Sunday, April 12, 2015

Review::Survival of the Fittest by Michael Taylor

Survival of the Fittest: The Last Hope for the Human RaceSurvival of the Fittest: The Last Hope for the Human Race by Michael Taylor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Survival of the Fittest by Michael Taylor

In the final analysis I enjoyed the story; but that’s not saying I didn't have some problems reading it. This is a book that one could really want to give five stars to; but you would have to make a number of stretches to accomplish that. I wanted to like this but I must have some predefined prejudices that stand in the way. This has the earmarks for a great start to a new series of books with a fantastic premise and some interesting notions; but there are some style choices that stepped in the way of my enjoyment of the piece as a whole.

Lindsey Sutten finds herself alone in the darkness with confusion about where she is and why she's alone and uncertain of where her mother is: and she is afraid. This begins the first of several sections in the first chapter that introduce us to the main characters that will share this story. Having them each start with a separate section breaks up the initial tension by spreading it out in a slight confusing way; yet acts as a means to protect the reader from the up and coming style decisions that might jar a few people out of the story. But the trouble with Lindsey is that she sounds, at best, to be ten or twelve years old but is supposed to be 15 years old.

The second section is Alex and Ricardo and since more than one character shows up here we start to see the style choices showing up. The POV of choice seems to struggle at being Omniscient and at best perhaps subjective because it comes just a bit close to becoming Close third and that even starts to be head hopping but we can let it slide if we consider it to be Omniscient third. The problem I had was that the POV went from outside to often close to each boy one at a time and then jumps into a Plural POV that I just let slide because it was brief in this section. Unfortunately this seems to be a deliberate act that is used throughout the book. It is meant to achieve something (I think); but it keeps pushing me out of the story.

The story is interesting and suspenseful despite my struggles with the style and it keeps me into it; to find out what's going on and see what's going to happen. So far this is starting to read like one of those thrillers that often devolve into slashers. I'm not sure how eager I am to go on; but I forge ahead as the people group together first in small groups and then one large group of seven only to be attacked and separated. But this is good it gives us different dynamics within the group as they work their way back to becoming one group again.

The first part of the novel is named The Inner World Beginning. The second part is called The Outer World Beginning. This should have been the biggest clue to another problem. Probably another that is just a personal problem to me. The next part takes us back 40 years to a time when Earth was visited by UFO's and we did all those strange alien autopsies and discovered that the aliens intended on invading earth and they were sending super soldiers that had been augmented. This is where things become X-files strange in more way than one. The decision is to create our own augmented army based on theirs so there are some experiments put into place. They are creepy experiments with rather cold heartless creepy people who are all trapped into the system that says the only way out is if we kill you.

The more important discovery in part two is the deceit. This novel is what I'll affectionately call a Deceit-topia. I have read a number of them now. By the end of the chapter we discover that the seven people we read about earlier, who were left fighting for their lives against aliens while they were slowly transforming into their own version of these aliens; is all a simulation and these youths and many more are being held in stasis while they experience complete immersion into the virtual environment where they have nothing to fear as they can't get hurt. Which sort of kills all the tension built earlier; but the cool part is that their changes in world are changes that they are expected to undergo in the real world; so it's forgivable: this Deceit.

It's about now that we start experiencing a lot of the plural third sections and I almost at first thought it was perhaps somehow related to these seven and some connection they might have. That hope proves false when later, further narrative from the doctors and scientists on the outside indicates that often, when there are mobs of people together, the narrative starts describing things that happen to them all together in plural third. Almost like a mob. A huge problem though with the scientist and doctors is that they all seem to be the same cold type of personality that has rationalized why they do what they do while at the same time there is an almost false appearance that fear is held over them to keep them doing what they are told despite their conscience (which later you have to wonder if any of them have a conscience). Often their actions conflicted with what the narrator wanted us to believe. I found it very difficult to find any one of them that felt real while they seemed to vacillate back and forth up and down some moral scale that seemed to be there only as a means to drive the tension of the story instead of helping us find out who these people really are below the cold exteriors.

That and the strange decision that they couldn't implement their special forces until after the entire world is slaughtered seem to make the outside world part of the story hard to rationalize.

As for the inner world; that is vindicated somewhat when one of the researchers goes mad and tries to destroy the program putting anyone in the world at risk of real death. So real tension again.

As a whole this novel looks as though it's the possible beginning of a series and it does have some potential, though it might be just fine as a standalone considering the possibility of it going close into the horror genre. If you don't mind head hopping and the often shifts to Plural third person then there is a lot of food for thought in this novel; though you might have to throw a bit more suspension of disbelief into the decision making capabilities of all the adults.

This falls into SFF and horror with some Deceit-topic tendencies. Great read as long as you don't try to examine the adult player's motives too closely.

J.L. Dobias

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