by Catherine Jinks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Living Hell / 978-0-1-5206-193-7
I was really geared up to like this novel, but in the end I felt like I was slogging to the finish. Maybe I would have liked it as a kid (if only because of the great premise), but I just feel like there are a lot better choices out there.
For starters, this book is - in my opinion - very poorly written. The narrator breaks flow constantly with useless parenthetical statements like, "I had climbed out of bed and crossed to the door of my room in about four shuffling steps. (It wasn't a very big room.)", which the reader could have figured out easily enough without the parenthetical aside. Narrative leaps into the future are common, like: "I certainly gave his shoulder socket a nasty yank; it troubled him for a long time afterward.", and the overall effect is truly detrimental to the horror atmosphere, because if we know nothing else, we at least know that THAT character isn't going to bite it any time soon, apparently! And the whole "twist" premise of the entire book is utterly *ruined*, in my opinion, by the sheer amount of time and effort that is spent in the first six chapters hyping up that some terrible disaster is going to occur and it totally ruined everyone's lives - by the time the disaster actually occurred, I was expecting something pretty drastic, like DEMONS IN SPACE (a.k.a., "Doom"), so the actual disaster seemed sort of piddly and manageable in comparison.
Let's talk about the big twist - if you're worried about spoilers, drop down to the next paragraph. Remember how in the classic Star Trek episodes, they'd find God every other week, or the meaning of all life in the universe, or something else that was almost more spiritual than scientific in nature? Well, that's what this book is - the spaceship that houses the characters encounters a mysterious phenomena that is the "Universal Life Force" (TM?) and it turns their entire ship into a living, breathing organism. The white blood cells are basically made up of Roombas. And while that frankly sounds like the most original and interesting premise in a book I've read this year, the bad writing and poor handling of the subject matter just completely kills it. It just doesn't make sense that something would turn a ship into a perfect replica of the human body - complete with white blood cells! - and there's not an attempt at Technobabble to justify it, so it edges into "Just Bugs Me" territory very quickly.
Right, plot out of the way, I was annoyed that a book written by a female author would rely so heavily on the standard female stereotypes for characters. Every woman in the story is characterized as daughter, wife, or mother, and while they all have high IQs and nice jobs, the women are limited to the "traditional" medical and navigational roles. I can't think of a single man in this book who doesn't handle the situation with aplomb and/or die with dignity, but the women can't stop crying and vomiting and carrying on - including a bridge officer who abandons her post in a major emergency to check on her husband. The "main" girl character is so silent as to almost be a non-entity, and only pulls herself together when the children of the party need her. And, of course, both the female love interests are great with children. I've come to expect a little more variety and depth in female characters in books these days, and this just feels like a total setback.
Moving on, I was expecting oodles of gore, based on the reviews I'd skimmed prior to going in, but I didn't think this was a very gore-heavy book, at least no more so than the stuff that traumatized me as a 12-year-old. There are some pretty disturbing deaths and situations, mostly of the "dissolved by acid" or "absorbed into another organism" kind, so I guess as a parent, just know your kid's limits and what will or won't keep them up at night with nightmares.
Ultimately, I made it to the end, and this isn't the worst book I've ever read by any means, but I did find it disappointing. The premise was interesting, but the complete lack of attempts to set it up in a realistic fashion was frustrating. Every time I tried to sink into the story, the authorial intrusion of the narrator jumping forward to remind us that they survived in the long run (or else how could he be telling the story "in retrospect") propelled me out again. I couldn't identify with the characters at all, largely because the female characters feel like empty ciphers and the main character rarely seems to have much depth himself. I wouldn't really recommend this book when there's as good or better sci fi out there to read.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.
~ Ana Mardoll
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