Do not read this collection of short stories unless you have read the novels. They jump around through multiple generations of the family, filling in...moreDo not read this collection of short stories unless you have read the novels. They jump around through multiple generations of the family, filling in back story or fleshing out minor characters in a way that will be completely confusing to someone who isn't familiar with the main story line.(less)
Absolutely breathtaking novella nominated for a Nebula. This is, as far as I know, Valente's first foray into science fiction, but she seems at home h...moreAbsolutely breathtaking novella nominated for a Nebula. This is, as far as I know, Valente's first foray into science fiction, but she seems at home here as she does with her poetic fantasy. This may not be completely new terrain however, for in this combination of myth, fairy tale and folklore with computer science's best and brightest, she pens folklore for the post-modern era in its exploration of what it means to be human or real in an age of artificial intelligence and virtual realities.(less)
I used to review fantasy books for a website, and one of the basic rules was you wrote a review for each book you read. Makes sense, right? But what w...moreI used to review fantasy books for a website, and one of the basic rules was you wrote a review for each book you read. Makes sense, right? But what would you do in a case like this? The first book in this series is more of a short story. I don't even think it hits novella length. It's just a good sized chapter in some epic brick. And so what do you do at the end of a particularly good chapter? You just turn the page and keep reading.
That's something to keep in mind for anyone who plans on reading these books. Just buy the omnibus edition, because you will want to keep reading when you get to the end of the first story. And then you will yell at the book and want to keep reading at the end of the third. And by the time you get to the fourth, you will just think, "I can ignore my family for a few more hours because I really need to keep reading this right now because I am freaking going to kill someone if they keep me from finding out what happens next." I will admit, I was reading this while proctoring exams on my kindle, and gave at least one student the stink-eye for interrupting me to ask a question. And so I am reviewing them all together, because I tend to think of this as one story, serialized in release like novels from 50 years ago. Amazon puts the print edition at 548 pages, which honestly, would just make Robert Jordan fart in the general direction of this tome.
So, back to the story. What has got me all lathered up?
These are the books that The Hunger Games wishes they could be when they grow up. Set in a dystopian future, humanity has retreated to a silo buried underground, their only connection to the world a series of cameras that show the brown dessicated surface and the crumbling remnants of skyscrapers in the distance. Under strict controls governing every aspect of their lives - where they work, when they reproduce, where they live - people are kept underground, forbidden to even talk about going outside. If you do talk about outside, the punishment is simple. They make you go outside. And there you will die within seconds, killed by the toxic atmosphere that shreds any sort of protection. But what happens when one woman thinks she has learned the truth about outside? Is it all really a lie? Are they being kept here against their will, without even the knowledge to have a will?
I don't want to go into the plot too much, because Howey manages to throw a couple of loops that I don't want to spoil for anyone else, but these books mirror the same level of dystopian ingenuity as Huxley or Orwell, combined with a Martinian flair for killing off main characters. Anyone with a name has the possibility of being killed, and lots of the people without names too. But this isn't violence for the sake of noble sacrifice or villainish emphasis. This is political violence, and Howey makes an argument about the idiocy and simultaneous logic of the use of political violence, totalitarianism and rhetorical manipulation that places this work among those that grace many a college literature class. I think Wool is destined to become a classic of science fiction that is equally thought provoking and entertaining.
While this is not what I would consider a Young Adult novel, I think it will have broad appeal to younger readers as well, especially those who got turned on to dystopian novels by the Hunger Games books. There are a few swear words, but the level of graphic content it contains pales in comparison to other young adult novels. While there may be a few minor flaws - a moment or two where the pacing drags or the characters pontificate a moment too long - this is the book that I will be foisting upon all my friends telling them, "You need to read this." And I mean all my friends, not just the ones who typically read genre fiction.
Also, the book is an elaborate knitting metaphor. That's just awesome.(less)
This is the first story in a five story saga. It's technically a short story, but just go ahead and buy the omnibus because you are not going to want...moreThis is the first story in a five story saga. It's technically a short story, but just go ahead and buy the omnibus because you are not going to want to stop after the first story.(less)
Imagine a zombie. An image springs instantly to mind. A rotting corpse, shuffling along, arms held out clumsily, grunting and groaning as it makes its way inexorably forward. Now imagine you, yourself, your ego, inside that zombie. You are that zombie, your consciousness trapped inside a brain that no longer has control over your body, your life, your insatiable hunger. You watch yourself feast on the flesh of those who are no longer survivors of the plague that has infested New York City, revolted by the feel and taste of human waste in your mouth as you gorge yourself on intestines and flesh. You pray for release from this un-life, but you are trapped, a passenger along for the ride on a body you no longer control.
In I, Zombie, Hugh Howey has created a top-notch horror novel and a metaphorically resonant examination of the human condition. I don’t normally read horror novels because I have an overactive imagination and tend to have nightmares from simple ghost stories told around a campfire. But I trusted in the skilled hands of Howey to make this zombie story more than a simple horror tale and I was not disappointed. I devoured I, Zombie in a single day, staying up late to finish the last chapters. As I laid in bed, trying to fall asleep (with the lights left on so the zombies wouldn’t get me) my mind turned from the horror of zombies mindlessly seeking the living to satiate uncontrollable desires to the people trapped in those flesh coffins.
Howey aptly titled the book I, Zombie, because this vividly told tale will force the reader to see the zombie in themselves. Told as a series of first person narratives, the people confined in the shambling hulks examine how they have lived as zombies in their own lives. Addiction, coercion, fear, mindless routines, failing to make a choice as an illusion of choosing, hunger for someone else to fill them with meaning, the slow decay of relationships as distance — emotional and physical — separates the human from the animal.
There is a lot of symbolism in I, Zombie, but it is easily done, placed into a background that informs and illustrates without being heavy-handed. Some books are easily spotted as being “serious fiction” but this book is a quality piece of storytelling that just so happens to be capable of being read at multiple levels. I can easily see this being assigned in classrooms at the college level (or older high school students because of the gross factor) as a study of what it means to be human and alive, rather than just another animal that is living.
There were a few hitches for me. There are some grammatical errors that should have been caught in editing (I read the Kindle edition.) And while Howey is writing over a dozen first person narratives, and manages to give each person their own distinctive voice, some of the vocabulary and idioms used for each character repeated enough that I wasn’t sure if it was intentional, a linguistic circling that illustrates the confines of each person’s lexicon and therefore experience and understanding of the world, or just careless writing that should have been refined in the revision process.
I, Zombie is revolting. And yet, I highly recommend it. I know there’s a joke waiting to be made about this being the thinking woman’s zombie story and BRAAAAIIIINNNNSSSS!!! but I can’t quite figure out how to make it work. There were times reading I, Zombie that I had an actual physical reaction, typically a dry heave, to what was going on in the book. And yet, even in a series of disconnected narratives, the plot advances so deftly that I was never bored (and was frequently holding my breath wondering how it was going to play out), and while the grossness factor remains in the background, the confrontation between the physical and the mental, the soul and the flesh, the instinct and the will, is what remains at the forefront after finishing the story.