Review: Greenwood

GreenwoodTitle: Greenwood (2020)
Author: Michael Christie
Pages: 528


Stretching from the near future to the distant past…and then back again, Greenwood tells a beautiful multi-generational story of love, loss, and the meaning of family in all shapes and forms. 

Add this title to the growing trend of excellent books about trees that have sprouted up in recent years. Author Michael Christie shines a light on humanity’s relationship with trees through the eyes of each main character. Some fight for the preservation and protection of trees at all costs, some craft beautiful art from their component parts, and some heavily exploit them in the name of capitalism. Ultimately, Greenwood speculates a future “Great Withering” of Earth’s trees as rapid climate changes leave our towering friends vulnerable and dying.
Greenwood Ring Structure
Christie cleverly uses the cross-section of a tree trunk to organize the nested storytelling structure. Each subsequent section feels tangentially related to the section before it, but as the connections between events and characters become more clear, the full picture emerges, especially in the back half of the book, where we revisit each era once again. I slowly worked my way through this novel and found myself fully immersed in each individual character and story. Christie’s prose is beautifully composed and his descriptions of nature are stunning. I’d recommend this to any lover of nature or fan of epic family sagas.

★★★★½ out of 5

 

Review: Sea of Rust

32617610Title: Sea of Rust (2017)
Author: C. Robert Cargill
Pages: 416

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Brittle, a lone Caregiver robot, scavenges for functioning parts in the desolate Sea of Rust. Along her journey she encounters factions of robots that have differing visions of how the post-human world should be. It’s marketed as something akin to The Martian, but it feels much more like a quirkier story out of The Terminator universe.

This was an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The story jumps between pre- and post-robot uprising and I found myself more invested in the chapters that described the history of the world before the apocalypse versus the present day narrative. Every aspect of this “what-if” world is well thought out and nicely conveyed to the reader.

For a story about metal automatons and artificial intelligence, Sea of Rust employs a surprising amount of emotional heft. Brittle’s tale is one of angst, loss, and survival. I couldn’t help drawing parallels to The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis, a favorite of mine that dives even deeper into the psyche of robotkind and explores what it really means to have free will. Sea of Rust is not at that level, but it is a serviceable and enjoyable ride nonetheless.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: American War

American WarTitle: American War (2017)
Author: Omar El Akkad
Pages: 352

Omar El Akkad’s debut novel is an inventive and timely story that uses the framework of what we understand about the United States today and extrapolates a possible horrifying future. A collection of states in the Deep South has attempted secession due to their refusal to cease using fossil fuels. Sarat Chestnut is young girl growing up in a refugee camp within these Free Southern States, while deadly conflict between the Blue (North) and Red (South) explodes all around her. American War explores the future consequences of many of today’s hot-button political issues: drone warfare, torture, climate change, nativism, the American political divide, and several others.

The worldbuilding El Akkad employs is extremely effective. Many things about this dystopian future are clearly communicated to the reader (a redrawn map of the United States, primary source documents) and the rest is interwoven in a subtle way that requires a small mental step to fully appreciate — a character references a Category 6 storm that passes through (oh, there are now storms bigger than a Category 5?) or discussions of the fighting craze “Yuffsy” (an evolved version of the pseudo-sound-alike “UFC”).

Sarat’s unrelenting personal narrative wasn’t quite as compelling to me as the overall world that she inhabited, but this was still a really impressive debut; it just never quite got over the hump to go from “good” to “great.” I would welcome another book set in this world, but I’d happily read anything else El Akkad comes out with next.

★★★½ out of 5