Philip K. Dick Award Nominee 2015
If I were to do one of those catchy, quickie descriptions of Marguerite Reed’s Archangel, I would describe it like this: “Jurassic Park meets the American Revolution in space… with clones.”
Can I just say that I hate clones? Science fiction always gets the science of cloning completely screwed up and it grates me, every time. To be fair to Reed, I really ended up liking the character in Archangel that was a clone – a BEAST (Bio-Engineered Assault Tactician). It’s a nifty idea in general, but OMG the the clone thing! Every time I hit the clone thing, I cringed. As science fiction writers, can we please take a moment and GET OVER the idea that clones are going to be identical. They are NOT going to be thousands of faces that look the same. It just doesn’t work that way. We’ve known that since 2001 with the cloning of “Copy Cat” who wasn’t a copy at all, but was, in point of fact, DIFFERENTLY COLORED from the original. Very distinctive. A genetic clone, but NOT the same cat.
Not. Even. Close.
*takes deep breath*
Okay, so the rest of Archangel also frustrated me, but for different reasons. There’s a lot going on in this novel. It seems to want to be about so many different things: the ecological dangers of colonization, starting a revolution, the collapse of Earth’s ecosystem, PTSD, being a mother, genetic engineering/modifications, the benefits and detriments of human aggression, the weirdness of being the widow to an intergalactically famous hero, the politics of hunting, colonies as living in what is essentially a small town, slavery and dehumanization, and probably a dozen more other major themes.
I wish Reed had picked one, or maybe two, to focus on.
At least for this book, because the story ended so abruptly that I thought my Kindle had glitched. Seriously. I got the “rate this” page and I was sure that I’d been accidentally booted out somehow. And, then I went back and realized, yeah, no, that was the end.
Oh – and another rant for another time? Or maybe this time, actually. This trend of publishers/authors to have books in a series that are completely unable to stand alone, without even a thematic conclusion per book. I hate this with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns. (But the clone thing is still worse). It makes me nuts, because I end up feeling unsatisfied, or like I’ve been bamboozled into buying less than I intended–a kind of ‘Batteries Not Included’ that becomes “Ending Not Included.”
As it was, with all of these themes happening at once, I felt like none of the various interesting ideas got quite enough time. It left me wishing that the novel would slow down and give me more transitional scenes. There would be moments when I’d think, “Okay, so… what did they do with the Beast? Is he under arrest? Standing in the hallway? Standing his own trial? How is that going?” and then he’d suddenly appear next to the heroine to deliver a line and I’d think, “Oh, did I miss something? How did he get here? Is he free to just wander around a space station, even though he’s so dehumanized that he’s talked about as an ‘it’ and as a living weapon and has a number instead of a name and otherwise gets tased at every opportunity?” I think that problem, the sense of missing scenes, of missing information, was entirely a byproduct of trying to cram in All The Things into a first novel.
Yet, despite my complaining, I can see how this book is up for the Philip K. Dick. Reed is tackling interesting stuff and there’s a promise here of better things to come, that I think people are banking on–that the next books will be even better, and the one after that. She writes well enough. The characters are engaging. The world is HUGE… so huge that there’s parts that are just there and unexplained, like why so many of the colonists happen to be Muslim. So, that all feels very…epic.
Frustrations aside, it’s worth a read. Reed is one to watch, as they would say. My beginning of the year prediction: this book is going to show up on a lot of award lists. You might as well read it now.