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Ubo Paperback – February 14, 2017
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About the Author
Steve Rasnic Tem is the multi-award winning author of such titles as Blood Kin, Deadfall Hotel and, with Melanie Tem, the World Fantasy Award winning autobiographical novel The Man on the Ceiling.
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There's a long trend of authors using science fiction to examine deep real-world issues, and Ubo uses its frame work of science fictional horror as an examination of violence. Horror is most effective when it creates an atmosphere of fear, and many (if not most) fears are generated by violence. Ubo hops backwards and forwards across humanity's worst atrocities, the endless capacity for cruelty that humans can inflict upon other humans: the Mai Lai massacre, Stalin and his purges, Jack the Ripper's gruesome murders, Himmler and his grim accountant-like ledgers of genocide. It's a fascinating meditation of humanity's dark underbelly, as the participants of this torturous experiment each proclaim their humanity---"we're not like them!"---right before revealing their own dark secrets. That's the fear that Ubo uses, the lurking dread that some capacity for unrestrained violence lurks within us all...
I didn't find out about Ubo's early origins until after I'd read it---in fact, I didn't find out until after I'd already written a draft of this review. To some degree, I'm not surprised; overall, the dialogue is a lot heavier on exposition than in Tem's more recent short stories, and there's a certain throwback pulpiness to having the alien roaches (dressed in lab coats!) herding human cattle through perverse experiments. Yet I can't say that I'd ever guess that the book originated almost forty years ago. Even though the book makes scant mention of today's issues, it still felt relevant and in-tune to today's geopolitical climate, underlying the sad fact that violence continues to be timely.
Ubo deals with a lot of dark themes, and is something of a nightmarish mind-trip that drags Daniel (and the reader) through a complex examination of violence. Just when I thought I knew where the novel was going, halfway through it started to go in another direction, and despite going over some bleak topics it ends on a fascinating note. It's more of a deep and psychological work, relying more on quiet reflection than action or scares---which should be expected, as Tem is one of the best around at writing the "quiet" horror tale. Imagine Thomas Disch's Camp Concentration as written by China Miéville or Jeff Vandermeer and you pretty much have Ubo. In this case, its cool-sounding central idea does live up to its potential, and the result is a thought-provoking novel and a very satisfying read.
I have to touch on the basic outline here to make any sense at all of this review. Daniel goes from sitting in an airport contemplating walking away from it all, (including his wife and their sickly son), to living out scenarios of the most violent events in the history of the world, with only a vague, surreal, memory of wings and a moon separating the two.
When I say living out violent scenarios, I mean from inside the very heads of those doling out said violence. Jack the Ripper. Jim Jones. Charles Whitman. Here you are, witnessing these crimes as if it were you perpetrating them, while at the same time finding your conscience and your stomach recoiling. What possible good could come out of that? If there IS something good, can it be discovered and/or implemented before humanity destroys itself? You'll have to read this to find out.
I requested this ARC from NetGalley and Solaris because I have been a huge fan of Mr. Tem's short stories over the years. I remember his name always showing up in horror anthologies and knew I could depend on him to give me a good thrill. This book, however, is more of a science fiction novel with horrific elements-but all of his intense, strong writing? It's still here.
There's so much more I want to say, but...spoilers. Many things are going on in the background that beg for your attention, important things. Commentary about humanity really, where it is going and where it has been. Much of it is unpleasant. Somehow though, I found hope at the end. Is that because I couldn't face the stark reality, (not that far off from our current reality, by the way), or because I truly do think there's hope? I'm not sure. This is one of those times where I wish the author was my friend and I could just call him up and ask him. Since that's not happening, I'll settle for hearing what YOU think.
Highly recommended for those readers that enjoy turning over the reigns to a trusted author and believing that they will bring it all home. Go ahead and discover if there's even any home left. Read Ubo.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Solaris for the e-Arc of Ubo in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.*