Saturday, February 28, 2015

Indie Book Corner: Exurbia: A Novel About Caterpillars, by Alex McKechnie
Prepare for lots of Caterpillar references.  Also this picture links to the books Amazon page.

Exurbia: A Novel About Caterpillars will not be what you think it is.  Well it wasn't for me because I didn't have the wonderful blurb that's out now since I had an ARC to read.  So I went into this quite blind and I must say that I was treated to one of the best books I've read so far this year.  I'll actually go a step further and say that this is—as of February 28, 2015— the best book I've read this year and I've read a few really good ones so far.

Now for the substance.  This book is filled with amazing ideas about spirituality, transhumanism, individuality, collectivism, and morality.  It made me ask myself, just what defines humanity?  Is it our physical bodies or is it our consciousness, is it all that and more, is it none of that?  What's more impressive is that my mind was addressing these questions only secondary as a monumental plot was taking shape in front of my eyes.  The fact that this book both entertained me and made me think very deeply about my very existence and other very broad and heavy subjects, for me, puts this at a level of great fiction.  My favorite games (Legacy of Kain), animes (Big O), and shows (The Wire) all manage to do this and enthralled me in the fiction.  Now it comes as a shock to me that this is a series.  I read this thinking it as a standalone book and the ending wraps it all up very nicely.  I imagine someone else's story will be told in the next one but hell, I'm definitely looking forward to it.

Okay now I'll do a sort of critique here, both good and bad.  For some reason I want to do the bad first, maybe because that's what I encountered first.

The beginning confused the hell out of me.  There was so much new and crazy terminology and names thrown at me that it was tough to wrap my head around it all.  I couldn't tell what were real terms and what was what the author might have made up for his fictional future.  My instinct was to stop and try to force myself to understand it all but being an indie author myself and a pretty slow reader with two (low paying) jobs I had no time for that.  So I just pressed on and didn't give a second thought to those confusing terms, only guessing what they meant to keep the story flowing.  Eventually I did figure out what it meant thanks to all the context clues that the author, Alex, provides and the terms are used repeatedly for good effect which forced me to learn them.  Somewhere near the middle it all makes sense even sooner if you don't have trouble focusing on the beginning of new books.

And to continue that thought it does take some time for some concepts to be fully explained but I don't know if that's good or bad.  By the end every question I had was suitably explained, two big things in particular.

That list of negatives is actually awfully short now that I look at it.

Okay now for the good.  This book is filled with amazing ideas of science and spirituality and gave me that feeling of being a part of some new frontier adventure.  It felt like what I imagine the late 1800's and early to middle 1900's felt like, like I was a part of something grand and new, and impossible.  I'm amazed at how it all meshed together so well and flawlessly.  Just about every part of this writing was strong including the characters which I don't expect from science fiction books because the few I've read have not had the strongest characters.  My favorite characters in order had to be Jura the aging physicist trapped between two worlds, Mrs. Butterworth *snigger snigger snigger* the mysterious woman from space with an even more mysterious agenda, 261 the moralising imp (awesome title) a genetically modified man made for the purpose of impartial judgment, Moxiana a girl with strange dreams and a penchant for heralding mass destruction, and the old crone who protects young Moxiana despite premonitions that she will die doing so.  Everything escalates very naturally plot wise and then goes super crazy near the end to where I could not put the damn book down even when I had other pressing things to do. And we're introduced to this future in a very natural way and it’s really a wonderfully beautiful world.  Hell even destruction comes in the form of a gorgeous LSD inspired wave of beauty.

Anyways I could go on and on about a lot of the stuff inside the book but this is already pretty long so I'll just leave you with the generic list of positives and negatives to summarize.

The Good
+Smart Read
+Beautiful prose and descriptions and not overly long.
+Complex terminology is used often enough that it becomes easier to understand
+Intellectually strong characters like my favorites Jura, the Moralising Imp 261, Moxiana, the old Crone, and Mrs. Butterworth.  There are many more besides my favorites.
+Great ideas
+The plot escalates nicely and the climax is fast paced and leaves you with some revelations that blow your mind
+Improves upon a second reading
+By the end everything is explained
+High minded ideas that creep into your mind and conscience, great philosophical fodder.
+Highly imaginative future

The Bad
-The very beginning confused me to no end with an overload of tough terminology
-It takes a while for some concepts to be fully explained


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