November 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
So, I just voted in the Goodreads Best Books of 2014. I’m not the greatest advocate of Goodreads, given its affiliation with Amazon, but I voted in the poll for two main reasons:
- Much as we may hate to admit it, Goodreads is an important platform for authors, especially up-and-coming ones. Authors frequently request that if you enjoyed their book, you should leave a positive or starred review on Goodreads. I can’t review every book I read, so I do sometimes like to do this for the books I enjoyed. To be a ‘Goodreads Best Book’ is quite a boon for a book, so why not put my two cents in and help out the authors who have made my year awesome?
- I really like filling out surveys.
Oh, and I really only voted in categories where I’d read more than one of the books. Just FYI.
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld was, hands down, the best of the selection. This book is magical and sorrowful, and exceptionally moving. The author knows what she’s talking about, as she has worked closely with death row inmates. Read The Enchanted, and you might find yourself rethinking how you see death row criminals. Especially when you get to the unexpected, agonizing reveal at the end.
Tough choice, but had to go to Queen of the Tearling. One of my two favourite fantasies of the year, tied with Kim Wilkin’s Daughters of the Storm. If Emma Watson’s endorsement of QoT isn’t enough to tell you that this book is amazing, take my word for it: this is the next Hunger Games.
Best Science Fiction:
For someone who doesn’t think they read SF, this was a surprisingly difficult choice. It came down to a trade off between Annihiliation by Jeff Vandermeer and Lock in by John Scalzi. Lock In won out, due to the sheer obsession that it incited in me for the short time it took to read it. The concepts and the plot will have you thinking long after you finish it!
I was torn between three contenders for this one. I loved Sarah Lotz’s The Three, was glued to Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, and The Girl with All the Gifts had me in its thrall from its first page to the last. All of these deserved my vote and the exposure that the Goodreads Best Book title might provide. However, at the end of the day, I wasn’t 100% sure that Girl with All the Gifts is true horror. Gotta make a decision somehow, so I scratched it. And The Three was pretty scary, but it didn’t incite the gleeful revulsion that Broken Monsters did. So, my vote went to the latter, with honorable mentions to two other books I really did love this year.
Graphic Novel and Comics:
Saga. Always Saga. Nothing further.
Debut Goodreads Author:
Red Rising by Pierce Brown, which is one of the few books I have read twice this year. Honorable mention to QoT, which I almost voted for again, I loved it so much. Side note: pretty excited for Son of Ares to come out in Jan!
We Were Liars by E. E. Lockhart. What a wonderful book. It’s impossible to tell you why, because of the twist at the end. The twist that you might see coming, that might sound predictable if I were to explain it to you, but which feels like an ice-cold glass of water poured slowly over your head as you come to realize you’ve been fooled all along… We Were Liars.
YA Fantasy and Sci Fi:
Titles I considered nominating were: Red Rising (again); Laini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods and Monsters; and Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi. Dreams of Gods and Monsters was out of the running for one very simple reason – I haven’t read it yet. I loved DOSAB so very much that I keep finding reasons not to read Dreams of Gods and Monsters, because I simply can’t bear for it to be over. This might be a reason to vote for it in and of itself, if it wasn’t for the inclusion of Ignite Me. Red Rising obviously got scratched from this section because I’d already voted for it, and I wanted to share the love.
I would never have picked up Shatter Me, if it wasn’t for the recommendation of one of my dearest friends. Earlier this year, I burned through Tahereh’s trilogy obsessively. Ignite Me has everything – beautiful, poetic writing; a wonderful protag; a really exciting magic system; a dystopian society to be scared of, and a very intriguing romantic lead. (shoutout to Chapter 62!) I LOVED it, and it’s one of my favourite books of the year.
Did you vote in the Goodreads Best Books awards? Who got your vote?
October 13, 2014 § 1 Comment
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a brilliant, groundbreaking show. The majority of the women in the show are unashamedly fierce, but there are also many who aren’t – just like REAL women! And the same goes for the men; some of them are stubborn and painfully arrogant, some of them are smart, shy and quiet (hiiii Oz), and some of them have hidden depths that only TRUE FANS appreciate. (Okay, I may still be a bit hung up on Spike. But who isn’t?!) There were vampires, werewolves, demons, ventriloquist dummies, goddesses, Keys, witches and proms. Don’t you miss it?
Long before Willow turned dark, before Buffy died (the first time), and before Anya started threatening to hit things with frying pans, the Hellmouth opened beneath Sunnydale High School. A sixteen-year-old blonde chick showed up and started hacking away at the demons that began to manifest in and around the high school. The rest, as they say, is…well; it’s seasons two through seven.
Many attempts have been made to resurrect BTVS. Comics, novels, fanfic, Angel – you name it, the creators and the show’s fans have attempted it. Although I enjoyed them (and, uh, may have participated in the fanfic), I don’t really think any of these forays has truly captured the spirit of those glorious early days.
Readers of The Novelettes, I hold in my hands the legacy to BTVS. It is Michelle Knudsen’s Evil Librarian.
Cyn and Annie, best friends since who-knows-when, share everything. Under the rules of best-friendship, Annie has been subjected to Cyn’s mooning over Ryan Hadley for years. Really, it’s lucky that Annie hasn’t ever really had a crush of the same magnitude, because Cyn does enough swooning for the both of them.
As technical director of the school’s production of Sweeney Todd, Cyn isn’t really all that interested in the goings-on of the school library. And neither is Annie, really – until Mr. Gabriel arrives. The new school librarian is young, disturbingly handsome and just a little bit too charismatic for Cyn’s liking, but Annie has fallen head over heels for him. Mr. Gabriel seems to be taken with Annie too, which would be repulsive enough all by itself – but when Cyn walks in on the librarian covered in the blood of another teacher, she knows for certain: Annie’s life is in danger.
“An evil librarian is taking over the school. He appears to be making my best friend his special evil library monitor.”
All over the school, students are exhibiting disturbing signs of some kind of brainwashing. Only Cyn, and the object of her affections, Ryan, seem to notice that the zombie-like entrancements are connected with Mr. Gabriel. All of a sudden, Cyn and Ryan find themselves in the middle of a demon war – with their high school as the battlegrounds.
“Because, you know, evil demon librarians, not so much known for the honesty policy.”
Seriously, though, Cyn’s got other things on her mind than stopping the denizens from hell ripping her school to shreds. She’s only got three weeks until Sweeney Todd’s opening night, and there’s so much to do! Normally, she’d need a lot of time to analyse the progress between she and Ryan, but she’s had to put all that energy into saving Annie from becoming a demon bride.
But she loves Annie. So much so that she’d go to Hell and back to save her. Which is lucky, since that’s exactly what she’s going to have to do.
Since reading Fangirl, I’ve been more interested than normal in well-developed romances, particularly those that are a sidebar to the main plot. Ryan and Cyn’s story is just the right balance of awkwardness, humour and sweet determination to get it right. Just like Cath in Fangirl, Cyn’s relationship with Ryan develops and grows along with Cyn. That is the sign of a romantic subplot done right!
Although Evil Librarian is being touted as Knudsen’s YA debut, I really believe that adults are going to get just as much out of this novel – if not more – than teenage readers. At twenty-four, high school might be over for me, but BTVS dialogue is still present in my everyday life (whether my friends know it or not). I think that as an adult, you might have the capacity to find this book funny in a way that teenagers won’t yet be able to.
“He looks at me again and the flames vanish and the knife is gone and his voice goes light and breezy and all coffee-shop conversational, as if he wasn’t just one second ago impaling me with fiery eyes and discussing the dark fate of my best friend and the souls of all my classmates.”
Evil Librarian feels original and familiar all at once. It’s funny, dramatic, kind of gross and very sweet. Without ever copying anything from Joss Whedon, Knudsen manages to capture everything that I loved about Buffy and bring it to an original setting in a new universe. It’s selflessness and scathing sarcasm in the face of the actual bloodthirsty monsters. It’s flippant quips when your world it is coming crashing down around your ears. It’s the ferocity of adolescence, channeled into all-encompassing friendship; the kind of friendship you’d die for.
Want a copy of Evil Librarian? If you’re in Brisbane, grab one from Pulp Fiction, now at Adelaide Street.
PS – I have a Gentleman T-shirt. I don’t actually wear it in public because it’s kind of scary. But here you go:
June 8, 2014 § Leave a comment
On Black Friday, 2011, four planes went down at exactly the same time, in four separate corners of the globe. Only three children survive – in Japan, Hiro; in America, Bobby; and in the UK, Jess, whose twin sister and parents perished.
With no explanation as to why the planes crashed, the survival of the children – dubbed ‘The Three’ by the ravenous press – is nothing short of a miracle.
Bereft of their parents, The Three are placed into the custody of their next-of-kin. While their new guardians are overjoyed to have them alive, each becomes concerned, and then disturbed, by the children’s increasingly bizarre behaviour.
For me, horror novels present the ultimate obstacle in the suspension of disbelief. In order to accept that Carrie is going to rain fire on her bullies, we first must accept that she has telekinetic powers. Somehow, I find it harder to accept this version of reality than the one i in which a Ministry of Magic hides an entire population among everyday British citizens. Maybe that’s because horror, as a genre, doesn’t need to establish an entirely new world from the ground up in order to set the stage for its conflict.
The Three is a horror novel for skeptics. For one thing, it doesn’t take a great leap of faith to imagine the terror that would arise from four planes going down at the same time in different parts of the world. With this narrative device, Lotz draws upon an all-too-familiar fear that the world as we know it is about to change. As I didn’t really have a problem believing that planes could be the modern harbinger of “end times”, the novel sucked me in from the get-go.
All over the globe, people are reacting to the events of Black Friday. In America, Pastor Len believes that The Three are the first of the four horsemen, and that their arrival is a sign that Judgment Day is close at hand. Evangelism borders on mass hysteria as the Bible Belt latches on to Pastor Len’s message. In Japan, a cult forms around Hiro, the six-year-old survivor of the plane that went down in Osaka. Hiro’s eighteen-year-old cousin, Chiyoko, whose family is bound up in the creation of “surrabot” androids, is now his primary carer. Chiyoko’s online conversations, detailing how she feels about the events of Black Thursday and Hiro himself, form the basis of Hiro’s story. This was my favourite subplot of the novel. In England, Paul struggles to care for his niece Jess as her behavior becomes increasingly disturbing.
The Three is written in an epistolary format – that is, as a series of documents and clippings. It’s also a book within a book, given that the majority of the novel is taken up with excerpts from investigative journalist Elspeth’s narrative history of Black Thursday and its aftermath. This format, which readers might recognize from the recent horror hit World War Z, tends to officiate a horror story in a way that traditional prose cannot. For the skeptical reader, it can be tough to accept not only the apparatus of horror, but also a single, or limited, perspective of the event. The story of The Three is more believable because of the number of people telling it, their various relationships to the incident and the children themselves, and their differing characters. Each of the characters brings a different set of biases, personalities traits and circumstances to the Black Thursday tragedy, and through their collective perspectives, we see an ominous truth being shaped.
The narrative emerges piece by piece from all over the world. It’s a slow burn, and at first, it’s not entirely clear what’s going on. The lack of specificity lends an unshakeable sense of eeriness to the novel – the reader is constantly questioning the nature of Black Friday and The Three, because something simply doesn’t feel right.
The uneasy feeling of foreboding culminates in an epilogue that can only be described as downright scary. Elspeth, the author of the “book within a book”, decides to revisit the story of The Three, and travels to the infamous suicide forest in Japan. What she finds there will likely have you sleeping with the light on for a few nights after you finish the book.
Why would they need a reason? Why do we hunt when we have enough to eat? Why do we kill each other over trifles? What makes you think they needed any more motivation other than to simply see what might happen?
The Three is a horror novel for people who think they don’t like horror novels. Lotz is a master of suspense, and her characterization is far better than I’ve come to expect from the horror genre. With the international scope of World War Z and the intensely personal nature of Dictaphone transcripts, internet conversations and journal entries, The Three leaves no stone unturned. If you’re in the mood for something scary, this novel is worth your time.
Want a copy? Brisbanites, head to Pulp Fiction’s new store on Adelaide Street! Visit their Facebook page here. Wherever you may be, be sure to support your independent booksellers!
February 19, 2014 § 1 Comment
In Annihilation, we follow journey of the twelfth expedition into the mysterious Area X. All the members of the previous parties have met strange and unexplained fates – some returned home a shell of their former selves; others died of ravaging illnesses and many were never seen again.
The twelfth expedition party consists of a psychologist, a biologist, and anthropologist, a surveryor and a linguist. The biologist, emotionally disconnected and highly analytical, tells us the story from the pages of her observational journal.
Soon after establishing their base camp, the team comes across an enormous tunnel descending into the earth. Inside this tunnel, the biologist finds evidence that a sentient being is scrawling erudite messages over the walls. Upon closer inspection, the biologist finds that the messages are written in living fungi.
As she leans in to take a sample, the fungi release a stream of spores into the air. After she accidentally inhales one, the biologist begins to monitor herself for any signs of illness or behavioural change. The first effect that she notices, however, is a sudden immunity to the hypnotic instruction that the psychologist is still administering to the surveyor, the anthropologist and the linguist.
Why is the psychologist hypnotising the team? What is her agenda? What is the Southern Reach, and who are they? What do they expect the team to find in Area X that the eleven expeditions before did not? Who, or what, is writing on the walls of the tunnel, and where did it come from? Now that she can see through the psychologist’s façade of natural leadership, the biologist knows that the unknown landscape of Area X is not the only danger she will face on this expedition.
Annihilation is written in epistolary format – that is, as a journal. The biologist, whose name we never learn, consciously refrains from connecting with her fellow explorers in an emotional context in favour of immersing herself in her environment. Much like Dr Caldwell from The Girl with All the Gifts, the biologist is wholly focused on her work. As she recounts events from her life before entering Area X, we begin to see that she has always been this way – almost frightening in her coldness. When her self-preservation instincts kick in, though, she’s downright terrifying.
Annihilation features minimal characterisation, and what we do see is only through the eyes of the nameless biologist. Because she is utterly uninterested in engaging with her fellow explorers, she gives us very little idea of what her companions are actually like. We get the general idea that the psychologist is up to something, that the anthropologist can’t hack it in Area X, and that the surveyor is driven mad, but we spend most of the narrative inside the biologist’s head. As you might be able to guess, this makes for an uncomfortable and somewhat alienating read.
The biologist elaborates on her own past through ruminations on her marriage. A solitary person, the biologist found that she was at constant odds with her outgoing, social husband. As she delves deeper into Area X, she descends into a sort of madness, whereby she ends up pulling her marriage apart.
Annihilation clearly takes its cues from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but there are other influences at work here too. The landscape of Area X is a living thing, and it becomes the biologist’s adversary, partner, lover and self. And let me just clarify, when I say the landscape is alive, I literally mean that it is made of living, breathing tissue. I found this fascinating and quite disturbing, and the glimpses that I got of it were just not enough. As I’m sure you can predict, Vandermeer has taken a leaf out of the Necronomicon here – Annihilation has a distinctly Lovecraftian vibe. I really wouldn’t be surprised if the mysterious being scrawling strange messages inside the Tunnel is a Great Old One, to be honest.
I burned through Annihilation in twenty four hours. I was addicted to the suspense, and the ever-present sense of foreboding that was only heightened by the cliff-hanger ending. Thankfully, Annihilation is the first in the Southern Reach Trilogy, to be followed by Authority and Acceptance in May and September respectively (side note – how great is it that they’re all coming out in one year?). If you’re a fan of horror, suspense, dystopian SF, New Weird or anything vaguely Lovecraftian, I highly recommend you grab your copy ASAP!
I received a proof copy of Annihilation in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Pulp Fiction!
Speaking of which, I have a Twitter also!
January 27, 2014 § 2 Comments
Twenty-three year old Lissa doesn’t go out much – she prefers to stay at home with a glass of wine and a poetry anthology – but when her boyfriend dumps her, her best friend insists on taking her out to help take her mind off things. Out on the town in Melbourne, Lissa has a great time and even strikes up a potential romance with one of Evie’s friends. And then people start dying.
In the nightclubs in Melbourne, bodies are turning up, drained of their blood and abandoned in bathroom stalls. Every time it happens, Lissa seems to be near, so she decides to find out exactly what’s going one. Surely, it can’t be vampires?
I picked up this book out of general interest, because it was printed by Pulp Fiction Press. Regular readers will know that Pulp Fiction is my favourite bookstore. I trust the staff’s genre-specific knowledge and never hesitate to pick up their recommendations, so I was curious to read a book that they deemed worthy of publishing! Despite trusting Pulp, I was a little bit surprised to find that I genuinely loved this book! I gave up on vampire fiction long ago, but I think Ms Harris has restored my faith in the genre.
THE OPPOSITE OF LIFE gets off to a rocky start. It took me time to warm to the characters and to get a feel for its ‘voice’, but the second half passed by in a blur. I felt as though I was being kept company by Lissa, with whom I felt a certain undeniable sense of kinship (book-obsessed, questionable fashion sense, something of a loner – should I sue the author for copyright of my personality?).
This book is dark in an unexpected way. We’re used to vampire books having dangerous men, seductive women, exposure to erotic pain, etc. But this book was quite different. Through Lissa, Harris uses vampirism as a means to tackle the reality of death and its permanent, cumulative effect.
Lissa has endured significant loss by the tender age of twenty-three. Her parents’ marriage broke down when her younger sister died of a brain tumour. Unable to cope with the stress of a dysfunctional family life, Lissa’s younger brother Paul overdosed and died, leaving Lissa and her older sister Kate to cope with the remnants of their family. Hardened against personal tragedy, Lissa simply shuts down when something stressful appears on the horizon – a trait I found all too relatable.
When Lissa’s acquaintances start dying, she responds to the murders with an aggressive righteousness befitting one who has lost too much in her life already. Interestingly, the vampires in this book are genuinely quite repulsive – they are murderers, and their ‘life’ holds no seductive intrigue. While they are immortal, the vampires have sacrificed living brain function, meaning that they no longer have the capacity to learn new skills or to respond to stimuli in an emotional context. Upon being introduced to the world of Melbourne’s archaic vampires, Lissa finds herself drawn to a life where she would no longer be able to feel emotional pain. Harris presents us with an interesting take on the emotional and psychological effects of joining the undead. What kind of effect would a choice like this have on your psyche?
Ultimately, Lissa determines that it’s better to feel pain and loss than to numb it out. This struck quite a personal chord for me, as I’ve been struggling with something similar myself of late.
Lissa is an excellent protagonist. She’s realistically flawed, but after dealing with vampiric murders AND a stressful family situation, she undergoes a genuine change, and it’s heart-warming for all the right reasons.
The male lead Gary, isn’t all that big of a focal character. Gary’s a vampire with a hilariously mundane name. His social skills leave a lot to be desired, and he generates more awkward silences than he fills. Gary is invested in finding out who’s killing Melbourne clubbers, and he reluctantly allows Lissa to tag along for the ride. Depsite this, Gary’s presence in the narrative doesn’t take over Lissa’s own agenda. He’s a means to an end – an access card to the vampire world. He’s not even really a romantic interest, though there’s potential for him to become one. This is enormously refreshing, particularly in a vampire novel!
Also? Lissa is a librarian. Her descriptions of working in a library really struck a chord for me, and I began applying for courses to become a qualified librarian myself!
I could make an argument that this book is feminist, but I’d rather not have to defend such a strong statement to those who will inevitably equate vampire fiction with anti-feminism. Rather, let me just say that THE OPPOSITE OF LIFE about a pretty awesome girl who faces some pretty awful situations head-on. THE OPPOSITE OF LIFE doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of stress and anxiety this makes it a highly relatable book. For me, this may have been a matter of the right book at the right time, but I feel entirely confident in telling you all to pay Pulp Fiction a visit to collect your copy. If you’re in Brisbane, or coming anytime soon, you can find Pulp Fiction in Central Station (look for the purple and yellow sign). Alternatively, if you’re an international reader, you can buy THE OPPOSITE OF LIFE for your ereader here at Amazon.
Thank you to Pulp Fiction for providing me with a copy of The Opposite of Life.
January 22, 2014 § 3 Comments
Ten year-old Melanie wakes fresh every day for her lessons. Sergeant comes to strap her in her wheelchair, making sure to restrain her hands and feet, and she’s taken to the classroom to begin the day’s teachings. Melanie is exceptionally bright, and she adores the days when Miss Justineau takes the class. Because she has never exited the compound in which she lives, Melanie’s exposure to the outside world is limited to the knowledge her teachers can give her. And because she has never known any different, she is unable to recognise that all of the adults around her are deathly afraid of what happens if she ever gets free.
Look, I have to tell you something. A lot of other reviews of this book are withholding this piece of information for fear of posting a dreaded spoiler, but I can tell you with one hundred per cent certainty that knowing this will not change your experience of this book. It’s got too many twists and turns for this small detail to be a spoiler. Right, so: Melanie is a zombie.
Put aside what you think you know about zombie novels. Forget 28 Days Later, and the monkey-borne virus. Put World War Z out of your mind, because it’s too late for the W.H.O to do anything about this outbreak. And don’t even think about assembling your unwanted record collection, a la Shaun of the Dead, because there’s absolutely no point in trying to combat these Walking Dead.
In The Girl with All the Gifts, society as we know it is long dead. What remains is the military run compound in which Melanie and her classmates are housed, and, somewhere out there, the survivalist citadel of Beacon. The rest of the world has been decimated by the “hungries” – the first wave of the zombie epidemic. Like the Boneys of Warm Bodies, the hungries resemble the zombies that we know and fear. So what, then, is Melanie, and why is the military scared of her?
In addition to being an exceptional zombie novel, The Girl with All the Gifts is also a compelling character study. Through the eyes of five very different characters, Carey dissects the new world that has emerged from the husk of humanity’s society, and man, does he do it well.
The five point-of-view characters represent a fascinating cross-section of the post-apocalyptic community: Miss Justineau, kind-hearted and fiercely protective teacher; the adamantly militaristic Sergeant; naïve and innocent Private Gallagher; chilling Dr Caldwell, and of course, Melanie. This eclectic collection of perspectives allows Carey to examine the state of the world from different angles, and in considerable depth.
Carey makes masterful use of the five POV characters to build tension and suspense. I found that he continually tripped up my expectations of a multiple perspective narrative, which made the book all the more surprising. ASOIAF has trained me to expect that when something interesting happens to a character, perspective will smash-cut to one of twenty-something other people. Not so with The Girl with All the Gifts: when something interesting happens, Carey keeps focus on the situation itself, even if he switches character perspective. This makes the book feel quite immediate, and a little bit cinematic.
Dr Caldwell, the researcher on base, is a truly chilling character. She is single-mindedly devoted to her life’s research, and genuinely does not seem to care about anything else. She systematically abducted Melanie’s classmates, one by one, so that she may dissect them and glean an understanding of the true nature of the end of the world. She has no issue with restricting life-saving resources from her fellow humans if it means that she can have peace and quiet to conduct her work, and holds onto her life with the sole intent of finding an answer. By the end of the book, it is apparent that her intent is pure selfishness in the guise of utilitarianism – an eerily familiar concept.
The thing is, Caldwell’s efforts amount to nothing anyway. Even after she dedicates her life to finding the answer, the answer has no effect on the outcome of the apocalypse. The fact that she knows this, and continues to single-mindedly seek answers at the expense of her peers, is nothing short of scary.
Where Caldwell is repulsive and alienating, Miss Justineau is wholly relatable. She has honour, and loves hugely, but she also breaks down in the face of overwhelming horror. She rages against the injustice of restraining children, but also recognises the vulnerability of her fellow travellers. At the novel’s conclusion, she accepts the state of the world that has shifted from underneath her. Her comparison to Caldwell makes the latter seem all the more monstrous. The tension between them is palpable!
There are parts of this book that are strikingly gory, but I kind of loved that about it. The violence and gore brings into focus the stark horror of a reality in which unknown monsters rule. That being said, I’m told that my tastes do run toward the bleak…
In an age of interminable trilogies and cliffhanger endings, The Girl with All The Gifts is a true standalone novel. Sure, the frightening world could be explored more in another book, but I was satisfied with the resolved narrative in the end. It does draw the inevitable comparison to Cronin’s The Passage. If I’m being honest, I’ll tell you that I– I never actually finished The Passage. I’ve tried three times, but I always find that it just drags. I lose motivation to complete the book, can’t be bothered investing in new characters and trying to care about their situations. With a stack of unread books nearly as tall as I am, I’m unlikely to go back to The Passage anytime soon. Unlike The Passage, I could not put The Girl with All the Gifts down. In fact, I am sporting a spectacular bruise on my thigh because I was walking around reading, and ran straight into the corner of my bed.
With the possible exception of Will McIntosh’s Soft Apocalypse, Carey’s apocalypse scenario is one of the best I’ve ever read. He takes our traditional understanding of the zombie myth, turns it upside down, cuts it all up and reassembles it. It is stunningly cool, highly original and quite frightening. In The Girl with All the Gifts, Carey shows us that the end of the world as we know it does not mean that it is the end of the world as a whole – and maybe we should just accept it.
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS will be available at PULP FICTION BOOKSELLERS in Brisbane City this week. Call them on (07) 3236 2750 to reserve a copy, or hit them up on Facebook here.
Are you a fan of zombie books? Check out these too!
November 15, 2013 § 3 Comments
I’ve always had a weakness for medical thrillers. Back in high school, I went through a Robin Cook phase, and I’m not even embarrassed to admit that to you all. When I picked up PARASITE on one of my frequent trips to the bookstore, I was immediately drawn to the concept of medical parasites. Although I didn’t enjoy Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy, I decided to buy it anyway. PARASITE turned out to be the best second chance I ever gave an author.
After a car accident nearly killed her, Sally was reliant on life support. But just as her family were preparing to turn the machines off, Sal opened her eyes and sat up. The genetically modified tapeworm secreting tailored medication, vitamins and minerals in her gut had somehow brought her from a coma to consciousness. Sally Mitchell owes her life to the SymboGen Intestinal Bodyguard™.
Although she no longer remembers being Sally, Sal learns to walk, talk, eat and clothe herself all over again. Thanks to the Intestinal Bodyguard™, she has a second chance at life.
Sal is the first person whose implant delivered her from a coma. Now that she represents the enormous potential of the Intestinal Bodyguard™ Sal’s body has become highly valuable to the biggest company in the world… and SymboGen won’t let her forget it.
Sal isn’t stupid. She knows that SymboGen track her every move – she is simply too important for them to lose track of. Since her living memory only extends back six years, and given that she’d be dead without her tapeworm, she’s not really in a position to argue. But that doesn’t mean she trusts SymboGen, who have never really been forthcoming about why, exactly, her implant saved her.
At first, it’s a freak incident. A little girl in a shopping centre suddenly goes slack-jawed and loose-limbed, and even her mother’s frantic sobs can’t bring her back to reality. She seems to be sleepwalking, in a slumber so deep it ultimately consumes her. But then there’s another incident, and the “sleepwalker” became violent, lashing out at passers-by who got in his way. Another incident, and then another, until the “sleeping sickness” becomes a worldwide concern.
Nobody can figure out what’s caused it – except that all of the sufferers have SymboGen implants.
Sometimes humanity is the reason we can’t have nice things.
Sal is such a great character; she’s strong-willed and observant, shrewd, kind and caring. She also represents a fascinating dichotomy – she has an adult understanding of her life, and is treated as an adult by those around her, but can only remember being alive for six years. She is at once mature and naïve, and always dependent on those around her. With a medical doctor for a father, a sceptical parasitologist as a boyfriend, and the CEO of SymboGen as her protector, Sal is at the very epicentre of the sleeping sickness conspiracy. The world at large knows that it’s related to the implant, but Sal’s boyfriend Nathan suspects the company is withholding critical information from the medical community. Uniquely positioned to obtain this information, Sal begins to feel the pressure from all sides. And underneath it all, she’s worried. After all, Sal has an implant too…
Almost unintentionally, PARASITE raises some interesting ethical issues. If you wake up one day and don’t remember who you are, are you someone entirely new? Is there such a thing as cellular memory, and if there isn’t, do you have a right to the relationships and achievements of the person you don’t remember being? On the other hand, SymboGen has much to answer for. There’s no denying the fact their genetically modified Intestinal Bodyguards™ are evidence that the company has no qualms about playing God. But if something that hurts the few can truly benefit the many, is it right to withhold information about its potential danger?
I think what I found most interesting was the exploration of the ethics of the creators of the Intestinal Bodyguard™. A modified tapeworm spliced with the DNA of other organisms, D. Symbogenesis is the brainchild of three parasitologists. Pioneering the idea that parasites are our friends, Dr Steven Banks has fronted up SymboGen since the implant boomed. His mentality is gradually revealed throughout the novel in snippets of his interview entitled “King of the Worms”, published in Rolling Stone. Dr Cale was directly responsible for the final incarnation of the implant. She reveals her thoughts in excerpts of “Can of Worms”, her unpublished autobiography, where she dishes on the truth behind the world’s most important parasite. And the third doctor? Well. His thoughts come in the form of a suicide note.
“If you believed that D. Symbogenesis was the simple, easily controlled organism SymoGen described in their press releases and paperwork, you have been sold a bottle of snake oil.”
PARASITE is the best thriller I’ve read this year. This is mostly due to the fact that it was absolutely nothing like I expected it to be. I was waiting for it to eventually morph into a zombie novel, but it didn’t even come close.
The concept of people purposely ingesting parasites is a serious skin-crawler, and would probably have made for an interesting book by itself. But combined with cleverly-paced revelations, genre-melding narrative and characters that you can never quite trust, and you’ve got an unpredictable, completely engrossing page-turner.
Regular readers will not be surprised to know that I found PARASITE at Pulp Fiction. Did you know Pulp Fiction supply e-books too? Buy your e-copy of Parasite from Pulp Fiction here, for $11.99, and support my favourite bookstore.
Are you, like me, oddly fascinated by parasites? You’re weird. But we’re in this together. Check out Caustic Soda’s podcast episode on parasites. Be warned, though – Caustic Soda are not for the faint-hearted!