Genre: Dark sci-fi/Horror
Publisher: Nightscape Press
Publication Date: October 30, 2012
Number of Pages: 356
Sci-fi is probably the least favourite of genres for me. I am highly critical of it, especially reading it, and expect too much from it. So keep that in mind when you read this. Of course, I can enjoy science fiction and have, several times. But what I require from the science fiction genre might be a little more demanding than most readers. Hard SF is not my bag. Too much explaining and not enough story telling. I like the exploration part of SF, but if you spend half the book explaining how a rocket ship can get to mars, I'm bored. I have to say, the writer does do a fairly good job balancing that out. He is a very talented story teller. But he still spends too much time keeping us completely in the dark about what's going on. We get some snippets sure, but then the main character's mind is wiped again and that irritated me. She's back to square one and it's roughly 100 pages in. It felt like a carrot was dangled then ripped away, instead of having the carrot stay to lead me on.
The main plot follows a woman who for a big chunk of the book is only known as The Woman, and who has multiple people living in her head. We find out they are mostly convicts, and later, we find out she steals minds from more than just humans. She can steal ANY being's mind. And we start off with this Woman being a prisoner of a creepy, completely bonkers woman named Maggie, who likes to fancy herself a nurse even though she repeatedly abuses The Woman and drugs her so she can't remember anything. Oh and Maggie has some aliens she keeps as slaves called the Rotviqes. There's also some sort of war going on just beyond the prison The Women is kept, and the aliens are a part of that war.
Eventually after another mind wipe and her need to follow Mr.Rat, We find out her name is June and she escapes. The abuse she has to suffer under Maggie's care before this though, seemed unnecessary to me. I know Maggie is crazy, but I didn't need to see her self mutilate on June to prove it. And readers of this blog, you know I'm not squimmish. I like gore, violence and all that. But if it's senseless and not helpful to progressing a story, I either tune it out or laugh it off. I tuned this out. I shrugged and went, "Okay, so what? Why should I care? I don't know this woman who has lost her memory and has a bunch of people in her head, and this Maggie chick is OMFG crazy!" Maybe if the writer spent more time making me care about June, instead of taking the carrot away just as I am about to know things about her as a person with feelings (let alone her past), I wouldn't feel so numb about it. June talks more to her head-mates and Maggie than learns anything substantial about herself, and that really takes away the sense of dread for me. Especially since none of these "people" want to help her and just screw her around on information.
The writer does eventually explain things, and the big reveal is nice. I am glad he tried to unravel June like a rose, so we get layers of the character. It was a neat attempt, but to me it was just that. An attempt. I didn't feel it was done successfully. Once June leaves the facility though things get more interesting. The story stopped dragging and more characters interact with June, giving her more life. She stops being this whimpering, helpless prisoner and has more agency. Of course, she falls into another kind of prison when she encounters the other run away slaves from the facility, but this time it feels like the carrot is within reach. It's not just a game of Cat-Maggie and Mouse-June, and it's more engaging for me. Also, we find out what kind of person June really is and see her explore her personality.
I like the questions the writer poses with this reveal too. Because while I was annoyed with the drawn out helpless June, I see it's merit. If it was a little more condensed I think I would have enjoyed it more, and if I didn't have to see her get wiped again so deep in the book. Because it's merit comes in the second half of the book, when it's revealed who June really is. And then you wonder to yourself if the real June is really a cowardly thing, or...something else entirely.
I won't spoil that for you. June's awareness of herself is a very awesome part of the book. It reveals EVERYTHING and all the pieces fall into place. I found it had some interesting philosophical questions, some really well written parts, and an interesting story/premise. If you like SF, by all means, pick it up. Especially dark SF. But to me, there wasn't enough here to make me feel like it was a horror novel. I have a feeling I'd like some of this writer's other work more.
You can also read this review on Goodreads!
About the author:
Benjamin Kane Ethridge is the Bram Stoker Award winning author of the novel BLACK & ORANGE (Bad Moon Books 2010) and DUNGEON BRAIN (Nightscape Press 2012). For his master's thesis he wrote, "CAUSES OF UNEASE: The Rhetoric of Horror Fiction and Film." Available in an ivory tower near you. Benjamin lives in Southern California with his wife and two creatures who possess stunning resemblances to human children. When he isn't writing, reading, videogaming, Benjamin's defending California's waterways and sewers from pollution.