★ ★ 1/2
The Girl With All the Gifts easily became one of my five-star reads of 2014, the year I read it. But I hesitated to pick up this chronological ‘prequel’ because I couldn’t see how Carey could recapture the fabulous combination of innocence, self-discovery, world-building, and disaster that characterized the first book. Sadly, he doesn’t.
In this book, a team of twelve is headed off in the Rosalind to retrieve samples from the Charles Darwin expedition, as well as conduct their own research, in the hopes of finding a cure for the fungus destroying humanity.
There’s a lot of parallels with the first book here: an isolated group of people, an ostracized/under-socialized pre-teen, an older female mentor, the threat of the ‘hungries’ and junkers, the spirit of scientific inquiry. But like one of those black-and-white optical illusion illustrations, it generally serves to highlight the ways in which it can’t compare.
“He actually prefers to see Greaves as a kind of black box–like the hungries. There may or may not be a person in there, but either way it’s not his problem. He only has to deal with the output.”
The writing is usually solid from a technical level. I didn’t outline quite as much as I did in ‘Girl,’ but I generally enjoyed the phrasing and imagery. The trouble is there is a lot of focus on the autistic genius youth, Stephen Greaves, and his preoccupation with the science and his belief in absolution through his contribution, coupled with physical descriptions of what the team is observing.
“He needs to do it because each day has a shape and the waking-up ritual is one of its load-bearing components.”
Though I feel like there wasn’t much action, truly it should have been enough to keep me engaged. But I really wasn’t. Perhaps part of it was because the mystery of both the hungries and the fungus is a forgone conclusion. But I think more likely is that the characters are predictable and rather shallowly constructed. There’s the joint leaders, Colonel Carlisle, the honorable soldier who lost his honor by following orders and won’t be caught doing it again and Dr. Fournier, the head scientist, incompetent and a toady, who displays little to no leadership. Dr. Samrina Khan is our primary female narrator and only emotional connection for Stephen. There’s John, a science dude who kind of thinks he might love Samrina; Penny, a science lady; and Akimwe, another science person. Private Sixsmith, who usually drives. Private Phillips, Private Foss and Lutes are virtually indistinguishable. McQueen is the only soldier who really stood out for me as he had a more complex role and internal life than any of the rest.
“It’s an unfortunate habit to find in a leader, but to be fair nobody thinks of him as one.”
Given those characters, the person(s) that are involved in a (mild) [ military conflict and sabotage-type behavior (hide spoiler)] are entirely unsurprising. The next best thing, then, is to hope for a level of character insight that brings internal or external tension to the story. And it doesn’t. I wasn’t horrified by any of the conflicts because it was pretty clear why/how the screw-ups were going to happen, not the least of which is our isolated and practical-challenged young hero. I was never emotionally invested enough to care when it did happen (see Jurassic Park).
I’m just realizing this, but I’ve read a number of stories lately with an isolated group of people in a supposedly tension-filled situation (thinking of Six Wakes. I don’t always identify with or admire the characters (see Starfish and Into the Drowning Deep), but somehow there’s enough tension to keep me engaged. I should have cared about who survives the mission of the Rosie, and I kind of did, at least enough to skim to the end.
Who should read this? People that really want to know more about the world of The Girl With All the Gifts, and who don’t necessarily need horror, zombie or suspense elements. Despite the bizarre nomination on Goodreads for ‘Best Horror,’ it really isn’t. There is a ‘Epilogue: Twenty Years Later’ that has a nice confluence of the two books, as well as a positive-vibe resolution.