Shift by Hugh Howey

Shift was an alright prequel for Hugh Howey’s first book in the Wool series, but was possibly a bit too muddled to be a genuinely good book. I found myself spending more time being confused about the overly complicated storyline or being anxious on behalf of the somewhat bland characters Howey developed instead of actually enjoying the book. While I was hoping that the series would improve from the first book to the second, it may have actually gotten worse.

And part of that is due to an unwelcome surprise at the beginning of the book. A large part of the blame for the end of the world was placed on the shoulders of Muslims. Scary Muslim terrorists in the Middle East were busy developing weapons of war that would go on to threaten humanity. They used our amazing life-saving medical advances against us. How evil! The irony that white American senators were the ones to actually push the button was somewhat lost in the process. 

To be honest, it just felt unnecessary to me. A few of the science fiction books I’ve read the last few years include too many references to Muslims being the bad guys. The assumption that Islamic terrorists will end the world feels overdone and racist. I’d like a little bit better than that. I would have enjoyed an unnamed threat more and this left a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the series.

A question I also found myself asking a lot was how they maintained the silos in general, particularly maintaining communications between silos. How would they upkeep communication satellites when they can’t leave their underground bunkers? Were there physical lines between each silo and, if so, how would those be maintained? I feel like Howey missed a lot of chances to discuss the logistics of the silos. Focusing too much on plot and not enough on logistics was to the detriment of the overall story. I wanted to feel as if these massive underground bunkers were real instead of implausible. Donald’s involvement in their overall build was a great chance to go into detail about how the silos worked and Howey completely missed the chance. 

More than that, I also didn’t understand how Silo 1 specifically operated. In other silos, people are sent out yearly to perform cleanings. It’s a punishment for rebellious ideas, but it cleans the very important sensors outside of the silo. But Silo 1 doesn’t seem to have the same type of breeding program (“lottery system”) as other silos do. Each death has significance. People can’t easily be replaced by new life. How do they send someone out to clean the sensors?

Part of me feels like cleaning the sensors must be an illusion. It must not be necessary. Cleaning them might just be a way for the mayors of other silos to get rid of unwanted ideas. It’s a punishment and an exercise in power all at once. However, another part of me just thinks that Silo 1 has suits that actually work and people whose actual job is to go out and clean the sensors. Who knows? 

It’s hard to be sure about anything during this series especially when the things we do learn are somewhat confusing. The juxtaposition between the various storylines was particularly confusing for me. Normally I like books that switch back and forth from different perspectives, and even different timelines, but it was a bit confusing during Shift. The transitions weren’t as clean as I would like them to be. The storylines seemed to blend together too much and the characters weren’t as different as I’d like them to be.

Not to say they were completely the same. Perhaps it was the overly anxious and claustrophobic tones of Shift that caused each character to blend together too much. I found myself feeling depressed for Donald, Tony, and Jimmy even as I grew to care less and less about them individually. Learning about Jimmy’s endless loneliness was particularly painful. I can’t imagine a year alone. Can you imagine decades?

Other important philosophical questions were also lost in the overly complicated storyline. While usually I love asking myself big questions, all of the questions Shift made me ask started to feel redundant. For example, the book beats into the ground this whole concept of what is worth giving up in order to save humanity. Is it worth losing onto our morals to keep humanity alive? Is it worth killing off half of the world? Is it worth having to survive on a molotov cocktail of pills? Is it worth spending decades in a bunker? Is it worth losing our collective memory? Is it worth faking our entire history? Normally, I’d be all about questions like these, but after reading this book I just want to yawn. How often can we beat a dead horse? As often as we’d like, but it doesn’t sound great. 

I almost think that the series would be improved if everything had been faked. The world had never ended. The only toxic thing that kept everyone locked inside was the nuclear waste that had been poured overtop of the silos. Countries outside of the silos still existed and operated. They left the silos alone – a safeguard for if the world were ever in danger again. The silos would be something similar to a seed vault, a place to store seeds for the end of the world, except for the fact that they’re storing human lives just in case. 

The biggest plot twist could be that all these other plot twists were utterly unnecessary. I’d like that. Shift has too much going on for me to grasp. It’s the type of book that I think you have to read multiple times in order to truly understand. Maybe at the end of the series, I’ll take a break for a while and then go back and read it all again. I don’t know if it would be worth it, but I do feel like I’m missing something important. I will read the third book, Dust, because why not, but I don’t know if I’m optimistic enough to hope for better. I didn’t enjoy Shift as much as I would like to and this is really disappointing to me. It had good bones, but, once again, I need more flesh. 

Back of the Book Description (Amazon.com)

In 2007, the Center for Automation in Nanobiotech (CAN) outlined the hardware and software platforms that would one day allow robots smaller than human cells to make medical diagnoses, conduct repairs, and even self-propagate. In the same year, the CBS network re-aired a program about the effects of propranolol on sufferers of extreme trauma. A simple pill, it had been discovered, could wipe out the memory of any traumatic event. At almost the same moment in humanity’s broad history, mankind discovered the means for bringing about its utter downfall. And the ability to forget it ever happened. This is the second volume in the New York Times best-selling Wool series.

Under the Skin by Michael Faber

Under the Skin started off as extremely ominious. You could tell right from the beginning that something was wrong. Why was Isserley spending hours a day tracking down fit hitchhikers to take home? What did she want from them?

At first I assumed that she was just your run-of-the-mill serial killer. She brought fit hitchhikers home to kill them. She wanted them to be strong and fit so it would really test her skills. Things like her gigantic glasses and breasts were meant to throw them off from the fact that she’s a threat to their life. 

I didn’t predict that she was an alien life form. Obviously, I didn’t read any reviews prior to this or look into the 2013 film based on Under the Skin. While it came out rather quickly that she was, I was still confused by her human form. Why did she look so familiar to all of us? Would an alien really have human-like breasts?

For the most part, I was really enjoying this book. Under the Skin was deeply disturbing, but not for the reasons you’d think. Kidnapping hitchhikers for some nefarious purpose didn’t bother me quite as much as the treatment of Isserley did. I assumed that the hitchhikers died after a few weeks of harsh treatment. Isserley had to live every day with what had been done to her – a complete maiming and transformation of her body. 

Of course, that sentiment only occurred until I was a little over halfway done with the book. The conditions they kept humans in are terrible. The gelding, the mutilation of their tongues, the sheer torture of their existence… no wonder they begged for mercy. 

As the conditions got worse so did the book overall. My former enjoyment of the book quickly degraded into a moderate, and sometimes intense, dislike. Things like Isserley’s rape on behalf of mankind came across as crude and unnecessary. We all know the dangers of hitchhiking, but I didn’t feel like the rape was necessary for the overall story. Her mental state could have simply degraded as she realized that she was signing mankind up for a slow death and consumption. 

I also felt like parts of this book were utterly ridiculous. While I respected the fact that Amliss was shocked at the way “vodsels” were treated and kept before being killed, a lot of his prior assumptions about us felt silly. He was absolutely surprised that mankind was smart enough to communicate with one another. But, if we can’t communicate, how do we explain the existence of cars and planes… or even the clothes that we wear? Obviously there has to be some semblance of intelligence. It just didn’t make a lot of sense.

It also didn’t make a lot of sense that they would just use mankind and Earth as a food source. They live in a world absolutely plagued by the consequences of pollution. The rich and famous spend their lives trapped in luxurious indoor prisons; the poor spend their lives toiling away and dying due to the effects of pollution. Why wouldn’t they want to move to Earth? Or, considering the fact that someone has to know that mankind is intelligent, why wouldn’t they want to set up trade relations? Just eating us doesn’t seem like the right move. We must taste pretty damn good if that’s all they want out of the entire planet. 

All in all, do I recommend it? While I’d love to say yes simply because I enjoyed reading it… I’m not going to. I don’t think it’s really worth the amount of time it took. I’m left with too many plot holes and too many questions. It’s one thing to make me question society; it’s another to make me question the book I’m reading. 

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

In this haunting, entrancing novel, Michel Faber introduces us to Isserley, a female driver who cruises the Scottish Highlands picking up hitchhikers. Scarred and awkward, yet strangely erotic and threatening, she listens to her hitchhikers as they open up to her, revealing clues about who might miss them if they should disappear. Under the Skin takes us on a heart-thumping ride through dangerous territory—our own moral instincts and the boundaries of compassion.

Otherworld (Last Reality Book 1) by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

Is it read-worth? Otherworld first came across as a balancing act gone wrong. The authors didn’t seem to be focusing on anything in particular. This cyberthriller had a boy with a Kishka criminal family, wealthy distant parents, a hard-to-contact best friend with an abusive family, and an obsession for a new video game being released… Throw in a deep, dark conspiracy theory and it was just too much for me at first. It came across as ridiculous. I couldn’t focus on anything in particular.

But, then, something happened and the pieces all started to come together. The storyline captured me and held my interest. I got to know more about Simon, the main character, and his determination to find and rescue Kat got me super invested in him as a character. I wanted him to succeed. I wanted him to be happy. Some of the action-packed fight scenes were so vivid to me that it felt like I was the one stuck in a video game. Blending the lines between virtual reality and reality-reality always interests me and this game was no exception.

And, yet, Otherworld didn’t always do what I expected it to. Certain aspects of the games evolved in ways that were entirely unexpected and even more interesting. Although this first book detailed the risks of such an intense virtual reality, I still wanted to be a part of that world. I still want to learn more about it.

In my opinion, this was the perfect start to a hopefully wonderful series about virtual reality. I loved the characters. I loved the storyline. I’m going to love reading more. 

Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton: Part Six and Final Thoughts

Is it read-worth? I’m going to be completely honest. This was my least favorite short story in the collection. However, that being said, I really liked the entire collection… so it’s hard to say it wasn’t worth the read. Curiosities just didn’t really have the same impact on me as the prior stories did, possibly because the scenario it described seemed so far-off and somewhat underdeveloped compared to the previous shorts. The entire collection is worth a read, but you wouldn’t pick up Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful for this specific short story.

Like I said in my brief review, this portion of the book didn’t have the same impact on me as previous sections did. Perhaps that’s partially my fault though. After reading so many amazing short stories, I had high expectations for the last part of the series. What I actually received felt like a let down and didn’t touch on a lot of the topics that interested me so much in the beginning.

Plus, I really wanted to find out what happened to Jake and Kostya. And I didn’t.

But that’s not to say Curiosities was without merit. It was still a very interesting short story and I did enjoy the relationship between the two main characters, Starlock and Luck. They were essential star-crossed lovers doomed to never be together.

Of course, that does mean they end up together, but I was alright with that. I don’t mind predictable endings every now and again. 

I also thought this review touched on a lot of the topics mentioned previously. It didn’t involve the theme of parenting and raising your child that was so prevalent in previous sections, but it had little reminders towards that theme. It mainly focused on how far society was willing to go to alter themselves. In America, they were willing to entrap and essentially enslave a group of people in order to harvest their genetic codes. While the officials in charge undoubtedly justified this behavior by being a “last resort” for mankind and by treating the Protos pretty well, the Protos were designed to live as second-class citizens, or pets, in a highly protected zoo. Just so humans could have red hair or dark skin. It feels strange to think that they judged Russia for their mechanical convicts just to enslave a group of people themselves.

It also feels realistic. 

Governments do horrible things every day.

I didn’t really enjoy the ending, however. You’d think there would be more safe guards for the procedures they perform in place. How had no one planned for a crop disease if they’re adding the genetic information of a crop to humans? Even in theory, someone

 would have written a plan for this. They had so many scientific resources available to them. I also didn’t feel like it was necessary to kill off everyone who had undergone extensive procedures. With the extent of the changes being made to people, it was obvious that mankind had been irreversibly changed and, in my opinion, damaged. Many were completely unrecognizable as human. If you take the extent of their changes further into the inhumane, I think that would have been more realistic than wide-spread immediate death or, vice versa, if you killed the entire population off in a less immediate manner. We didn’t need a return to normal humanity in my opinion, but, if the author felt it was necessary, it could have been done in a better way.

That’s nitpicking though. It was still a good short story, just not a great one.

Overall, I really did enjoy this series a lot. The last story may not have interested me a lot, but it was well written overall and did briefly touch upon the topics I had enjoyed in previous sections. I really enjoyed asking myself questions I had never asked before like: What would I do for my children? What is my right? Are extensive physical alterations moral? When can they be immoral? What would the world look like if we started to drastically, physically change ourselves? I still don’t know the answers to most of those questions, but I do know that everything would be very different.

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton: Part Five

Is it read-worth? Yes, absolutely, but I don’t know how to even begin talking about this section of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful. It was extremely well-written (unsurprisingly) and I really enjoyed it, but there is just so much to talk about. It was really jam packed. Homophobia, parenting, tough decisions, Russia. I don’t even know where to begin. So please forgive me if this sounds like the ramblings of a mad woman! I’m going to try my best to come up with a concise train of thoughts, but no promises.

SPOILER ALERT

I don’t know how to even begin talking about this section of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful. It was extremely well-written (unsurprisingly) and I really enjoyed it, but there is just so much to talk about. It was really jam packed. Homophobia, parenting, tough decisions, Russia. I don’t even know where to begin. So please forgive me if this sounds like the ramblings of a mad woman! I’m going to try my best to come up with a concise train of thoughts, but no promises. 

The beginning of this short story was very obviously designed to catch a reader’s attention, just like every other short story in this collection has been. And it very much so succeeded. Instead of offering a lot of lead up (like in part two), it put you right in the middle of a high-risk, scary situation. Jake and Kostya are trying to escape the Russian men chasing them. They are both swearing in Russian, although Jake admits he is an English-speaking American. It comes across as strange, but immediately piques your interest. Why does an American man feel more comfortable with Russian swear words than English ones? He mentions that his bosses have made American swear words feel fake after yelling at him in Russian for so long. Who are his bosses?

You immediately want to know more. Who is this guy? What’s he doing?

While being chased, Jake deploys his “secondary left arm” and attacks one of their pursuers with a knife. This description of a secondary arm continues throughout the entire story, but I personally have a very difficult time imagining what the author means. Has Jake been redesigned to resemble a centipede? How has he gained such easy use of an extra limb? Even after months of practicing with spare arms, I don’t know if I could ever grasp their usage. Can the human mind really adapt to the addition of unnatural limbs?

You’re also told, during this first chase scene, that Jake can only raise a small amount of force against a human. His “full-sized” arms are mostly incapable of exerting any amount of force against a human; the one that can do so is only due to poor maintenance. His secondary arms are both weak and feeble, designed only for delicate work. Later in the short story, when the scene where he first realizes this limitation, this inability to harm humans is what makes him fully understand that he was a slave and, as a slave, he was designed not to harm his masters.

I really enjoyed those little details. I also really appreciated this line of Jake’s internal dialogue when he is rushing through mid-afternoon traffic trying to escape his pursuers and is shocked by the continued existence of normal human things like city blocks and sidewalks: “How could such old-fashioned, everyday things still be here? How was the world so ordinary when Jake himself had become something else?” Dayton is absolutely excellent at capturing core ideas and feelings in short statements or questions. The depth of Jake’s changes are undisclosed at this point, but they are obviously extensive and far reaching. He has been changed to the point where he barely recognizes himself. 

In contract to the following description of Yulia, an average Russian girl entering her home, it feels especially powerful that Jake has been changed by so much. Compared to most of the book, Yulia is almost entirely unaltered. She is a natural human girl.

Jake’s reaction to her is not as natural. While he found her to be curious at first, she almost seemed to repulse him. Her hair in particular bothered him. He himself is unable to grow hair due to his mostly robotic frame. The bosses who had monitored him in the mines kept their hair shaved. It seemed animalistic and unclean to grow hair. He had become a sterile being and she was a lowly beast. 

I wonder if others in his shoes would have the same reaction. Would the sight of hair repulse them too? Or does that depend on the individual? I believe that many people who had undergone the same process as Jake would feel jealousy when viewing a woman with hair instead of disgust. They would want to return to a state where they too could look so human. I personally can only imagine myself being overwhelmed with envy. 

It is also interesting that Yulia seemed to feel the same level of curiosity towards Jake that he felt towards her. While I was glad that their relationship never evolved into something pseudo-romantic, their curiosity towards each other felt powerful in a new way. It was almost like viewing each other was a new discovery on both of their ends. Once she got past her initial feelings of fear, she couldn’t seem to help but question him. 

The process of Jake “becoming” human was very intriguing as well. Honestly, most of this short story was just incredibly interesting to think about. Most of this series has been. The majority of his frame and appearance is technological with metallic limbs and control panels. Jake doesn’t look human. He looks like a robot. But a switch in his chest allows him to create fake skin that gives him a very humane appearance. From a distance, he is indistinguishable from others. Up close? You could tell the difference. 

However, as the story progresses, it is unbelievably disturbing to realize that the extent of his alterations are not the full extent to which Russia edits mankind. Based on the previous short story, I was not expecting such horrible alterations to take place in Russia. Convicts, or other people deemed less than the ideal Russian citizen, are built into garbage collecting systems, machines that put out fires, and machines that mend the sewage system. They’re intentionally modified to service one purpose until their sentence is served. They are not human in any regard. It’s hard to imagine this taking place, but it’s also hard to comprehend how such substantial observations could ever be reversible. Do their sentences ever end? Is this the future of our criminal system? 

How could someone do this to another person?

In Jake’s case, the reasons for his alterations seem very shallow to me. He was changed into a robotic being because Russians need platinum in order to create their technology. It is an important reason, but it is a complete injustice. He was chosen because Russian officials view Americans as prisoners of war and, therefore, as inherently less than themselves. He lost his body and his freedom. I understand the rationalization, and it’s very realistic, but I absolutely hate it, perhaps due to my lens as an American citizen. How could they do this to someone, anyone? It is absolutely horrific. Even the worst criminals don’t deserve this. Perhaps the Russians feel it is a fair trade for bringing him back to life.

It is extremely hypocritical to think that Russians judge Americans for not staying pure to the human form and then they turn their convicts and prisoners of war into highly manipulated machines. Jake is hardly even human after what they did to him. Their Genome War with America is entirely a philosophical war based off of what is okay to do to people and what is not. Russia was supposed to be the ones fighting for the simplicity of the human form, but they have not done so. While their general population may be “pure”, their criminals are made into mechanical monsters.

In contrast to Jake’s current existence, the flashbacks to his life in California are a welcome break. They seem so full of color and liveliness in comparison. The competition with his friends to have sex with more girls is a bit gross in my opinion, but adds context and believability to the extent of his youth. He was just a teenage boy. Even though he had been frozen in time due to the cancers in his body, Jake was really still a teenage boy. He shouldn’t have had to go through any of this. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He was just a victim of cancer and of Russia’s search for platinum. Because of it, he lost almost all of his physical reminders of being human.

As a side note, the extent of his changes did remind me of the Unsullied from Game of Thrones. They were designed to be the ultimate warrior slaves in the Game of Thrones universe and Jake was designed to be the ideal working slave. Both groups had been castrated, maimed, and enslaved by organizations with no concern for their individual well-beings. I wonder if, like the Unsullied, he will search out contact in other forms once he is able. Simple human touch could end up meaning as much to him as sexual intercourse could have in his former life. After all, Jake was almost without human touch for so long. Any gentleness and signs of affection could become so much more meaningful than they would have been previously.

It seemed to me, at first, that Yulia was supposed to be the missing piece in Jake’s search for home. Again, I’m glad that she wasn’t. It wasn’t the right time and would have felt small against the grandeur of his problems. Kostya, if anything, was closer to being Jake’s humanity than I think anyone else could be. 

Speaking of Kostya, It is strange to use rampant homophobia in a futuristic context. I always imagine the future as a place free of baseless biases. The idea of homophobia and racism and sexism continuing far into the future bothers me. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect for all those things to just stop one day. You might argue that small hatreds are built into humanity. In order for you to truly love the people around you, can you be without hate for something else? On a small scale, of course. On a large scale? I’m not so sure. 

Kostya was given to the Russian government by his father because he is gay. Immediately after finding out, it was like he had died in the eyes of his father. Kostya was no longer even worth looking at. He killed Kostya’s lover immediately upon finding them. I wonder if he was punished for his violence, made into a convict, or rewarded for ridding the world of a gay man. It is disgusting to think that he was probably rewarded for killing another person. Kostya was not entirely excited to return to Russia when they escaped the bossy, as a result. He felt like returning to Russia was another kind of dying.

Similarly, I wonder if Yulia will actually be rewarded for turning them in. It is obvious that the Russian government didn’t want the general population to find out about what they are doing. She didn’t even know that platinum came from outside the planet. They were told otherwise. Will they really allow her to just leave and live with that knowledge? I highly doubt it. Her fate will probably be similar to the one she almost condemned Kostya and Jake to.

It is also difficult, in my opinion, to imagine a future that is so dirty. How can the world have such highly futuristic technology and such a run-down landscape? When Jake describes the train station, it is a whirlwind of advancement. The trains were the science fiction transportation devices everyone imagines. But the train station itself was still run-down and dirty. There was old chewing gum on the ground and dark tobacco stains on the wall. Again, completely realistic, but somehow still unexpected. The future we are always shown in films and movies, outside of apocalyptic fiction, is always bright and clean. 

It is curious that religious morality has mostly faded by this section of the collection. The first three parts included a lot of religion. I didn’t note that the last section had no religious beliefs involved. Is this intentional or accidental? The decline of spirituality has always been a consequence of increasing scientific knowledge. Or was the inclusion of homophobia supposed to be the bridge towards religious beliefs? 

However, this storyline did continue with a lot of the same themes that previous short stories had run with as well, particularly concepts that have to do with parenthood. In the first short story, we were asked if we would give up the life of one child in exchange for the life of another. Would we shorten the life of one in order to give the other a normal life? In the previous section, we were asked what changes we would make in our children to give them a better life. Would we give them intelligence or beauty beyond belief? Would that be our right, as parents? Or would that be an encroachment on their own lives? In this section, we are asked if we would give up our child to the unknown on the small chance it will save their life. I really enjoy the continuation of this line of questioning. Asking people about parenthood and love will always be universal, even into the far off future. What would you do for your child? Is it your right to do it?

In the case of Jake, his parents were willing to give him up to the unknown with the hope he could be revived and live a full life later on. Of course, they couldn’t imagine what he would experience. I wonder if they would think his life is worth living. Was it worth giving him up just for him to be used and changed and hurt? Was it worth curing his cancer just for them to make him into a slave?

When he is frozen, it is painless. 

I do wonder if Jake will ever find out what happened to Dehlia or vice versa if we will ever hear about what ends up happening with Jake. When we leave off at the end of this short story, him and Kostya are still running from the police. They jump off of a train. Does he ever make it to America? The hopeful part of me believes he does, but the cynical part of me believes Russia must have some type of system of catching escaped convicts. Jake and Kostya can’t be the only ones on Earth with such extensive upgrades. The author had mentioned earlier that Russians had had no problems with upgrading people for military purposes after all. Will they follow and capture them? 

And I wish he had said goodbye to Dehlia. I understand why he didn’t, but it felt very unfair to her. He seemed to love her. I wonder if she ever recovered from the loss of him.

After Jake wakes up, he is pierced and cut with needles and knives. His cancer is removed from him and, then, his limbs. The skin and muscles were removed from his body. He couldn’t feel it, but he could see it happening. I wonder why, when they were so willing to do such extensive physical alterations, the Russians did not tamper with his mind. Why did they not make him crave performing the operations and tasks he was given? Why not make him like his role in life? You will not have escaped robots if you make the robots enjoy what they’re doing. And how are these alterations worth the money? It must be expensive to perform these operations. Unimaginably expensive. They are curing diseases and then stripping someone of their humanity. It also sounds extremely expensive to then train these people how to use their new bodies and, then, to get them to the asteroid belt. How can platinum cover all of those costs? Do these procedures extend their lives by quite a bit, beyond protecting them from most manners of death? 

It is horrifying to imagine going through these things. It is not difficult to think that, after being altered and cut up and made into a slave, you would want to die. Kostya says that many of the first batch of slaves tried to kill themselves. It  is very hard for them to die. The fake skin they were given is all that saved Jake and the others from feeling the same suicidal tendencies as the prior group. It gave them a sense of remembered humanity. And the journey to the asteroid sounds impossible to live through in itself. The slaves were crammed in cargo bay racks, fed by twos, and bombarded with messages from a learning screen meant to teach them Russian. They were not even allowed to talk to each other most of the time.

But some of the moments were, of course, beautiful. Jake undoubtedly lost more than he gained, but the experience he gained was not entirely without value. He got to see a sight few people would ever see: the sight of the galaxy. It seemed to have a large impact on him. He would also get the sense that in such a large universe, he was something new. But remembering that he was only an object after that thought continuously hurt him. “He could see the infinite universe, but he was looking with the eyes of a slave.”

Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton: Part Four

Is it read-worth? Eight Waded was an extremely powerful and resounding short story. Somehow Dayton makes even the most unrealistic scenarios seem completely real and this section in particular had a large impact on me. I just really loved it. Even if you don’t read the rest of the collection, I definitely recommend reading this part. The ending just really hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting it to.

SPOILER ALERT

When I first started this section, I thought that the events of this part were so far into the future that the opposition to these scientific procedures and human alterations in general had died out. The extent to which Alexios had been altered before he was even born seemed impossible in a world where people still opposed the central idea of scientifically editing and improving mankind. They would never allow what was done to him to occur. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was wrong. 

While people like Reverend Tadd had fully embraced these procedures, as discussed in the previous section of the collection and more elaborated on throughout this short story, entire organizations were emerging in opposition. Many people still believed human alterations were immoral. Elisa Tadd in particular started an organization that directly opposed the people who now followed Reverand Tadd. She spouted the dangers of frivolous human alterations. Life-saving medical procedures were one thing; glib use of this technology was another. 

This spirit of opposition also seemed to be occurring on a worldwide scale. Certain countries, such as the United States, seem to be leading the charge in supporting these human alterations. Many people within them go to extremes and a variety of new laws are based on supporting people as they undergo these procedures. For example, the US implemented heavy taxes on anyone who wants to live outside of the city. While politicians stated it was to protect the integrity of nature, Alexios’s tutor believes the law is likely intended to keep people close to hospitals and medical resources to help them after they have their various surgeries and procedures done. Mankind will need more support than ever after having everything from their skin to the way they breathe edited. Negative side effects will need close monitoring. 

Other countries, however, go the opposite way. Where the US has a more open approach, the Russian Republic, in particular, has entirely rejected cosmetic and frivolous upgrades. Russian citizens must take an oath to preserve “the simplicity of the human form,” and are forbidden from getting any of this very extensive work done.  Medical and military upgrades are allowed which plays directly into the fact that Russia believes they should spread the belief that the integrity of the human form must be maintained. The country is going to war with surrounding countries, similarly to many events in history where Russia tried to branch out. It’s interesting the similarities the author makes when writing about the spread of these beliefs versus the spread of communism. It’s obvious that these two world powers are meant to be in contention with each other. But it’s not so obvious who is doing the right thing.

Should people be allowed to medically and surgically alter themselves without restraint? Should these surgeries be their choice alone? Or should the government play a role in preventing these procedures from taking place? What are the dangers of controlling people? What are the dangers of allowing them to do whatever they want? There’s pros and cons to each side of the story. While it would be easy to say that it’s “their body, their choice,” it’s hard to actually implement that when procedures such as the one Alexios undergoes before being born can have dire and long-lasting consequences for people. Alexios’s parents doomed him to a life where he can’t even walk because of their desire to endow him with super intelligence. Is it worth it? Should they have had the right to make that decision for him? It’s hard to say. 

The tutor, Frances, seems to believe that they had no right to do so. She is the one who broadens Alexios’s view of the world, educating him about what modern day people feel about individuals like him and how the world is embracing these procedures. She asks him if, given the choice, he would live the way he does. And, of course, it’s hard to say that he would. Alexios spends most of his days with only marine animals for company. He cannot walk or interact with his world in the same way that others do. He is alone. Her belief that some people take these procedures too far is what caused her to leave the United States and immigrate to England. 

And, like I said in my review of the previous section, I feel like it’s difficult to know what the long term consequences of these procedures would be. While it sounds fantastic that children are being born protected from a wide variety of diseases, will that have lasting impacts on the human genetic code? Will all of those impacts be positive? From my perspective, it sounds impossible to upgrade human health and give up nothing in return. There is always a price for everything. What is it? 

In the case of Alexios, the price is obvious. He may have gained superhuman intelligence, but he has lost the full use of his human body. He lacks empathy. His parents have all but abandoned him even though he is incredibly young. They’ve left an eleven year old boy alone with scientists and researchers almost all of his life. He has never really known tenderness; even just asking for a birthday gift was met with surprise. He has lost a lot of his human ability to connect and, instead, prefers time spent with aquatic life. He has lost a lot even in comparison to the unique capabilities and lifestyle he has gained. 

And his parents have lost a lot as well. It is implied that they spent a lot of time and possibly money having Alexios designed to possessextraordinary intelligence. It also seems, during their discussions with the scientists, that they view Alexios as more of an investment than a child. They worry about having him as a burden for the rest of their lives. They worry about how they will always have to support him. His interest in puzzles has no financial benefit for them and they do not seem to attempt to foster a healthy relationship with him. Most of their discussions seem to be with researchers, asking about his future and not his current life. When you view your child as an investment, will you ever be capable of acting as their loving parent or will you always be worried about seeing a return on your investment? Alexios’ parents seem more concerned about future benefits and not their personal relationship. Of course, this is partially based on his lack of empathy and ability to connect. How can you connect to someone who is absolutely unable to emotionally connect with you? Perhaps they had just given up on that portion of their life. His mother used to bring him gifts. Maybe his lack of emotional response made her unwilling to continue. 

However, it is not to say that Alexios hasn’t gained anything from this procedure. He is obviously extremely intelligent. He is able to solve puzzles more quickly than anyone else. He is amazing at mathematics. But, more than that, he understands marine life to an extent that no one else in the world does. He can fully communicate with them and understands their language. That is absolutely insane to think about. 

It also makes it difficult to say that these procedures aren’t worth it. For some people the loss of empathy and human capabilities would be more than made up for with the ability to speak to animals. Alexios is extremely connected to nature in a way mankind has never been. The scientific procedure that failed him in other ways brought about a special relationship for him and an entirely unique and new human experience. 

It is also interesting to think that Alexios is probably prized for his unique upgrades and, particularly, his appearance. He looks monstrous, even in his own opinion. His head is large and misshapen, his body is small, his skin is gray, and his legs come together to form what looks like a dolphin tail. Some may want him because of his extreme intelligence and ability to solve puzzles. They may think he will help them in whatever endeavor they are pursuing, particularly in ones related to human upgrades. Others will want him as a warning beacon regarding the dangers of technological human development. He is terrifying to look upon and has stunted physical development. Many people would be scared to end up looking like him. 

In the end of the short story, people do try to steal him. They use sonic weapons to disable the dolphins that help him protect the manatee flock; they try to drug him. While their attack ultimately fails, I wonder what their aim was in stealing him away. Did they want to use Alexios or free him? 

After they fail. Alexios asks himself if he is human, inhuman, dead weight, or something else. Them trying to steal him combined with memories of his parents labeling him as a burden and his discussions with Frances seem to make him unable to continue in his current surroundings. Is Alexios a monster? Is he a person like everyone else? What is he? What should he do?

Alexios seems to have an existential crisis after being attacked. He is not human. He is probably inhumane. He would be dead weight in a normal environment. In his current condition, trying to live like an average person would be impossible. There is no correct way for him to live. He can only try his best. 

And I loved that realization. Alexios is utterly unique, but that realization is not. It applies to every person there is. You can only live your life to the best of your ability. Don’t try to live someone else’s. I especially like it in conjunction with his next realization: there may be more to him than what the researchers tell him. He may be more than his parent’s expectations. He is without a doubt more than the limitations other people place on him.

At eleven years old, Alexios is more fully realized than most adults. 
Part Three of Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful (Eight Waded) was an excellent short story. The final scene where he leaves the compound with his group of dolphins is incredibly powerful. The prose was powerful. The main character was powerful. Alexios is free. I loved it.

Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton: Part Three

Is it read-worth? Yes. This section of the collection is a bit gruesome though. It makes you stare at human nature and not really like what you see. But it does catch your attention almost immediately. You find yourself concerned for Elise Tadd. Where is she? Why is she there? Who did this to her? Why are you so scared for a character you just met? The pure hypocrisy of this section is just jaw-dropping. And, to be honest, it’s completely believable human behavior. What happens when you warn others to stay away from the gates of hell just to turn around and storm them? Or to just buy the property next door? What happens when you become the demon? Part three is the most true to the point short story within this collection to date and I love that. I absolutely adore stories that don’t shy away from their main points and, instead, fully embrace them. 

Especially when their main points are a little bit disturbing and make you question yourself.

And, interestingly enough, this was the first part of the collection where I fully realized that each section has a title. I don’t know how I didn’t notice this before. What have I been doing? But the titles do set you up for that better understanding of what you’re going to read that I had complained about lacking in the prior section.

SPOILER ALERT

The beginning to part three of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful immediately captured my interest. Elisa Tadd woke in a strange place she didn’t recognize at first. I was instantly concerned for her, worried for what was about to happen next. A woman waking up in a strange place? No thank you, let’s read more.

Thankfully, that strange place was her father’s old church basement so my concern lessened by quite a bit, but Dayton’s excellent foreboding tone didn’t allow me to dismiss all my worries. After all, the previous sections had shown me what an awful person Reverend Tadd is. What was he like with his own daughter? I knew his religious beliefs wouldn’t allow for a lot of flexibility.

It was interesting that, since getting to know him in previous shorts, Reverend Tadd had apparently lost his way. He was no longer a minister at his church. He hadn’t even set foot in the church for a year and a half. Elisa disclosed that they had been in Africa, trepidation in her voice. She remembered protesting with her brother, Teddy, and her mother. 

A perturbing image of Teddy claiming to love the hole in his heart, instead of getting it fixed, enters her head. It’s hard to imagine a family that would rather doom a child to a short life than have him undergo a medical procedure, but it is realistic. It just hurts to think that people would rather sentence a child to death than allow them to live. 

She also remembered a small Congolese girl who was being injected with ‘Castus Germline,’ the medical substance her family was in Africa protesting. Castus Germline is an injection, almost a vaccine, that will edit diseases out of human eggs and add protections against malaria and other infections. Any child born from a woman who had received an injection would have close to perfect health. Reverend Tadd and his family believed that this was yet another blasphemy against God’s plan. How could mankind play God in this way? 

And to be honest I don’t entirely disagree, but I have completely different reasons. What if something was wrong with this vaccination? Would they be dooming children to stunted, half-lived lives? What if it caused unexpected infertility? Overwriting someone’s genetic code sounds more risky physically than spiritually, especially if you’re overwriting everyone’s genetic codes. One mistake in the vaccination could have dire consequences for the girl, her children, and civilization at large. Of course, the injection had probably already been studied, but it is difficult to imagine the consequences of what could go wrong.

Elisa’s musings are interrupted by her father’s voice. She is frightened by him and wishes she had heard her mother’s voice or Teddy’s instead. She follows his voice to a room where he is praying, murmuring about us all being the fish. He brought her here because he was not yet ready to go home. Elisa’s mother and Teddy were dead. 

But, according to Reverend Tadd, Elisa wouldn’t need to worry nor miss them. They were not yet in heaven. Instead, they were living on in them. Reverend Tadd admits he had always been wrong about the procedures and the medical advances the human world was making. It was not wrong to advance. It was right. God would not have given mankind the ability to do such things for them to not do them. Reverend Tadd believed that God had blessed them with the ability to become all of the rest of the world, all of the animals and creatures within it. 

We are Nephesh, living beings, and all other living beings are also Nephesh. According to his sudden realization, mankind is supposed to become all Nephesh during the final stage of human evolution. And then Elisa sees him and the scene becomes extremely unsettling. 

His left eye was her mother’s. Part of his face was her mother’s. His eyebrow had changed. His hair had belonged to Teddy. It is completely disquieting to imagine his monstrous appearance. He is a chimera of loss. 

And when Elisa looks at herself? She is the same way. Her hair and her skin and her eyes do not entirely belong to her. Pieces and parts of her mother and brother have been added to her. She is equally as disturbing to gaze upon.

It is so insanely disgusting to imagine a person being made of bits of their lost loved ones, but it does get Dayton’s point across immediately and strongly. The religious beliefs of anyone will be called into question when they are given the chance to go against their beliefs to save, or preserve, the ones they love. People who call you out for bad behavior will likely exhibit the same behavior if it benefits themselves. And the people who claim your actions are against God? They can be demons themselves. 

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Is it read-worth? Yes and no. Don’t get me wrong, Wilder Girls is a very strong piece of writing. The world building is interesting, the storyline is engaging, and the characters are relatively well developed. You always want to learn more about everyone and everything. I really enjoyed reading it. However, the author stated that she intended this to be a stand alone piece and it just doesn’t make a lot of sense as one. While I love books that leave me with questions, I prefer them to be questions about myself and my society. This book left me with too many questions about the book itself. I had high hopes for it, but was left with an anticlimactic ending and too many unanswered questions to really say it was worth the read.

Picture sourced on Amazon

Back of the Book Summary

From the author of Burn Our Bodies Down, a feminist Lord of the Flies about three best friends living in quarantine at their island boarding school, and the lengths they go to uncover the truth of their confinement when one disappears. This fresh debut is a mind-bending novel unlike anything you’ve read before.

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

My Take On It: Somewhat Spoilery

I’m going to be honest: I read this book a few weeks ago. And I felt like I had a lot to say during reading it, but now that I’ve finished it: I don’t really have a lot to say about it. It felt like it was going to have a lasting impact, but it didn’t.

In the end, it just feels like a let down.

I like powerful, resounding pieces of writing. The beginning of this book made me feel like I had gotten just that: a newborn classic. I thought it was a sister to Lord of the Flies, a reflection of how girls will act when faced with a somewhat similar scenario. They set high standards by directly compare the two. I thought it would change me as a person. I thought it would open my eyes to environmental issues. I thought it would do something important.

And, at first, it really seemed like it was going to. The writing was almost poetic in nature. It was gorgeous and yet also absolutely disgusting. I loved it. Pure and simple. I also loved the girls at the core of the story. Byatt especially caught my interest. I found myself wondering how I would live in their shoes, so cut off from the rest of the world. It seemed so beautiful and so deadly at the same time.

But when it devolved into a government cover-up story, it lost me completely. It’s another one of those novels where it just didn’t need the infusion of rebellion and corruption. It was powerful on its own. Any inclusion of that was only to its detriment. Plus, the book left behind the aspects I rather enjoyed: the realism of the choices its characters make, the grisly descriptions of the changes the girls encountered, and the actual girls themselves. It was amazing just focusing on the girls and their somewhat obscure condition. I didn’t need the author to over-complicate the story. The whole conspiracy aspect was unwanted on my end of things.

Would I recommend it? I still don’t know. I wish I did.

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton: Part Two

Is it read-worth? Absolutely. The characters in this section of the overall story are so completely relatable. You can almost imagine yourself living their lives and being faced with the same decisions. What would you do if your religious beliefs told you not to do something that would save your life? What if everyone hated you for it?

Switching from Part One to Part Two of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful was a complete and total tone shift. Unlike Part One, where everything comes across as familial and almost innocent, Part Two starts off a little bit sexy. To be perfectly honest, the transition was a little bit jarring for me. Again, I wasn’t expecting this to be a collection of short stories. I was expecting a novel. The back of the book didn’t set me up for an easy comprehension of what was happening. I was confused as to the change in writing style and, during my first read-through, kept wondering where Julia and Evan were. That was my fault, though, for not looking into this book before buying, but it was a bit difficult to understand as a reader.

I’ll save you the trouble: STRONGER, FASTER, AND MORE BEAUTIFUL IS A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES.

And very well written ones at that. Once I got past the original confusion, I loved this second part of the collection. I especially enjoyed the way it is written. It starts off at the moment before a big event and then keeps going back in time to explain the background story. The main character, Milla, keeps warning you that you’re going to hate her for what happens. Spoiler alert: I didn’t, but I can see how many people would. 

Plus, it was really nice to have a completely normal girl as the main character in a book. It is especially nice in comparison to Midnight Sun where the emphasis is always on how different Bella is than other girls. I’ve been reading that lately and I don’t particularly enjoy books that spit out “not like other girls” rhetoric. I like reading about normal girls. I like the fact that Milla would normally blend into the crowd. I like imagining regular people in extraordinary circumstances. It feels more real to me than anything else.  It feels more like I could be her.

I really do recommend reading this collection so far. It’s extremely interesting and the writing is just phenomenal. Even with the tone shifts, I have enjoyed both parts I’ve read so far. And once you have read it, read the rest of my review below so we can talk about it!

SPOILER ALERT

Like I was saying, I really enjoyed Milla as a character. She seemed so completely normal. There she was, in a coffee shop, watching a book who hasn’t noticed her yet. It seemed to me like she had a crush. She is just a completely average, normal girl who’s a little bit nerdy and a little bit smart and a little bit pretty, but mostly just blends into the crowd. She could be anyone. I felt like I could relate to her. 

When she mentions her mesh line at first, I mostly just glazed right over it. I didn’t understand what that meant, but it couldn’t be that important? It was mentioned so casually I hardly noticed it the first time through. But then it ends up that it matters quite a bit. 

Milla had been in a horrific car accident a while back. She almost died, but, due to modern science, it was possible to replace her more damaged parts, such as her heart and eye, with new parts that were 50% artificially grown and 50% “her.” A mesh line is almost like a regulatory device between the “not so real” parts of Milla and the parts that are 100% herself. It’s a wonderful, life-saving technological innovation, but it comes out later in this part of the collection that not everyone agrees with the procedure. Some hate them. People like Reverand Tadd, the religious figure from the first part, believe that procedures go against God’s plan. The people who have them done are cursed to hell. 

It comes out that the boy Milla was staring at in the opening passage was Gabriel, someone she had been on a date with the night before. When she arrived at school that morning, Milla was barraged by her fellow students. Her friend, Lily, asked her “Did you really Milla? You hardly even know him.” Boys point and make gestures. Everyone seems in on a secret that the reader is not yet privy to. And I love the suspense. 

Strangely enough, it’s mentioned at this time that Milla is unable to blush, the second clue towards her current state. She says that “in her current configuration” it is almost impossible to do so. She also cannot cry. Her emotions seem to be locked down because of the mesh line. 

One kid, a person who was supposed to be her friend, mimics a robot vagina crushing a penis. It is a crude and disturbing thing to imagine, but these little details make the story much more realistic. Teenagers can be incredibly cruel, especially in regards to female sexuality. People in general can be extremely cruel to those they deem other than themselves. I really enjoyed the fact that, even with these clues, I didn’t really understand completely what was happening. The reason Milla was being mercilessly mocked had not come out yet. What the heck is a robot vagina?

I also liked reading about Gabriel and Milla’s date. It was easy to imagine myself in Milla’s shoes. Her crush on Gabriel seemed cute and understandable, almost like a long-distance crush that girls often have in middle and high school. He was cute and likable, but always seemed unreachable to her before her procedure. She couldn’t quite have him. Other girls liked him too. It was even rumored that he had girlfriends at other schools. He had never seemed to notice Milla. It all felt very approachable and honest. 

But the infusion of science fiction, Milla’s procedure, is what actually seemed to make Gabriel notice her and I liked that as well. It seemed to add a little bit to the power of such an intense medical procedure. Unbeknownst to him, the reason why she seemed more attractive and noticeable after returning to the hospital was that her eyes had been damaged in the car accident. Everyone at school thought only her legs and jaw were damaged. But she had actually lost one of her eyes and, because of that, the doctor performing the operations replaced both so that they would look like a matching set. It had the bonus of making her face more symmetrical and slightly improving her looks. It may have been a shallow reason for Gabriel to notice her, but that felt completely lifelike for the actions of a teenage boy. We’re all a little bit shallow sometimes.

It was also interesting that this section of the short story collection included such a large amount of religious background in it. Milla herself was named after St. Ludmilla of Bohemia who brought Christianity to her people. It is odd to think that Milla herself could have been the first student to bring those procedures to her school. Somewhat ironic maybe. During their date, Gabriel and Milla listened to the sermons of Reverend Tadd, warning of the spiritual danger of these medical procedures. He warned people that they would be doomed to hell if they approved of these procedures let alone had them. Fake livers and hearts and eyes were against Jesus. Just Milla being able to breathe violated his religious beliefs.

Milla and Gabriel had a theological debate regarding these issues, drawing away from their kissing. It came to Milla’s attention that Gabriel’s grandmother had extremely strong views against the procedure. She believed people with mesh lines were demons and that it was against God’s plans to save lives in this manner. Gabriel seemed unwilling or incapable of disagreeing with her views which seemed to wound Milla. Gabriel’s grandmother openly hated people who have had it done.

This felt very real in a plethora of ways. First is the fact that religious beliefs do stop scientific exploration and discovery from taking place. Stem cell research in particular has been partially prevented, especially in the US, due to people’s religious beliefs. Even though the results of this research could save a million lives, and improve the lives of many more, many people believe that it’s against God’s plan to delve into it too deeply. We cannot play God in this manner. I don’t necessarily agree with this perspective, personally. I think we should use every tool at our disposal to save and improve lives. I’m not super religious, but I can’t imagine a God who would give us such wonderful tools just to ignore them. I do understand that any type of stem cell research, or this procedure as discussed, comes with its own risks though. What is our limit? Do we have one? 

It also felt real because it seemed like this hatred towards people who have the procedure done was extremely similar in nature to racism or sexism. People hate other people just for one arbitrary reason. Many wouldn’t give Milla the chance to explain, or care. As she states, “How do I tell people that I’m so grateful to be alive, when I know they’ll never be able to look at me with anything but pity or, or, or judgement from here on out?” It’s such a powerful line and it struck me with how true it is. Because of her procedure, Milla will be judged the rest of her life. She cannot save herself from it.

Gabriel’s reaction to that seemed so kind and caring at first as well. He came across as so sympathetic and understanding. At least, until they had sex. And then I hated him.

He told her that, because she had robotic parts and had undergone such an invasive procedure, that it wasn’t like them having sex should be a big moment for her. She had already lost her virginity to either a doctor or a surgical device. Not to him. She was already damaged goods, based on the way he described it. I hate that. First off, women aren’t defined by their virginity. I understand that, as students of a Christian school, they might put a lot of weight on it, but it just comes across sexist and gross. The fact that her undermined her feelings immediately after having sex with her was degrading and cruel. It also shows how deeply rooted the prejudice against people with this procedure is in their society. She is less valuable, as a woman, because she has a mesh line. Yuck. 

And she begs him, afterwards, not to tell anyone about her procedure. He promises. And then he proceeds to tell everyone.

It is so startlingly real and cruel. Teenage boys do this to girls all the time. They brag about their hookups and act like the girl is a slut. It’s hypocritical and disgusting. But Gabriel’s actions are especially disgusting because of how he adds insult to injury with his descriptions of the sex. He tells his friends that she begged him to have sex with her, that she wanted to finally lose her human virginity. He tells fellow students that Milla is trying to convince herself that she’s a real girl, but based on how the sex felt? She’s anything but. 

It’s revolting. 

And I think it’s very honest and telling. It’s extremely relatable for how social interactions work today. People will always be cruel. 

But people will always be kind too. I really liked Mr. Kinross, the headmaster, as a character. He is introduced when he asks to speak with Milla after her interaction with Gabriel in the lunchyard. He tries to soften the blow of her peers’ words and comes across as such a genuinely kind person. He reminded me a lot of the teachers I’ve had throughout my school years. They care. Plus, I completely agreed with his line, “Something ugly is happening in our world… If God gave us minds, should we not embrace the fruits of those minds? Surely it is a mercy and a beautiful calling, to minister to the injured and the ill? … And yet, I see families with an entirely different view. They have taken it upon themselves to decide what God allows – which is surely exactly what they accuse doctors of doing.” It is a powerful statement and I can only imagine that his words would stick to Milla as she grows up. She’ll remember this small kindness and these impactful words Mr. Kinross spoke to her will resonate with her as she grows older. During her worst moments, she might even remember that her life is a miracle and not a curse. Even with the cold-heartedness others will show her, it is a miracle that she is still alive. 

It’s just a really wonderful scene. 

However, I feel like I could have done without the ending of this section. I kind of wanted this part of the overall connection to stay true to how people feel about those who have undergone the procedure. When Milla pushes Gabriel in front of a bus and he has to undergo a similar procedure himself, he apologizes to Milla and admits the reason why he told everyone about their sex and her mesh line. He didn’t want his grandmother to find out and he felt like she would know immediately. If he played it off like he was coerced into it instead, maybe it would lessen the blow of her disapproval. Maybe others wouldn’t ridicule him for it. 

But I didn’t need this addition. I didn’t need the hypocrisy of people’s beliefs to be beaten into me here. I understand that most people will take the chance to live or to save the lives of their families when given it. I really would have liked it if the author remained true to the core of this story: the hate and prejudices survivors will face. That felt more honest to me for this part of the overall story. Hypocrisy could be saved for other sections. 

However, I didn’t hate it. I just wish it was a little bit different overall. It was still excellent writing and I still understood the point of this storyline. It was definitely worth the read. 

Now, after I’ve already read this entire section of the story, I do find myself thinking about the fact that so much of the religious importance of virginity was ignored in exchange for the religious beliefs surrounding the procedure Milla faced. Not once did any of the students really ridicule her sexuality or call attention to that sin. They might have been shocked that she had sex with Gabriel after one date, but it didn’t feel like the normal amount of vicirol towards young women who have sex face. I wonder if the importance of virginity has decreased in comparison to the existence of such a technologically advanced procedure. Do they not care about the sin of premarital sex anymore? Does the religious community only care about this medical procedure? Even Gabriel, who was so embarrassed and ashamed to have sex with someone with a mesh line, didn’t seem to be embarrassed by his grandmother knowing he’s had sex. Are they weighing sins in their favor? I’m just curious and I wonder if future chapters will address the changing priorities of the religious community. 

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton: Part One

Is it read-worth? So far yes, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. When I read the back of the book and saw that this book was comparable to Black Mirror, I was picturing the longer episodes for some reason. I was expecting a long and frightening novel comparable to Bandersnatch.  I wasn’t picturing short stories. Sadly, I’m in the mood for a longer book right now to read in between chapters of Midnight Sun. But I did really enjoy the first story about Julia and Evan. The concept was intriguing and horrible at the same time. If you and your semi-identical twin were doomed to death, what would you do to survive? If you depended on the organs of your loved one to live, would you take them? The incorporation of religion alongside science called attention to the moral ambiguities of these procedures. I was curious to read more. I wonder if future short stories will answer all of the questions I have about part one.

SPOILER ALERT:

The first part of this collection of short stories really caught my eye. I was incredibly intrigued by Julia and Evan. Everything down to their existence as a semi-identical pair of twins really interests me. I didn’t know semi-identical twins were a natural occurrence. I thought things like that only happened in science fiction. This book made me look into them and realize that things that this do actually happen.

And to be honest that’s super cool. Genetics are insanely interesting to me. It would be amazing to see the physical comparisons between two people who are exactly 50% exactly the same. I’d love being able to see the differences too. I love playing the Sims for exactly this reason.

Throughout this first part of the book, Julia and Evan were hospitalized for their inability to grow organs large enough to support their bodies. Their growth was stunted and their movements were limited. Because Julia’s organ growth was more stunted than Evan’s and her body was beginning to fail, she was selected to give up her organs to her semi-identical brother so that he may survive. Their organs would be fused in order for at least one twin to survive. 

Even as they were both in the process of dying, they had such a complete understanding of each other. They could even communicate telepathically. Dayton somewhat implied that this was due to the fact that they were semi-identical twins. Their puns and close relationship brought a lot of comedic relief to an otherwise side and difficult storyline.

However, right before they were to be fused, a holy man, Reverend Tadd, burst into Julia’s hospital room to warn Evan that causing the death of his sister would mark him as a demon. It would be evil to use her organs to survive. This gave the book a sense of dread that I really appreciated. 

Would Evan be tainted by this experience? Would a demon take root in his body? Was this a truly evil thing to do? I don’t know, but I wanted to see where the book would take this.The morally correct thing to do in a situation like this is so ambiguous. There is no real right answer.

And it made me ask what I would do. Could I live with myself knowing that the only reason I was alive is because I took my dying siblings organs? I don’t know. I love my brothers so much. They are two of my favorite people. I also love living and, if the choice was one of us dying o both of us, it’s hard to say the right thing to do is to kill both of us. What would you do?

It became even more curious that, after the procedure was performed, Evan awoke to a voice inside of himself, communicating with him. It was implied that the voice was his sister, Julia, through her use of puns, but I wonder if it truly was. Did Evan just have a mental breakdown? Is he traumatized by this experience? I would be. Or is it a demon, as forewarned by Reverend Tadd? Were his actions so evil that a demon entered his body? Does this book want to really explore the connection between science and religion? Or is it truly his sister, living on in him? They were telepathically connected. Were they always meant to live in each other’s heads? What does that mean for their future?

Part one of this collection of stories really caught my attention and made me ask myself a lot of questions. What would I do in this situation? How can you live if you helped cause the death of a love one? How could you live if they died to save you? If Julia is really trapped in Evan’s mind, how will that affect her? Will she be happy there? Will Evan be happy with that for the rest of his life? What will happen next?

I don’t know if the future short stories in this collection will answer any of those questions, but I rather enjoy just being able to ask them. Books like this make you think in ways you wouldn’t normally. I can’t wait to read the other parts of the series.