up in a single word, it would be: corny. At one part in the story when he’s trying to prove a point to Gabrielle, he uses these pickup lines that are beyond terrible: “Nice nails…are they real? (62)”…”Is it true all blonds are dumb? (64)”  — Huh? Am I, the reader, supposed to believe that? Those lines? This is written as a contemporary piece. Something that takes place recently. So to read these lines and others like them didn’t bode well for believability(?) or enjoy-ability(?)**** Which leads me to my next point.

I have to talk about Gabrielle and William together. Their love/hate, teacher/student role-reversal relationship gets old before it ever gets started. It’s very predictable. And I think the predictability has a lot to do with how the book is written. Writing an engaging 1st person narrative is tough. Kudos to those who do it successfully. Because if you don’t, it comes off really…whiny and self-centered. And in this case, Hypothesis needs come TLC. It’s very much the diary of a teenage girl. Not quite boy-crazy but still obsessive. The numerous inner monologues are silly and pretty much unnecessary. None of this is remedied by the subject-matter of Gabrielle’s thoughts: her crush, school, hookups and virginity.

Now with all that said, Hypothesis isn’t terrible. There’s definitely a niche/market for this book and I think many YA Fantasy readers will embrace it. It could easily follow in the footsteps of the many successful YA series available today. It’s just not a book I am in the market for.

* Using the term loosely. Very subjective and not intended to be pejorative.

** HP reference!

*** Twilight Saga…

**** I made those two words up I think.

+++

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Let’s Discuss — Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

He would have to teach her, instruct her quickly and begin using her at once. He wanted as many children as he could get from her before it became necessary to kill her. Wild seed always had to be destroyed eventually. It could never conform as children born among his people conformed (85) 

So…after reading this book I have questions.

Who is Anyanwu exactly?

Is she an immortal demigod? A “strong, black woman”?*

What are her values? How does she make her decisions? And why does she let the things that happen to her in this story come to pass?

A week ago I jokingly said this reflection would be a series of questions, but now that I’m writing it, I realize I was only half-joking. I do have many questions. And I have many questions because there were many inconsistencies in this book.

I’ll focus briefly on Doro and Anyanwu’s relationship**.

Doro is a jerk***. Point blank. One day he swings by Anyanwu’s place, picks her up, promises her some things, she goes willingly, and then Doro reneges on those promises. Sound familiar? Well this doesn’t just happen once or twice. It happens all the time, over what?—two hundred years?! C’mon…

Seriously. I understand Doro is powerful and controlling and manipulative. However, Anyanwu is powerful in her own right. She and Doro are equals in my mind. But where they are uneven are their motivations.

Doro wants to build a race of immortal and unique beings just like him. To do this, he initiates selective breeding of groups of people across the globe and over generations. With this goal he handpicks Anyanwu, but she is “wild seed.” Or in Doro’s mind, she cannot be controlled…easily. But I beg to differ, he controls Anyanwu quite easily. Too easily. He threatens her children and her children’s children. And her children’s children’s children. So Anyanwu, being the mother she is, does what he tells her. For someone with her strength and life experience it was confusing and downright disappointing to read of Anyanwu’s abuse.

But back to this talk of motivations. I tried to take myself out of it and understand. I don’t need to relate with a character to enjoy a book, I just need to understand why they do the things they do. And for the life of me, I couldn’t make sense of her decisions. She didn’t want to procreate with her husband’s son, but she did it anyways. She didn’t want to share her husband with other women, but she did it anyways. She didn’t want to believe Doro, but she did anyways. If Anyanwu was that committed to her community and her children why didn’t she try to eliminate Doro? If Anyanwu truly hated Doro (and she did, the book made this very clear from beginning to end) why have his children? Why show him love, or lust, or humanity? If Anyanwu found solace and freedom living among the animals as an animal (i.e. dolphins) why not remain as one? Why participate in systematic breeding and culling?

I wasn’t looking for a happy ending, or a textbook heroine. I just needed things to be interesting and to make sense. In the right context, “wild seed” might imply an inability to be tamed, or some degree of unpredictability. It might also reference a different or unknown gene pool. But Anyanwu was more like a dandelion seed, going wherever the wind takes it.

*I didn’t have this image in my mind as I read, however, I was constantly wondering when Anyanwu would become a dynamic character–when she would show character development and maybe become said image or not.

** I have another interpretation where Doro and Anyanwu’s relationship is a twist on Adam and Eve…but that’s another conversation for another day.

***Even Doro’s character had inconsistencies. Ex: When he sleeps with Anyanwu’s daughter — way too self-serving, even for Doro. Ex: When he’s begging Anyanwu to live and bargaining his terms of future breeding and enslavement with Anyanwu (like what?!)

Let’s Discuss — On the Beach by Nevil Shute

 “It’s going to go on spreading down here, southwards, till it gets to us?”

 “That’s what they say.” 

[…] 

“Can’t anything be done to stop it?” 

He shook his head. “Not a thing. It’s the winds. It’s mighty difficult to dodge what’s carried on the wind. You just can’t do it. You’ve got to take what’s coming to you, and make the best of it.” (39)

It’s the end of world.

But the end is not instant. It’s gradual…yet still relatively quick—between six to nine months.

So what do you do? Maybe it depends on your job, your family, your faith…your view of death.

Maybe it depends on how you go out…let’s say radioactive poisoning?

Yeah, that’s it. Radioactive poisoning carried by the winds to your neighborhoods, to your doorstep, through the cracks of your window screens, in the water you drink and in the air you breathe while you sleep.

That’s how you’ll get. And there isn’t a thing you can do about it…Or is there?

“Nausea,” the chemist said. “That’s the first symptom. Then vomiting, and diarrhea. Bloody stools.  All the symptoms increase in intensity…Finally death occurs from sheer exhaustion.” He paused. “In the very end, infection or leukemia may be the actual cause of death. The blood-forming tissues are destroyed, you see, by the loss of body salts in the fluids. It might go one way or the other.” (150)

Radioactive poisoning.  It’s the end of the world.

Will you choose a decent death?

On the Beach is a realistically fictionalized post apocalyptic account of how men live out the remainder of their lives. It essentially asks, if this were to happen (a third world war initiated and ended by the atom bomb) then how would go out? Not if you go out, but how. How would you like to go out?

What I love about this book is despite the scenario, the potential to be a melodramatic undertaking, it’s a non-dramatic, thought-provoking story.

War mongering countries in the northern hemisphere exacerbated tensions between what were Russia and China of the future. The two countries were competing to be top-tier first-world countries, but they each had something the other needed. Russia needed China’s ports, specifically Shanghai, which would serve a geopolitical advantage. And China needed Russia’s land because its overpopulation was problematic for future development. China had no allies except Russia, so Russia was free to act against them, and so began nuclear warfare. A warfare where there was no “winner.” It was not a viable action , and it only led to more reactions. The end result was the decimation of the entire northern hemisphere, via impact of bombs or poisoning of the population. The only remaining survivors are those south of the equator, but even they will pass on eventually. Wind cannot be stopped.

However, winds carrying the poison will reach Australia and the South Pacific last.  And this is where readers will follow the last weeks of the survivors. American, Dwight Towers,  and Australians; Moira Davidson, and Peter and Mary Holmes are the central characters. It’s interesting to see how they cope with their fate. What’s remarkable is how unremarkable they live out the last months. They re-purpose things that soon won’t serve any purpose or engage in busy work. For example, Mary Holmes is obsessed with gardening. She plants seeds and imagines blossoms she will never see, harvests she will never reap. Just cultivating her own garden….it reminds me of the ending of Voltaire’s Candide. Sometimes there is talk of who’s to blame for all that happened, or questions about legacy: how do we tell the history of what led up to the end? which books do we seal away in the tallest mountain? how do we preserve our small piece of civilization? But all these questions are superseded by a bigger one:

What’s the point?

When the end draws near they all make the important decision. Readers will decide if death was decent.