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A Gazillion Little Bits
Written by Claudia BrevisGenre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian
J. Hamlet 's Review
A Gazillion Little Bits is a rewarding and intriguing book, but it is not an easy read. Following two main characters and scads of minor characters, it weaves a detailed tapestry of post-apocalyptic New York that can often seem too much like a difficult puzzle. Primarily, it follows a conflict between a group of people who survived the implied apocalyptic events sealed away in a Vault and the descendants of everyone who was left outside.
We're first introduced to the world through Lahara, a woman living in the ruins of New York's neighborhoods like so many others. We get a sense of her daily life and how various post-apocalyptic communities have sprung up all throughout Manhattan. The author has placed an immense amount of thought and detail into how it would all work, along with careful consideration of geography, ecosystems, a rudimentary barter economy, and even the crucial role of genealogy. Injected into all of that is the eerie concept of whispers, knowledge certain people have of specialized subjects they couldn't possibly have learned through any normal means.
The whispers prove useful to these people in that sometimes they give those who have them medical, scientific, cultural, or even geographic knowledge that has helped a great deal in rebuilding some kind of civilization. That said, they also come with lots of baggage and are viewed with suspicion as a new breed of more intense and consuming whispers have begun to "infect" people and change their very identities and memories.
Lahara seems to possess special whispers, ones that enable her to recall the collapse of New York in vivid fragments. That knowledge and these unique whispers set her apart from the others, eventually making her a target for the Vaulters. The Vaulters want to retake and reshape their corner of the world according to their own agendas and vision but the people of New York just want to live their simple albeit primitive lives. The Vault almost reminded me of a twisted, evil version of the Foundation from Asimov's famous Foundation series as their quest for knowledge trumps all other concerns.
The other primary character, Anthony, is a Vaulter who flees that sanctuary in an attempt to thwart their plans. Like the other Vaulters, he's been asleep for centuries and finds this ruined landscape of New York more disconcerting and dangerous than he planned. Aside from simply surviving, he has the momentous task of convincing the New Yorkers to actually accept and trust him before the Vaulters can execute their plans.
A Gazillion Little Bits takes this story to fascinating and unpredictable places. The world is vividly detailed, full of fascinating characters and compelling communities. Even the Vaulters themselves, ostensibly the villains of the story, only want to preserve knowledge. A noble goal, if pursued through ignoble means.
That said, I did have a lot of issues with this book. The detailed descriptions that fill the novel verge on too-detailed a lot of the time. While this post-apocalyptic New York is intriguing, the author dedicates a little too much real estate during tense and thrilling moments to describing minutae in a way that can cause the narrative to lose steam.
The other big problem for me was the pacing. It takes a long time to set the primary plot in motion, likely so it can adequately introducing the reader to this complex fictional universe. Then, as the plot finally begins to really take off, the perspectives are shifted around a bit too much. I understand that one of the primary themes of this novel is constructing and re-constructing a world through lots of different varying perspectives, but here it is done so often it makes the plot and even time itself hard to follow. Weeks or even months pass in the story and the reader is left to figure that out through remembering dates and narrative descriptions of seasonal weather changes.
I often felt as though crucial events and conversations involving the major characters were skipped over only to be told secondhand by minor characters later. Again, I understand the construction of oral histories and how knowledge is transmitted are important motifs in the novel, but I often felt frustrated as a reader trying to piece the puzzle together and having always to figure out how much time had passed and what had happened in the gaps between chapters. When the climax to the story comes, it's fast and disjointed in a way that makes it hard to follow with a cryptic epilogue. I do recommend this book for people who like post-apocalyptic science fiction, particularly of the hard sci-fi variety, but it will be quite a challenging read.
Reviewed for The Masquerade Crew: 3.0 on the Masq Scale.
Review Disclaimer: Book provided in exchange for an honest review.