Kate’s Review: “Wayward”


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Book: “Wayward” by Chuck Wendig

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Five years ago, ordinary Americans fell under the grip of a strange new malady that caused them to sleepwalk across the country to a destination only they knew. They were followed on their quest by the shepherds: friends and family who gave up everything to protect them.

Their secret destination: Ouray, a small town in Colorado that would become one of the last outposts of civilization. Because the sleepwalking epidemic was only the first in a chain of events that led to the end of the world–and the birth of a new one. The survivors, sleepwalkers and shepherds alike, have a dream of rebuilding human society. Among them are Benji, the scientist struggling through grief to lead the town; Marcy, the former police officer who wants only to look after the people she loves; and Shana, the teenage girl who became the first shepherd–and an unlikely hero whose courage will be needed again.

Because the people of Ouray are not the only survivors, and the world they are building is fragile. The forces of cruelty and brutality are amassing under the leadership of self-proclaimed president Ed Creel. And in the very heart of Ouray, the most powerful survivor of all is plotting its own vision for the new world: Black Swan, the A.I. who imagined the apocalypse.

Against these threats, Benji, Marcy, Shana, and the rest have only one hope: one another. Because the only way to survive the end of the world is together.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

So, when I was reading “Wanderers” back in 2019 I felt a mild anxiety that I was constantly trying to write off. ‘A deadly pandemic? Eh, that’s not something you need to be worrying about, Kate. No way.’

Joke’s on me, I guess. (source)

Little did I realize that a year later it would be a reality that was consuming so many of us. Luckily it wasn’t a White Mask level of death, though that doesn’t mean it’s been a cake walk by ANY means. But, now it’s 2022, and while we are still in the midst of this life changing pandemic with death and sickness, I feel more secure than I did two years ago, or even one year ago (thank you, under 5 vaccines and lots and lots of therapy!). So much so that I could actually pick up “Wayward”, Chuck Wendig’s sequel to the pandemic end of world thriller/sci-fi/dystopia “Wanderers”. You probably remember how I couldn’t bring myself to read books about sickness and the world ending for awhile. I guess the fact I read “Wayward” shows how far I’ve come. Though now the worry is that it’s predicting a whole other society altering reality, with it’s huge themes of Christo-fascism and white supremacist violence…. Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s dive in.

“Wayward” picks up shortly after “Wanderers” ends, and five years after the White Mask pandemic has wiped out a huge majority of the world population. The surviving ‘Sleepwalkers’ and ‘Shepherds’ are living in the isolated Colorado town of Ouray, where the seemingly benevolent (but actually dangerous) Black Swan AI is continuously running and trying to create a new world. There are familiar faces like Benji, the former scientist who is now a well respected town leader, and Shana, the first ‘shepherd’ who is now pregnant with the first child to be born in the community (who was in stasis for five years like the sleepwalkers were). At the end of “Wanderers” there were hints that this perfect rebuilding community was actually on a precipice, and we get to see that play out as Wendig tinkers with ideas of dangerous AI, and groupthink that can lead to cultlike behavior, unrest, and power grabs. I liked how Wendig did some full exploration of this, because the community that was being envisioned at the end of “Wanderers” felt a little too pat. I also liked revisiting Benji, Shana, et al, because I had forgotten how much I liked them and I liked seeing how they had all changed from the first book up through this book. The changes are believable both as to how they would change due to their circumstances, but also as to how they as characters would have changed with their base personalities in mind. Shana in “Wanderers” is pretty different from Shana in “Wayward”, but she is still Shana, and so forth, and it is clear that Wendig knows his cast inside and out. It is their inherent complexity and goodness that keeps this book from treading too bleak.

Though that isn’t to say that it isn’t bleak at times. Oh soothsayer Chuck Wendig, I must say that I’m a bit on edge that you have put another horrible thing out into the universe, given what happened last time! And that is the theme of Christ-fascist authoritarian groups trying to wipe out those they deem inferior against the backdrop of the end of society. Though I don’t think we spent too much time with white supremacist and totalitarian would be president Ed Creel in “Wanderers”, he has his own perspective chapters in “Wayward”, and good God we are once again getting into too real territory. Creel is a clear Donald Trump analog, but obvious or not it doesn’t make him any less terrifying as he continues to amass a white supremacist and violent following to do his bidding even as he bides his time in an underground bunker for the uberwealthy. “Wanderers” came out during the Trump Presidency when we were seeing these groups like the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers and literal Neo-Nazis sing his praises, and now “Wayward” puts new focus on this in a post January 6 world. It’s all a bit on the nose at times, but that doesn’t make it any less resonant. Sure, the AI run amok themes were also scary, but that was more on the Sci-Fi side of things so it didn’t catch my anxiety as much as this all did. Maybe give it a few years.

But what I love about Wendig’s voice is that even through all this violence, trauma, sadness, and raw devastation, there is always hope. Hope through humor. Hope through love between family and friends. Hope that some places can get through a terrible thing like White Mask through their effort and community strength (I loved the idea of different parts of the world faring better based on factors ranging from environment to cultural aspects). Hope that no matter how bad things get, they can be addressed and salvaged. It’s hard to remember that hope is there, at times. But Wendig reminds us throughout the narrative, and I really liked that.

“Wayward” is a solid follow up to an end of world story that looks at what could come next. Wendig taps into a lot of modern anxieties and fears, but he also knows how to keep the reader hopeful. We need that sometimes.

Rating 8: A melancholy and suspenseful but ultimately hopeful follow up to an apocalypse book that now feels a bit too real, “Wayward” brings us back to Ouray and examines what happens after the world as we know it ends.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wayward” is included on the Goodreads list “Hugo 2023 Eligible Novels”.

Serena’s Review: “Poster Girl”

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Book: “Poster Girl” by Veronica Roth

Publishing Info: William Morrow & Company, October 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: WHAT’S RIGHT IS RIGHT.

Sonya Kantor knows this slogan–she lived by it for most of her life. For decades, everyone in the Seattle-Portland megalopolis lived under it, as well as constant surveillance in the form of the Insight, an ocular implant that tracked every word and every action, rewarding or punishing by a rigid moral code set forth by the Delegation.

Then there was a revolution. The Delegation fell. Its most valuable members were locked in the Aperture, a prison on the outskirts of the city. And everyone else, now free from the Insight’s monitoring, went on with their lives.

Sonya, former poster girl for the Delegation, has been imprisoned for ten years when an old enemy comes to her with a deal: find a missing girl who was stolen from her parents by the old regime, and earn her freedom. The path Sonya takes to find the child will lead her through an unfamiliar, crooked post-Delegation world where she finds herself digging deeper into the past–and her family’s dark secrets–than she ever wanted to.

With razor sharp prose, “Poster Girl” is a haunting dystopian mystery that explores the expanding role of surveillance on society–an inescapable reality that we welcome all too easily.

Review: While I wasn’t a big “Divergent” fan (I didn’t even finish the trilogy), I’ve really enjoyed the adult/new adult fiction Veronica Roth has written recently. There’s also no denying that, like Margaret Atwood, Roth has a keen eye for producing dystopian works that can feel all too believable. It’s this sort of believability that truly gives dystopian works their chills, and with this book’s focus on technology and the surveillance state, I knew we’d be deep-diving into some uncomfortable ideas. And sure enough, it was uncomfortable and it was great!

For Sonya, time has stopped. After serving as the face of a regime known as the Delegation, after a revolution overturned society, she and other prominent members of the fallen system are now locked in a prison complex with no hope of rejoining society. But when she’s given the change to earn her freedom tracking down a missing girl, Sonya ventures back out into a world very unlike the one she left a decade before. As she digs into her past as well as her present, Sonya discovers dark truths that reorganize everything she once believed.

As I said earlier, in my opinion what makes a great dystopian story is the ability to create a world and society that is believable, thus all the more horrific. Here, with the creation of a society existing beneath an authoritarian regime that monitors and rewards behavior, the path to this destination is obvious. The Aperture, an implant that is placed in the eye that essentially acts like a smart phone that is even more accessible, is very easy to imagine. The story neatly demonstrates how the ease and functionality of a device like this would have a lot of immediate appeal. We see similar choices being made today; the ease and convenience of smart devices already leave many people unaware of how much of their personal information they are giving up for these creature comforts. The turn of this information then being used against the populace is easy to imagine.

Beyond that, it’s also incredibly easy to see this type of authoritarian system of governance grow into existence. What makes it even more compelling is that some of the rationales behind certain “esteemable” behaviors are easy to understand or agree with. Again, a dangerous slippery slope that is very recognizable. I was also impressed by Roth’s ability to side-step current political positions and parties; it was all too easy to go into it trying to paint both the Delegation and the system that came after it onto our current political parties. But neither fits the other perfectly, so there are no easy conclusions to be had.

Sonya was also an interesting character. She grew up as a “success story” to an oppressive system, largely benefiting from a government that hurt countless others. But we are meeting her ten years after the fact, trapped in a prison compound where she and many others expect to live out their days. Through her eyes, we see how various different individuals and groups have dealt with this shift in power and position. As Sonya ventures back into the world, she’s in a unique position to not only reflect on the world that she grew up in, but in the world that replaced it. Like all revolutions, though they may be replacing a great evil, they aren’t often followed with utopias of their own. She also is forced to confront the decisions that she and her family made and benefited from. I really liked her journey, especially the fact that it felt true to character. Nothing is hand-waved away or excused, but it is ultimately a hopeful story for her.

For this world? I’m not so sure. But I think the not knowing is what is important and what forces the reader to reflect on the messages and themes of the story afterwards. This book definitely touched on a lot of current issues we as a society are grappling with. This is just one direction that someone imagines things could go. But through this lens, we’re invited to do our own critical thinking. I know “critical thinking” isn’t the type of fun, exciting endorsement that often gets people galloping to the nearest bookstore. But it’s also a refreshing, unique read that will stick with you long after you’ve finished the last page.

Rating 9: Uncomfortably believable, this story asks readers to reflect on the nature of technology, surveillance, what we give up for convenience; that right and wrong are not as easy of concepts as we may wish them to be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Poster Girl” isn’t on any relevant lists but it should be on Adult Dystopia.

Book Club Review: “Parable of the Sower”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Award Winners”, in which we each picked a book that has won an award of some kind.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler

Publishing Info: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Award: New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Book Description: When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day.

Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ pain.

Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores. But what begins as a fight for survival soon leads to something much more: the birth of a new faith…and a startling vision of human destiny.

This highly acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel of hope and terror from award-winning author Octavia E. Butler “pairs well with 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale” (John Green, New York Times)—now with a new foreword by N. K. Jemisin.

Kate’s Thoughts

Back when Trump was elected, I started hearing whispers from my friends and acquaintances about a book called “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler. Many of them were saying that “Parable of the Sower” predicted the society in which a person like Trump could be elected, along with the existential crises that come with it. When we were deep in the shit of the Trump Administration, I couldn’t bring myself to read that book, as even though it sounded supremely fascinating, it also sounded too real. A story written in the early nineties that seemed to predict the shitshow of climate change, social inequity, and an incompetent and narcissistic president? On the nose! And therefore too stressful to read. So when someone in book club chose it for our first Award Winners read, I was happy that I finally had a push to read it…. And then I read it, and was sent into an anxiety spiral.

Basically my face during my entire reading experience.

“Parable of the Sower” is a bleak and terrifying dystopia where climate change, vast social and financial disparities, and corporate corruption has created a society where people are either gated in, hoping that they will not fall victim to rampaging violent nomads, or trying their best to survive in a violent and dangerous wasteland. We follow Lauren, a teenager who lives in a gated community who has dreams of a better future for herself, and who starts to develop and discover a new religion/life she calls Earthseed due to her faith and a condition in which she has hyper empathy to those around her. Butler creates a terrifying world where mass violence is always a threat, and it’s only a matter of time until a person faces the bleak and staggering reality of having to survive. I found it to be incredibly well written as well as horrific. It’s told in mostly epistolary devices, with Lauren recording what is going on each day, and I thought that the slow crumbling of her life and then rebuilding in a chaotic and unpredictable landscape to be compelling and very suspenseful. There were so many moments that not only set me on edge, but felt like they could potentially happen if we don’t get a hold on many existential crises that plague our world at the moment. Engaging to be sure, but it also made it hard for me to sleep at night.

I think that if I were a more religious person (in that I’m not at all) I may have connected a little bit more with the aspects of Lauren’s journey that involved ‘discovering’ Earthseed, and her self assurance that everything was going to work out because she was discovering and bringing forth a new religion that would save society. From the Biblical references to some of the blind faith aspects of this book, I didn’t connect as much to the moments where Lauren was creating a whole new belief system. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t intriguing; I definitely found myself enjoying the mythos that Butler was creating in this story, and liked seeing Lauren connect to it. I’m not sure that I have the emotional wherewithal to continue in the series (especially given that it’s incomplete; Butler passed away before she could complete it), but what I saw in this book really hit home how incredibly gifted Butler was for creating complex and horrifying alternate realities while also giving us a little bit of hope to cling to.

“Parable of the Sower” is a rough read, but I definitely think it’s worthwhile. Butler was a true talent, and this showcases the world building, and premonition, that she had as an author.

Serena’s Thoughts:

For being a long-time fan of the science fiction and fantasy genre, it’s kind of crazy that I hadn’t read any of Octavia Butler’s books before this. And I can’t really tell you why! Perhaps, like Kate mentioned above, when her books began coming up more and more in the public consciousness recently, I wasn’t really in a good mental place to dive into this type of story. Margeret Atwood is a similar author for me: I can recognize the supreme talent she is and appreciate her books, but I can only manage to read one every five years or so and inevitably spend those five years half terrified of the “too real”-ness of her stories. But, also like Kate said, I was glad to have the push to read this.

I agree with everything Kate wrote. I, however, come from a more religious family so in that way, I did connect more to the aspects of the story that were focused on the development of a belief system and the role that would play in Lauren’s management of the challenges of this society. Blind faith is a particularly challenging topic, even for those have a religious life. Most who are honest with themselves, I think, would say that faith itself is a constant challenge. It can provide some assurance in the midst of strife and unknown, but it, too, can cause its own form of strife, in that faith, at its core, is not necessarily a comfortable thing. I liked the way that Butler dug into this topic and her use of Biblical references went beyond the usual uses we’ve all seen a million times over.

I do think I’ll eventually read the next book, but like I said above, it will probably follow a pattern similar to my reading of Atwood’s stories. It’s a credit to just how powerful a writer Butler was that her presentation of a future world feels too read to inhabit for overly long without it causing real-world anxiety! If you haven’t checked this one out yet, I definitely recommend it.

Kate’s Rating 8: Terrifying and bleak, but well written and sprinkled with some hope, “Parable of the Sower” is a glimpse into a could be futurescape.

Serena’s Rating 8: Hope wars with terror in a version of the future that feels all-too real at times.

Book Club Questions

  1. The future that Butler paints in this book has a lot of mirrors to a reality that we seem to be nearly living in. Do you think that what happens to society in this book could happen in a similar fashion in real life? Why or why not?
  2. Even though Lauren is living in an unstable society and there is lots of violence and despair, she still seems to want to have kids some day. Why do you think that is?
  3. Does Lauren’s religion or belief system of Earthseed connect to you? Do you see it as a new religion? A cult? Something else?
  4. At one point Lauren says that she isn’t inventing Earthseed, but discovering it. What do you make of that statement?
  5. At one point Lauren and her group pass by the settlement of Hollister, which seems to be pretty stable and safe. What did you think of them continuing on their journey instead of stopping and settling?
  6. What did you think of the concept of hyper-empathy?
  7. What did you think that Butler was saying about religion in this book?

Reader’s Advisory

“Parable of the Sower” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sci-Fi That Will Change The Way You Look At Life”, and “SFF Books by Black Authors”.

Find “Parable of the Sower” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” by Kiersten White.

Kate’s Review: “Atonement”

Book: “Atonement” (Cerenia Chronicles 3) by Angela Howes

Publishing Info: Fine Tuned Editing, January 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the author.

Book Description: They stopped Absalom. They saved the city. But what if recovery isn’t quite so easy? What if there are more monsters lurking inside the city walls? What if the true monster is one of them? In the much-anticipated conclusion to the Phoebe Ray series, Phoebe, Sky, Noah, and the gang must face a new kind of villain, make amends with the past, and learn what it means to truly belong.

Review: Thank you to Angela Howes for sending me an eARC of this novel!

There is a song by The Who called “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which has the line ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’. While I wouldn’t say that it’s an anti-revolutionary ditty, I do think that it brings up a good point of you can’t always know that those you back who have lofty promises of change can be trusted to follow through. I also kind of liken it to how the French Revolution ultimately ended up with Napoleon in charge after all was said and done. In any case, whenever you hear Roger Daltrey yell “YEAAAAAAAAH”, it’s almost guaranteed that it’s from this song, and it’s legendary.

I am so sorry, I had to use this GIF, just pretend he’s yelling YEAAAAAH! (source)

I was thinking a lot about that song as I read “Atonement” by Angela Howes, the final story in the Cerenia Chronicles. After all, at the end of the previous book, “Containment”, our protagonist Phoebe had helped end the dictatorship that was run by Absalom, and Cerenia was on the cusp of a new dawn, as the system of Ones and Twos was finally to be done away with, and Phoebe was going to help rebuild society into something better. But as we soon learn, if only it were THAT easy.

We left “Containment” with Phoebe, boyfriend Sky, ex boyfriend Noah, and her other friends and family dealing with the fallout from Abasalom, the previous leader, being thrown in prison. “Atonement” decides to focus on how Phoebe is trying to change society from within the confines of its power structure, and that is already an interesting take that I haven’t encountered in my YA dystopia literature. Phoebe is confident that she and the Council can rebuild, but it’s pretty clear that it’s not going to be that easy, and that someone else in power likes the idea of a power grab. Our narrative focuses on Phoebe trying to keep everything together, as well as balancing out her relationships, the safety of those she loves, and trying to figure out the best way to rebuild a society that has a lot of damage and long lasting effects that can’t just be done away with so easily. I loved this focus, and I loved seeing her have to see how damn hard it is to fix things even after the corruption is gone. She has to make hard decisions that others don’t necessarily understand, and it gave her more depth and complexity.

Our perspectives expand once again from the last book to this one. While we still have the three main lines of Phoebe, Sky, and Noah, other characters like Phoebe’s sister Violet, fellow councilmember Roderick, and others have been added to the shuffle. I can’t really decide what I think about all the new perspectives, as on one hand I liked having more insight into how all of these other people are adjusting, some of them just felt a little superfluous. I was still mostly interested in Phoebe as she tries to weed out corruption, but it was Sky’s that brought the next most interesting themes, as he is clearly dealing with trauma and PTSD after the events in the previous book. Given that Sky and Phoebe are my favorite characters and I’m invested in their relationship, I was happy(?) to see that one of the central conflicts coming between them wasn’t Noah. Not that trauma is something I WANT for a couple as a hurdle, but it felt more realistic than trotting out a love triangle just for the sake of the drama.

And in terms of plot and pacing, the action and suspense in this book builds slowly and then really amps up the stakes as the story goes on. When things start to spiral, the action just increases, and I found myself very on edge about what was going to happen. There were a good number of twists thrown in too, and throw backs to previous plot points that all come back together for the grand finale. All in all, I was quite satisfied with how things shook out, for better or for worse.

“Atonement” went in a direction that I wasn’t expecting, and I think that it was better for it. We may not see as much dystopian fiction in YA these days, but The Cerenia Chronicles is definitely a worthy series to add to the selection.

Rating 8: A satisfying ending to an enjoyable series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Atonement” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but if you like books like “Divergent”“Matched”, or “The Testing” you will probably find this one fun as well!

“Atonement” isn’t in very many libraries as of now, but you can find it on Amazon.

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “The Book of Koli”

51285749Book: “The Book of Koli” by M.R. Carey

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Book Description: Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.

Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls.

What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice?

The first in a gripping new trilogy, The Book of Koli charts the journey of one unforgettable young boy struggling to find his place in a chilling post-apocalyptic world. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and Annihilation.

Review: Thanks to Orbit for sending me a copy of this novel!

I requested to read “The Book of Koli” in early March. The plot of a post-apocalyptic ravaged world overrun by killer plants sounded both wholly unique and super intriguing, Given that, in general, post-apocalyptic wasteland dystopias are my jam, I was excited to get a book not only about that very subject, but by M.R. Carey, whose works I have mostly enjoyed.

And then the COVID-19 shit hit the fan and it started to feel like we were living in an actual precursor to a post-apocalyptic world.

giphy-1
The timing…. wasn’t great. (source)

I honestly cannot get on board the ‘let’s read all the apocalyptic fiction!’ train that I’ve seen as of late. My husband joked about starting to read our baby “The Stand” and I pretty much yelled at him that he wasn’t and has never been funny. So yeah, the idea of reading this book had me a bit wound up. Anxieties off the charts, I knew that I needed to read this book so I jumped in trying not to think of the doom and gloom of the real world. And what happened next was not at all “The Book of Koli”‘s fault. Extenuating circumstances like whoa made it so I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would.

But there is a lot that this book has going for it, and I’m going to really focus on that. Because the fact this book didn’t connect as much with me at this moment in time probably has very little to do with the actual content. The first thing that struck me was how Carey was toying with the idea of language, and how the language in this world (a future set England) has changed and evolved over time. It’s not as slang driven as “A Clockwork Orange” does with it’s dystopia, but it tweaks things enough that it’s slightly off, but you know what the characters are trying to say. There is also a bit of toying with the idea of technology and what can happen when it is lost to us, which is implied to have happened with the plants (genetically altered and then out of control) overtook civilization and drove humanity into heavily protected clusters (and allowed some to consolidate power). The first half of this book is the heavy world building to create this world, and to let us as readers get to know Koli as a character and who he is as a character. After he snags some tech from the Ramparts (aka those in charge of the tech) in the town he lives in, he meets Monono Aware, the AI within the tech he takes. Monono and Koli have a fun banter, and through him meeting her he discovers that tech can be wielded by anyone… which would be bad for the Ramparts if that secret got out. Sometimes this section dragged, but overall Carey used his time very well to show us what kind of society/dystopia we are dealing with. And I liked Monono a lot, even if she sometimes felt a little twee.

The second half of the book is after Koli has been banished into the wilderness, in danger of being killed by either killer plants, or roving bands of ‘shunned men’. This is where the book really started to build upon the action and the tension, and this was the part that I enjoyed most even if it was the part that stressed me out the most as well. Carey is no stranger to post-apocalyptic scenarios, and this one feels like he’s thinking outside of the box. He creates enough here that I can definitely see how he’s going to be able to pull enough material from this world and its characters to make a complex and well paced trilogy. I especially liked Ursala, a doctor who Koli meets while he’s still at Mythen Rood. She is the key to Koli starting to learn the truth of things, and her place in the story becomes even more apparent once Koli is out in the wilderness.

As I mentioned above, I had a hard time dealing with a post-apocalyptic story when it feels like we are at the start of our own. I think that it’s really just a matter of timing, as were we not in the middle of COVID-19 I truly believe that I would have been able to get into this story more. So while “The Book of Koli” didn’t connect with me as much as I thought I would, I really do think that that’s on me and not on Carey at all. So if you are one of those people who has been reading “The Stand” or watching “Contagion” in these trying times, and you also like dystopian fiction, “The Book of Koli” will fit the bill SO well. Once all of this is over, I will probably go on to the next book in the series, as I recognize that any of my apprehensions are solely on me during a literal global traumatic event.

Rating 7: While I had a hard time enjoying it as much as I could have in the moment of global pandemic, “The Book of Koli” is fresh and deep dystopic fiction.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Book of Koli” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sword and Laser Sci-Fi List”, and “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2020”.

Find “The Book of Koli” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time”

9968822Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), & Rodney Ramos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, June 2004

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The final volume in the saga of outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem written by comics superstar Warren Ellis. At last, it’s the final showdown between Spider and the absolutely corrupt President of the United States in this new printing of the finale to the classic dystopian saga from Vertigo.

Review: It was a re-read almost four years in the making. Ten volumes, two awful presidents, two awesome lady assistants, one literally two faced cat, and numerous bowel disruptor guns later, and I have finally reached the end of Spider Jerusalem’s return to Gonzo reporting in a dystopian cyberpunk future. My re-read of “Transmetropolitan” has been wild to say the least. And if you remember from the end of my last review, I was a little worried that it had ended in a way that feels a little dated given recent political shenanigans. But let’s jump on into “One More Time” and begin our fond farewell.

The good news is that “One More Time” immediately assuaged the fears I had at the end of “The Cure”. It wasn’t going to be so easy as a sex scandal to bring down The Smiler, much as it didn’t do much of anything in our own present reality. But Spider, Yelena, and Channon weren’t going to give up so easily, and the beginning of the final confrontation between Spider and The Smiler is underway. What that means for Spider and his assistants is a bit murkier. Warren Ellis is known for brash and over the top themes as well as a dark cynicism, and we find both of those things in abundance. But there is also a whole lot of hope in this last volume, and that hope is something that I myself am clinging to. Again, you don’t know how things are going to completely shake out, but as Ellis unfolds everything and makes it all come together, reaching far far back in the series to do so, we go back to other storylines and other characters from the past who all have their parts to play, and it makes you wonder if Ellis had known from early on where they were going to end up. It works that well. In terms of the final confrontation, I was of two minds when it came to how impactful I found it. On one hand, it felt a little rushed and neat and underwhelming. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll be vague, but it just kind of ended with less of a bang and more of a pop. I certainly wouldn’t call it a whimper. But it wasn’t the big to do that perhaps one would expect. But on the other hand, maybe that’s how this kind of thing would have to end. Maybe it does have to be more muted, because that shows that the monster who causes so much grief and havoc is really just pathetic and fallible. So while I had wanted more, less may be more appropriate.

It’s the ultimate message of this story that truly resonated with me and made “One More Time” a satisfying end to a series that I still love. And that is that the truth is the most important thing above all else, and that the true heroes are the ones that sacrifice and give their all to make sure that it comes out. Spider Jerusalem is violent, grumpy, antagonistic, and a bit of a jerk. But he is devoted to making sure that the world knows the truth of how things are, and he will fight tooth and nail and to his own detriment to make sure that it all gets out. And along with him we get Channon and Yelena, two ladies who have tenacity, brashness, brains, and the drive to help him get that truth out as well as pursue their own goals. This trio is by far one of the best in comics, even if they aren’t exactly the most likable, because they are entertaining and chaotic and filled with hope. “Transmetropolitan” is teeming with hope. And as someone who has at times felt hopeless in our own political and social climate, this was a true antidote to that hopelessness. At least for now. But if there’s one thing you should take from “Transmetropolitan”, it’s to keep fighting that good fight. I don’t know what the next election will hold. I don’t know if we’re stuck with our own Beast/Smiler for another four years or not. But I know that we can learn something from Spider, Yelena, and Channon. 

I am going to miss The City. I’m going to miss The Filthy Assistants. I’m going to miss Spider. At least until I decide to re-read again. Until that time, “One More Time” was a fabulous end to a fabulous series.

Rating 9: A great end to a great series, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” perfectly wraps up Spider’s story and gives this reader hope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” is included on the Goodreads lists “Bibles for the Revolution”, and “Best of Cyberpunk”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.9): The Cure”

8733231Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 9): The Cure” by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, November 2003

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The forces of darkness are closing in on outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem and his merry, filthy band, but now they’ve got their own rope around the neck of corrupt President Callahan, and it’s time to start tightening the noose. TRANSMETROPOLITAN: THE CURE is the ninth volume reprinting the acclaimed series written by Warren Ellis (PLANETARY, RED) with art by Darick Robertson (The Boys). Jerusalem and his cohorts step up their investigation into Callahan’s misdeeds and turn up some startling evidence…not to mention a sole surviving witness to the President’s depravity. The problem, as always, will be getting the word out before the massive forces of the Executive Branch black out everything, and everyone, involved.

Review: I can’t believe that my re-read of “Transmetropolitan” took me this long, but I also can’t believe that it’s almost over. I’ve been reminded during my revisit that Spider Jerusalem is one of the best comic characters of the past twenty years, and that while this story is outlandish and crude it still has so much to say about the world we live in. I opened up “The Cure”, the penultimate volume, ready to be blown away by how it all turned out and totally ready to move on to the last volume, hyped and pumped up. And that didn’t QUITE happen. I am definitely ready to move on to the last and to enjoy wrapping up this series for a second time. But it didn’t hit me the way that I’d hoped it would, but honestly, that isn’t any fault of this story. It’s more the fault of the world we live in now. Somehow, “Transmetropolitan” feels, dare I say, naive.

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I don’t understand how we ended up here. (source)

Overall I am still totally loving this story, though, so we’re definitely going to start with The Good and save the spoilery Not So Good for a bit. I like how Ellis is pulling the final threads all together as the starts to wrap up his story. Spider, Yelena, and Channon are outlaw journalists now, and as they are starting to finish up their final gambit in an effort to take down The Smiler, we’re revisiting old characters and seeing how they still have roles to play in this story. We get to see Fred Christ, the despicable and wormy leader of the Transient movement, and how this character from way back when is connected to our final storyline (and boy, was it really cathartic seeing how Spider finally got to take him down). I loved seeing Royce again, the somewhat cowardly but ultimately loyal former Editor that Spider used to work for. And what I really loved about this volume is that we once again got to see Spider at his very best, trying to protect a source, trying to make her feel comfortable, and showing the empathy that he has deep down, as any good journalist should have when it comes to some of the more complicated and sensitive stories. Channon and Yelena didn’t shine as much in this one, but since Spider’s health is really deteriorating and therefore his downfall is inevitable I am okay with letting the spotlight be on him this time around as he tries to pull out all the stops to bring down The Smiler.

So here is that part that didn’t work for me as much, and since I need to talk about nitty gritty plot points to really address it, consider this your

tenor
(source)

We end this volume with the first strike of the final battle between Spider and The Smiler, in which Spider gets the goods on The Smiler and brings out information that will start the snowball that will theoretically lead to his downfall. I’ve talked about how “Transmetropolitan” has managed to stay relevant in spite of the fact that it’s been out for almost twenty years, and that Ellis has been able to make it feel timeless in regards to our political climate. But what was that first blow of the final takedown? Spider reveals that The Smiler has been having sex with Transient sex workers. It’s used as a HUGE moment and for the first time you see The Smiler’s facade crack, and that he looks genuinely scared that this is going to be the scandal that will take his power away. There are two problems with this for me. The first is that in a world where we are to believe that society has become so degenerative and scummy, I have a hard time believing that a sex scandal like this, even if it involves people who have purposely hybrided (that’s not a word but I can’t think of better way to describe it) themselves with Alien DNA, would actually affect the greater opinion of this culture. I think it would have been more effective if the Big Reveal was somehow getting evidence that The Smiler had set up the murder of martyred Vita Severn, or even that of his own immediate family. And the next thing is that, as we now know, in our CURRENT society the President being revealed to have an affair with a sex worker DIDN’T MEAN JACK SHIT. It kind of takes away the timelessness. That isn’t “Transmetropolitan”‘s fault, and shame on me for projecting my frustrations in this regard to this book, but it did take me out of it.

That aside, I’m very excited to go on to the next and final volume of “Transmetropolitan”. I kind of remember how it ends, but the details are fuzzy. No matter how it susses out, Warren Ellis has created a fantastic world that is still relatable when you look past the very outlandish aspects of it.

Rating 7: We start to wrap up the story of Spider Jerusalem, his filthy assistants, and The City, and while the pieces of the puzzle are seamlessly coming together, it doesn’t hold up as well anymore.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.9): The Cure” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best of Cyberpunk”, and “Best of Vertigo Comics”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.9): The Cure” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.8): Dirge”

7784056Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 8): Dirge” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), & Rodney Ramons (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, January 2003

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: After the events of TRANSMETROPOLITAN: SPIDER’S THRASH, outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem has lost his press credentials and has been forced underground by the President of the United States. Now with a sniper loose in the Print District, Spider is the only man who can expose the conspiracy behind the destruction of the City and the simultaneous disappearance of its police force. Unfortunately, Spider is currently suffering through blackouts and episodes of mental confusion and may never bring the truth to the masses again.

Review: As 2020 continues on and my anxiety about the upcoming election skyrockets into the stratosphere, Spider Jerusalem is giving me solace. I’m going to be wrapping up my series re-read of “Transmetropolitan” soon, given that after this volume we only have two left. Which means that the stakes are on the rise, as the final confrontation between Spider and The Smiler (and possibly Spider and his own mortality) is going to be here before we know it. And, like most epic stories, it had to get darker before the dawn. “Dirge” goes dark.

It starts with a case of Blue Flu, in which the police in The City have all called in under guise of illness. It just so happens that this occurs the day that a sniper starts to murder people in the Print District. Spider, Yelena, and Channon, down and out without press credentials but still eager to catch the story, are on the case, but find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy that, at this point, the reader saw coming from a mile away. But that doesn’t matter, because the important point that “Dirge” is trying to make is that of COURSE the establishment has become entrenched in these kinds of tactics. These are the tactics that The Smiler thrives upon and uses to consolidate his power. This is what Spider has known for awhile now, ever since Vita Severn was murdered by her own campaign colleagues to boost the approval ratings of her boss. The issue now isn’t that this is what The Smiler does. I feel like at this point, Ellis wants the reader to be completely overwhelmed with the lack of hope, and to feel that The Smiler (who in this volume takes his Vita Severn tactic and does something even more horrific) is so unstoppable that the apathy and despair is the only way a society would be able to react as he slowly destroys everything just to make himself all powerful. God DAMMIT does this continue to feel all too real.

But the biggest blow in this volume is the reveal about Spider’s memory lapses and health issues, and how his role as the voice of truth to the people is almost assuredly coming to an end sooner rather than later. Spoilers here, but it doesn’t really ruin anything and it’s going to come to my larger point: Spider has been exposed to an agent that is eating away at his cognitive functions. His mind is slowly slipping away, and in the end he will be a vessel ravaged by dementia before he ultimately dies from it. Spider has always been the beacon of hope in this series, the one who will bring the truth in any way, shape, of form, and can be the one to spell it all out for the masses so that they can see the ways they are being lied to. And that’s about to come to an end. Reading it the first time I was definitely bummed out. But reading it now, in the context of a press under attack and a time of misinformation, or in some cases people who just don’t care to know the truth, this plot point is devastating. Ellis is taking a risk here, as it’s always a bit ballsy to hobble a character with something debilitating. But that just gives more time for Yelena and Channon to shine, as they are determined to help Spider carry on his work, no matter what. Their identity as a team has come to full bloom, and seeing their character development get to this point is incredibly satisfying.

Warren Ellis is sure to bring the hope to this story, as while Spider, Yelena, and Channon are all hot messes and incredibly crude and rude, you know that they have the greater good in their intentions. And while Spider may be dying, he is still determined and ready to expose The Smiler and his violent, horrendous bullshit so that good can triumph over evil. These days I wonder if this is a naive fantasy. But “Transmetropolitan” is so earnest and dripping with the hope that this can be achieved, that I still want to believe in Spider. I want to believe that information and truth will shine a light on lies, and deception, and that the corrupt will lose in the end. “Dirge” is the point that I feel we are at. We can all take a lesson from Spider. He’s the hero we need. And I hope, I REALLY hope, that we can follow in his footsteps and not give up.

IMG-3638
Source: Vertigo Comics

Up next is the penultimate collection: “The Cure”.

Rating 8: One of the darker entires to this fantastic comic, “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 8): Dirge” goes bleak, but once again lets a little bit of hope shine through.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol. 8): Dirge” is included on the Goodreads lists “Bibles for the Revolution”, and “Best of Cyberpunk”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 8): Dirge” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.7): Spider’s Thrash”

22426Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.7): Spider’s Thrash” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), and Rodney Ramos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, November 2002

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: The hammer has come down on him but outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem has managed to stay one step ahead of his detractors – I.e. the President of the United States and his authoritarian lackeys in publishing and law enforcement.
After losing his byline, bank account, and apartment, Jerusalem and his Filthy Assistants have legged it underground, the better to implement his plan. What plan, you say? Why, the plan to bring down the President of course!

Review: Back in 2016, in the wake of the devastation of the Presidential election I decided to start a re-read of “Transmetropolitan”, the dystopian cyberpunk comic about corruption in Government and society and the tenacious and bonkers reporter who wants to take it all down. Then I let it fall to the wayside for reasons I can’t really figure out, outside of having so much to read and so little time. But now it’s 2020, our Government keeps pulling awful bullshit, and I’m getting very scared about what the next Presidential election could possibly bring. So, I decided to pick back up with Spider Jerusalem, his filthy assistants, and The City.

Spider Jerusalem had made a quasi comeback after being silenced by the incredibly evil President Callahan, aka The Smiler in Volume 6. In Volume 7, he has moved beyond his own personal voice and has once again found a publication that will take him on, even if it’s a small press with perhaps not as much reach as before. But once Spider has a platform again (which is the first part of this volume), he starts to use his voice for causes that until now we haven’t seen much of within these pages. True, Warren Ellis has always been very political in the “Transmetropolitan” stories, but in “Spider’s Thrash” we get to see direct parallels to our own grievous political decisions in the late 20th century, laid out in The City and a cyberpunk dystopia. Spider’s aim isn’t directly at The Smiler and his administration, rather it’s at the callous policies it has quietly started implementing. One of the most glaring is that more and more mentally ill people have started ending up on the streets, and have become more and more relegated to dangerous and impoverished areas. The Smiler has decided that spending money on mental health social services isn’t his problem and that he trusts citizens to take care of the less fortunate rather than having any social safety nets in place for them through the Government. Gee, where have we heard this before?

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OH THAT’S RIGHT. (source)

But along with the upsetting and biting social commentary that is reflective of past and present political quagmires (as the press is still being stifled and vilified, with Spider having a target on his head), “Spider’s Thrash” also starts to peel back some character truths that are harbingers of more issues down the line. Most importantly, Yelena, Spider’s personal assistant and reluctant confidant, has started to notice that Spider may not be doing well, physically. This is when the series takes a heartbreaking turn, for multiple reasons. The first is that Yelena (and Channon to a lesser extent) has always acted as though her affiliation with Spider is burdensome and frustrating, and that she’s there just to make sure he doesn’t totally fuck up and/or kill himself and her in the process. But when there is the possibility that he could be sick or dying it becomes clear that they mean so much to each other. Channon, too, is worried about Spider, but right now this is Yelena’s beast of burden, as the possibility of losing Spider is too much for her to think about. The other reason that this is a bit sad in hindsight is because Spider Jerusalem is very clearly based on Hunter S. Thompson, whose own ailing health and medical problems are thought to have played a role in his suicide in 2005.

But Spider can’t be kept down. And by the end of this volume, we have started hurtling towards a final showdown between Spider and The Smiler. 2020 is the year that this country is going to have to once again choose who is going to run our country, and what direction we want that choice to take us. God I wish we had Spider here to help us. I’m not leaving him by the wayside again, because he may be the only thing that gets me through this uncertain and terrifying future.

Rating 8: After a far too long break I’ve once again been reminded that Spider Jerusalem is incredibly relevant to today’s society.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol. 7): Spider’s Thrash” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best of Cyberpunk”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.7): Spider’s Thrash” at your library using WorlCat!

Previously reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Containment”

41xlqrp7yslBook: “Containment” (The Cerenia Chronicles Book 2) by Angela Howes

Publishing Info: Fine Tuned Editing, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The author provided me with a PDF copy.

Book Description: She made her choice. Now, she must live with the consequences. As Phoebe’s family and friends fight for their lives, she finds herself drawn further into the enigmatic world of the Council, caught in a struggle between lying low and inciting war. But as more allies emerge from the shadows, Phoebe must decide whether she has what it takes to lead a rebellion … especially when it could mean losing everything and everyone that matters to her.

Review: First I want to extend a special thank you to Angela Howes for reaching out and sending me a copy of this book!

YA dystopia seems to be mostly out of style, at least in the circles of YA enthusiasts that I associate with or follow. But given that I haven’t lost my interest in it, I was pretty excited when Angela Howes reached out to me with news that her second book in the Cerenia Chronicles, “Containment”, was coming out! Given that I enjoyed the first in the series, “Assignment”, I was eager to see where things were going to go for our protagonist Phoebe, her two suitors Sky and Noah, and the rest of the mild dictatorship of Cerenia. Especially since we left it on such a cliffhanger.

When we left off, Phoebe, Sky, and Noah had all achieved freedom by making it to The Jungle, where defectors and former prisoners of Cerenia have been building a rebellion. Phoebe decided to infiltrate the Cerenia Council in hopes of overthrowing the corruption. Unfortunately, Noah and Sky have ended up in captivity because of this, with Noah in prison and Sky in a Box, an almost guaranteed death sentence. The book flip flops between these three perspectives, with Phoebe hoping to outwit and influence the Council members, Sky hoping to escape his death sentence (and I mean, of course he does, mild spoiler alert but it happens pretty quick), and Noah hoping to get out of jail. Of all three perspectives, Phoebe’s was by far the most interesting. I liked watching her have to play 3D chess and having to make really difficult decisions, sometimes decisions that would be life or death, all to try and fit in in hopes of taking down corruption from the inside. I thought that her inner struggles and her ruthlessness meshed well together, and thought that it was a huge benefit to her characterization. Sometimes her calculations were cold and unnerving, and yet I believed that she would be making them. I also liked getting into Sky’s head as he has to rally the rebellion on the outside, all without knowing if he would ever see Phoebe, the love of his life again. Team Sky, all the way. His voice is fun and snarky, but he has enough sprinkles of vulnerability and self doubt that he doesn’t come off as an obnoxious trope.

But that leaves Noah’s narrative, which to me felt a bit superfluous if only because we don’t really have a reason to care about Noah. Or at least, I don’t have a reason to care about him. I mentioned before that I don’t like love triangles, but this particular point on this love triangle really doesn’t work for me, especially now. At this point, Phoebe has made her choice, and that choice is Sky. It’s also hard for me to let go of the fact that Noah was such a goddamn chickenshit in the first book that he was perfectly happy stringing along the girl he’d been matched with Darya, while having an affair with Phoebe, which put not only himself but Darya in danger. To me it feels like the love triangle has been resolved, and his backstory and characterization hasn’t been developed or built up enough for him to be a character we need to care about. Unless we’re going to get another love triangle plot in the third book, and boy oh boy am I hoping that isn’t the case.

There is indeed going to be a third book, as “Containment” ended on a cliffhanger. But with the way things ended this time, I’m even more interested to see where this goes this time around than I was last time around. I think we’re building to something that could be really unique, and I can’t wait to see what that may be.

Rating 7: The political intrigue and maneuvering is upped and the stakes continue to rise. “Containment” continues a solid dystopian narrative and explores the difficult decisions a person has to make for the greater good.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Containment” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but if you like books like “Divergent”“Matched”, or “The Testing” you will probably find this one fun as well!

“Containment” isn’t in very many libraries as of now, but you can find it on Amazon.

Previously reviewed: “Assignment”

 

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