Book Review: Extreme Makeover Apocalypse Edition
I've been away for a while, it's no secret. I'm well aware that this blog has been sitting dormant for over a year now, and it's entirely my fault. Life has been a bit crazy recently. Between moving across the country, buying a home, having a baby, dealing with new work situations, I haven't had as much time to write as I would like. The good news is that things are starting to settle down again, and I'm going to try to kickstart the blog once more, to try to gain some traction here.
The other piece of good news is that I have still been writing, it's just that none of it has seen the light of day. I have a couple projects in the works, and I'm really excited about them. I'm excited to share them here in the near future.
But apart from all of that I wanted to start doing other things here as well. So, you might see a few new types of posts from me, the first of which being this one, a book review.
Extreme Makeover: Apocalypse Edition
To Be Published: November 2016
First, an anecdote. I went to GenCon this year, which some of you may know is the largest tabletop gaming convention in the US. It's crazy. And Huge. And crazy huge. There were something north of 60,000 people in attendance, packing out the Indiana Convention Center, and just generally enjoying being geeks together.
The main reason I wanted to go was to attend the GenCon Writers Symposium, which is held in conjunction with all of the nerd-filled board gaming stuff, just across the street in hotel conference rooms. There were lots of different genre writers there to give talks and speak on panels about writing, craft, story, and everything else that goes with it. I was super excited that I was able to go, and after the initial shock of being there with all of those people and figuring out how to function in that setting, I was able to learn a lot and had a really good time.
Also, I love tabletop gaming, so you know I was enjoying that side of the convention as well.
Anyway, the very first panel that I attended was on the subject of endings, and how to do them well. I was interested in the topic, and one of the authors on the panel was Dan Wells, who also co-hosts the Writing Excuses podcast that I listen to religiously. So I figured it would be a good one, and when I sat down in the conference room Dan collected all of the entrance tickets and drew one out of a hat (spoiler alert, he picked my ticket) to give an ARC of his new book to.
I felt really privileged because I've never received an ARC before. I had read some of his other work, so I was excited to get something new, and also to use it as an object lesson for the panel that I was already on. You see, Dan mentioned something to me when he gave me this book. He said: "This doesn't have a happy ending."
You see, the thing about endings is that they need to be satisfying. The point of and ending is to bring the story to a close, so it needs to fulfill the expectations that the reader had, along with any promises the author made to the reader at the beginning. A lot of people think that endings need to be happy, or at least a lot of people want endings to be happy. I would have generally put myself into that camp, except for if I really think about it I do want the ending to be satisfying.
If you come out of a story and everything is happy and perfect for the main characters, but it doesn't follow logically from what just happened in the story, then it's not satisfying and it's not a good ending. It has to make sense. So when Dan said that this book didn't have a happy ending, I prepared myself for something cruel and gruesome. Now, while the ending to this particular book might be considered gruesome in a way, it is in no way cruel. It makes sense. It's satisfying. It wraps up some lingering thoughts I had while I was reading it and opens up more possibilities beyond the text. It's satisfying and I think he nailed it.
Ok, I should probably stop blathering and actually talk about the book.
Extreme Makeover is about a deeply conflicted scientist named Lyle Fontanelle who works for a cosmetics company called NewYew (and yes the company is fully aware that their name is a pun, it's addressed in the book). He is in the middle of developing a new burn-cream-turned-anti-aging-product that works on the DNA level to get your body to produce more collagen and actually reverse wrinkles instead of just cover them up. The company sees the fortune that they can make from such a product, so they rush it to market, even though Lyle doesn't want to. He gets to do one more trial run with test subjects and finds out something incredible and horrifying.
His lotion actually changes the recipient's DNA into the DNA of whoever first touched the lotion.
All of a sudden there are several Lyle Fontanelles running around New York, and instead of shutting down the project, NewYew sees even more money in it. What if you could literally turn yourself into someone else. You could be anyone. Instead of spending money on beauty products to make you look like the model on the cover of the box, you could just change yourself into them.
Now, the science is a little wonky. I'm not a scientist, and I'm definitely not a geneticist, but it seems to me highly implausible that any of this would actually work. But I've ready plenty of other stories with less plausible things and was able to enjoy them just fine, and he does a good job of explaining the science in a way that makes sense (even if it probably doesn't work), so I think on that front there is enough there for the reader to suspend disbelief and entertain the ideas of "what if you could turn yourself into someone else."
That idea is what kept me plowing through the book. There are activist groups, insurgents that want to take over the presidency, and a LOT of Lyle Fontanelles. Things go wrong and the whole world is impacted.
Another interesting thing about this book is that there is a countdown timer at the start of every chapter. 150 days to the end of the world. I knew what was coming. I knew that the end of the story would be the end of the world and everything that goes with it, but I wanted to know what happened next. I wanted to see how the apocalypse played out and to see if the author thought of all the little details that I was thinking about while reading. Turns out he had, and in a way that was at the same time more complex and more easily communicated than I would have thought. Some details he just breezed past in a few lines, addressed and dismissed, which I appreciate as a reader because I know that he put in the world-building work and didn't dwell too much on stuff that didn't serve the story.
World-building can be a tricky thing. I've seen both sides of it. The stuff that makes me want to pull my hair out is when a book lays out all o the details in the first few pages, or reiterates stuff over and over again just to make sure that I understood what was happening. It drains all of the mystery of things and makes me just want to put the book down. Good world-building is the stuff where the author puts just enough on the page to make you want more, and leaves the rest of it to be revealed over time when it's necessary to the story. You know that the world is totally fleshed out and real because of the little nuggets sprinkled here and there, but you don't get the whole picture until you reach the end, and even then it's good to leave some things unsaid.
Overall it was a good book and though there were a few points that I took issue with, I was able to overlook them in order to enjoy the story that was being told. The ending was not happy, though it wasn't entirely un-happy either, but it was satisfying, and that's the best thing that you can hope for.
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