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Living Hell Hardcover – April 12, 2010
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From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up—Cheney, 17, has spent his entire life aboard a spaceship programmed to sustain life and find a habitable planet for its hundreds of human passengers. All has been well for decades—until the Plexus hits a radiation wave. At first, it seems to have passed through unscathed. But crew members soon begin to realize that something is wrong: the ship is becoming an organic organism, and it recognizes its human inhabitants as parasitic intruders. Eventually, Cheney finds himself leading an isolated group of children and teens who are fighting to defend themselves against the ship that has taken care of them for so long. This sci-fi/horror crossover is a quick read, despite some technical language, and Jinks keeps the action moving. Reluctant readers looking for science fiction that is actually set in space will be delighted with it.—Hayden Bass, Seattle Public Library, WA
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
All is well on the spaceship Plexus. Decades into a journey that has left earth far behind, the couple thousand residents live a life of insulated security. Their social interactions are sensitive and enlightened, their meals prepared instantaneously, and a serene aura of peace makes their slow search for an inhabitable planet a tranquil one. But what’s that up ahead? A radiation field? Soon after the ship passes through, 17-year-old Cheney finds himself in the middle—literally—of a nightmare. (Warning: somewhat of a first-act spoiler ahead.) With shocking rapidity, the ship begins turning into a biologic organism: the walls become muscle, cables become veins, and simple devices like transport vehicles become equivalent to cellular defenders out to devour viruses—and the viruses are the humans. An unbelievably tense first half plateaus after a time, but that hardly diminishes the gooey, sticky, mucus-covered fun. Jinks’ well-thought-out environs and rational characters help ground this otherwise out-of-control interstellar thriller. Grades 7-10. --Daniel Kraus
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However, this novel as a killer premise -- literally -- but doesn't quite pay off in the end. The premise is outstanding, to a degree. A generation ship (one of those designed to sail through the solar system for years, for generations) gets hit by a strange energy wave that somehow (universal life force?) changes the ship from a metal construction to an organic one. That really struck me more as magic than as science, but I went with it because the idea seemed unique enough and there was that awesome cover with the sword-wielder.
Unfortunately, the book lagged a little at the beginning, which may tax some young readers to get to the meat of the story. From there, though, the novel rushes through everything that's going on. Seriously, the adventure lasts only hours, and I'm not even sure how many hours it took to get from Point A to Point B.
Jinks does skillfully play with the science and technology aboard the Plexus, and I enjoyed her imagination at work as she figures out different dangers the ship's systems would offer. I could see the book being done as a movie, filled with gore and "surprise" moments as our heroes crept through tunnels and crossed "streets" within the ship.
Primarily, the novel presents a survival tale, simply getting from one place to another, and for the most part it does so in an entertaining fashion. However, there's no respite, no time to decompress and think about things. The group hurries on, and the narrative never gives the reader a chance to take a breath.
I can see where teens would have a hard time putting the book down due to the action and the uncertainty of what's going to happen, but I also think that readers who do put the book down will start to challenge some of the "science" that brings the ship to life.
The ending doesn't really resolve anything, and I felt frustrated. I wanted to know more than what we're left with.
One of the other aspects about the book that surprised me was the language. If the gore level doesn't keep the novel off elementary book shelves, the adult language will.
I was really geared up to like this novel, but in the end I felt like I was slogging to the finish. Maybe I would have liked it as a kid (if only because of the great premise), but I just feel like there are a lot better choices out there.
For starters, this book is - in my opinion - very poorly written. The narrator breaks flow constantly with useless parenthetical statements like, "I had climbed out of bed and crossed to the door of my room in about four shuffling steps. (It wasn't a very big room.)", which the reader could have figured out easily enough without the parenthetical aside. Narrative leaps into the future are common, like: "I certainly gave his shoulder socket a nasty yank; it troubled him for a long time afterward.", and the overall effect is truly detrimental to the horror atmosphere, because if we know nothing else, we at least know that THAT character isn't going to bite it any time soon, apparently! And the whole "twist" premise of the entire book is utterly *ruined*, in my opinion, by the sheer amount of time and effort that is spent in the first six chapters hyping up that some terrible disaster is going to occur and it totally ruined everyone's lives - by the time the disaster actually occurred, I was expecting something pretty drastic, like DEMONS IN SPACE (a.k.a., "Doom"), so the actual disaster seemed sort of piddly and manageable in comparison.
Let's talk about the big twist - if you're worried about spoilers, drop down to the next paragraph. Remember how in the classic Star Trek episodes, they'd find God every other week, or the meaning of all life in the universe, or something else that was almost more spiritual than scientific in nature? Well, that's what this book is - the spaceship that houses the characters encounters a mysterious phenomena that is the "Universal Life Force" (TM?) and it turns their entire ship into a living, breathing organism. The white blood cells are basically made up of Roombas. And while that frankly sounds like the most original and interesting premise in a book I've read this year, the bad writing and poor handling of the subject matter just completely kills it. It just doesn't make sense that something would turn a ship into a perfect replica of the human body - complete with white blood cells! - and there's not an attempt at Technobabble to justify it, so it edges into "Just Bugs Me" territory very quickly.
Right, plot out of the way, I was annoyed that a book written by a female author would rely so heavily on the standard female stereotypes for characters. Every woman in the story is characterized as daughter, wife, or mother, and while they all have high IQs and nice jobs, the women are limited to the "traditional" medical and navigational roles. I can't think of a single man in this book who doesn't handle the situation with aplomb and/or die with dignity, but the women can't stop crying and vomiting and carrying on - including a bridge officer who abandons her post in a major emergency to check on her husband. The "main" girl character is so silent as to almost be a non-entity, and only pulls herself together when the children of the party need her. And, of course, both the female love interests are great with children. I've come to expect a little more variety and depth in female characters in books these days, and this just feels like a total setback.
Moving on, I was expecting oodles of gore, based on the reviews I'd skimmed prior to going in, but I didn't think this was a very gore-heavy book, at least no more so than the stuff that traumatized me as a 12-year-old. There are some pretty disturbing deaths and situations, mostly of the "dissolved by acid" or "absorbed into another organism" kind, so I guess as a parent, just know your kid's limits and what will or won't keep them up at night with nightmares.
Ultimately, I made it to the end, and this isn't the worst book I've ever read by any means, but I did find it disappointing. The premise was interesting, but the complete lack of attempts to set it up in a realistic fashion was frustrating. Every time I tried to sink into the story, the authorial intrusion of the narrator jumping forward to remind us that they survived in the long run (or else how could he be telling the story "in retrospect") propelled me out again. I couldn't identify with the characters at all, largely because the female characters feel like empty ciphers and the main character rarely seems to have much depth himself. I wouldn't really recommend this book when there's as good or better sci fi out there to read.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.
~ Ana Mardoll
Most recent customer reviews
I really enjoyed this younger YA book. It is written with a younger audience in mind but I also enjoyed the feel of the story.Read more