July 31, 2013

Review: Fragments

Fragments by Dan Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Folks, this is a post-apocalyptic science fiction scenario done right.

This is the second book in the Partials Sequence, set some sixty years in the future when genetic engineering is so commonplace specific "models" are created and marketed, and the building of a government supersoldier (of course) leads to a war and the release of a virus that kills over 99% of humanity.

The first book, Partials, was a frightening exploration of women's reproductive rights in such a world, where starting at the age of eighteen all girls are forced to give birth, as all babies born in the twelve years since the spread of the RM virus have died. It was a horrifying exploration of the lengths humanity will go to in the face of extinction, and also had some slam-bang action sequences, and fascinating medical scenes, as our heroine strove to find a cure for the virus.

This book doesn't have quite so much of that. I've seen this book accused of being too slow and too long. It is not. It is dense and layered, exploring the ramifications of its post-apocalyptic world and giving the characters (and the reader) time to reflect and absorb what has happened. There's some terrific scenes set in a crumbling Manhattan, where the subways are flooded, all the windows broken, and the moss and kudzu is taking over everything. The author is discussing the death of a mighty civilization (our own) and what happens to the survivors afterwards as they scavenge through the remains, trying to keep their pitiful little leftover human society going. There's some pretty powerful stuff there.

(And I give the author kudos for recognizing the fact that our civilization, even a futuristic form of it, is going to deteriorate pretty damn fast when there's no one left to maintain it. One of my biggest pet peeves about post-apocalyptic books and films, as much as I like the genre, is the insistence that some machines--the internal-combustion engine, for instance--are still going to operate years and even decades after civilization is destroyed. They are not. We're not going to have Mad Max running around, as much as I liked The Road Warrior, still finding usable gas for his car twenty years down the road. There's a slight bit of hand-waving about this in this book; the Partial city is powered by a nuclear reactor, but they also have vehicles and helicopters, and I don't remember their methods of operation and maintenance being discussed. The human Preserve that the heroine crosses the continent on horseback to find also has power, and working laboratories and computers, although I got the impression that came from solar. Will have to reread the book to nail those details down, I suppose.)

Most of this book is taken up with the heroine Kira's journey across what's left of the United States, with more haunting scenes of empty, overgrown, flooded cities and destroyed highways and bridges, some from the war and some from nature reclaiming its own. We end up in Denver, Colorado for the story's climax, where Kira realizes she has to put herself on the line to find the cure, both for humans and Partials. (The Partials were created with a twenty-year expiration date, after which they literally rot away while still alive. It's horrifying, and makes you understand why they would rise up against their human creators. These books, with their complex themes and multilayered protagonists and antagonists, remind me of Battlestar Galactica, one of my favorite television shows, which is part of the reason why I'm so gung-ho on Dan Wells' world. I always rooted for the Cylons.) There's also a nice slow-burner of a romance between Kira and Samm, the Partial who accompanies her, that has a touch of tragedy to it, since's he's only a year away from his expiration date.

All in all, I can hardly wait for Ruins, the third book. I bought this book in hardback as soon as it came out, and trust me when I say that's something I almost never do. But this story is worth it.

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