When the world goes through an apocalypse consisting of virulent strains of the flu, lack of food, and nuclear warfare, one wealthy family manages to survive because they saw it coming. Made up of highly intelligent and highly educated people, such as doctors and scientists, the family creates a 200 bed hospital and uses this as their home base. But there is a serious fertility problem, and how they address it just might change the core of humanity.
I love reading classics of scifi. It’s endlessly fascinating how different people in different times imagine a future (or an apocalypse). This award-winning book had the bonus of being written by a woman, which isn’t always easy to find in older scifi. I also was intrigued by the cloning theme. How would someone in 1977 view something that was, as yet, nowhere near as close to a reality as it is now, with our cloned sheep?
The book starts out incredibly strongly. So strongly, in fact, that I actually had nightmares from it, which never happens to me ever. I am basically a rock of horror and scifi, but this one creeped the bejesus out of me. It’s that creepy combination of incest and cloning. The family are really not people you would want retooling the world. They’re everything that can be (and usually is) bad about the 1%. They’re selfish, self-centered, snobby, and routinely employ nepotism. I found the incest in the first third of the book talking about the first generation of the family to be an interesting metaphor for how the elite can become so backwards and grotesque from sheer isolation. It’s powerful and moving, and a scenario that will remain in my mind.
The second third of the book focuses in on a woman, Molly, from the first generation of clones. This is disturbing in its own way, because they don’t just clone everyone once and have done with it, no. They clone everyone multiple times until there are clusters of the same person at different ages wandering around. They call these clusters “brothers” and “sisters” with the name of the original person as the name of the group, even though the individual ones have their own names. It is profoundly disturbing. This second third looks at the society of clones that the original family unintentionally made. It’s fascinating in its own way and an interesting different way of telling a post-apocalypse story. Often we get only the first generation, but here we get multiple generations.
The last third, unfortunately, didn’t live up to the first two-thirds of the book. Without giving too much away, it looks at a boy who came about by natural methods who gets integrated into the clone society at the age of five. They decide not to clone him and give him brothers for unclear reasons. This last third then looks at his impact on the clone society. I didn’t feel that this worked as well for multiple reasons. For one, it’s almost as if Wilhelm freaked herself out and backed off from the profoundly disturbing story she was telling and went a more conventional direction. That was disappointing. For another, I found it disappointing that she chose to make this game-changer a boy. I expect women scifi authors to be at least a bit cognizant of the need in scifi for more female main characters. In this one, the first third is a man, the second third a woman, and the last third a boy. That is not the best stats from a woman author. I also found certain parts of this to be very boring and slow-moving compared to the first two-thirds. That makes for odd pacing in a book.
Of course, my complaints about the last third backing off, being more conventional, and being rather dull don’t take away from the first two thirds at all. They bring about so many interesting societal questions. For instance, is the incestuous nature of the elite necessarily bad or will it one day save humanity? Will cloning remove something that makes us human, even if they look right? Is it better to cling on to technology at all costs or release it and go back to simpler times? And what about sex? Is monogamy natural and polyamory unnatural? Or is polyamory more welcoming and loving than potentially possessive monogamy? The questions go on and on, which is what is great about scifi.
As for the science itself, it is quite well-done. Wilhelm clearly thought through both keeping a closed-off community alive and cloning and bringing to term embryos. She also put thought into the scientific basis for why clusters of clones would be different from individual humans, touching on psychology and twin studies. I was a bit irritated that she bases the survival of these people on cloning farm animals, when that is not a good use of their limited land resources. Studies have shown many many times that a combination of farming vitamin-rich plants and hunting/gathering are the best use of limited land resources, so this particular element rang a bit of bad science. However, I am not certain how much land usage had been studied in the 1970s, so that could possibly just be a sign of the times.
Now, I did read the audiobook, so I should touch on the narration. Overall, Anna Fields does a very good job. I really enjoyed that they chose a female narrator for a book written by a female author. It let me almost imagine that Kate Wilhelm herself was reading it to me. Fields mostly strikes a good balance of changing voices for different characters without going over the top. The one exception to this is when she narrates children. The voice for that made me cringe, but they mercifully speak only a few times. Mostly, Fields reads smoothly and is easy to follow. She narrates without accidentally putting her own interpretation onto the work, which is ideal for an audiobook.
Overall, then, this is a fascinating classic of scifi. It examines the apocalypse through the lens of the elite, thereby analyzing and critiquing them, but it also looks at possible consequences of cloning and ponders what ultimately makes us human. Although the last third of the book is a bit less creative and more conventional than the first two, it is still a fascinating read. Recommended to scifi fans, particularly those with an interest in group dynamics.
4 out of 5 stars
There’s a tale we have yet to hear about the ka-tet in the time between facing the man in the green castle and the wolves of the Calla. A time when the ka-tet hunkered down and learned a special billy-bumbler talent, an old tale of Gilead, and the first task Roland faced as a young gunslinger after the events at Mejis.
When I heard there was going to be a new Dark Tower book, I had basically three reactions. 1) Yay! 2) Shit he better not ruin them. 3) Guess I didn’t actually finish that series after all, did I? May have written the series review a bit too soon…..
But mainly my reaction was a skeptical excitement. I love the world of the Dark Tower and was ecstatic to be able to get more of it (yes, I know there are the young gunslinger comic books, but they feel slightly less the same to me since they are in a different format). However, I was also terrified because well we’ve all been in an instance where we mess with something that was good to the point where it’s not good anymore, right? I was worried King was going to do that to the Dark Tower. I am so so so happy to be able to say that worry was unfounded.
This book goes to show just how clearly the entire world of the Dark Tower series exists in King’s mind. The format is a story within a story within a story. The ka-tet have to hunker down to wait out a storm, so Roland starts to tell them a story from when he was a young gunslinger. Within that story, the young Roland tells someone else an old story of Gilead. The Gilead story wraps up, then the young gunslinger, then the ka-tet. A writer must know his world very well to be able to handle such a structure smoothly without confusing his reader, and King does just that. There was no confusion and each story felt fully told. Or as fully told as anything is in the world of the Dark Tower.
I’ve said before that every book in the series basically is a different genre, which is part of what makes it so fun. So what genre is this one? I’d say it’s fairy tales. Once upon a times. And fairy tales generally have a lesson to be learned within them, so what is it in these three? Well, they vary, but I would say overall it’s about leaving aside childish things and childish ways to become an adult. (And, I might add, that happens much much earlier in the Dark Tower than it does in our particular world).
I will say, although I certainly had the impression that this book was going to be about Jake and Oy, it really isn’t. It isn’t much about the ka-tet at all. It’s about Roland and the role of billy-bumblers in the world. Although, personally I wanted more billy-bumblers, but I *always* want more billy-bumblers, because they are definitely my favorite fantastical creature. I’m still holding out hope that King will write something sometime entirely about Oy or billy-bumblers. But this book is not it.
That said, I was oddly not disappointed to see far less of the ka-tet than I was expecting, because the two stories within the frame of the ka-tet are so strongly told. They are just….wow. Terrifying, horrifying, unpredictable, and hilarious simultaneously.
That’s the thing that makes any Dark Tower book fun. It contains all of those things.
Lines can go from laugh out loud humor (with a touch of truth):
Turn yer ears from their promises and yer eyes from their titties. (page 43)
To the starkly sad truth:
Those were good years, but as we know—from stories and from life—the good years never last long. (page 110)
To the simply universal:
“What if I fail?” Tim cried.
Maerlyn laughed. “Sooner or later, we all do.” (page 255)
*shrugs* I admit I’m a bit of a fan girl of the series, but even a fan girl can be sorely disappointed, and I was really and truly not disappointed at all. I laughed, I nodded, I wondered, I quaked, I wished for an illustration sometime somewhere of billy-bumblers dancing in a clearing in the moonlight. Although, speaking of illustrations, how gorgeous is the US kindle cover?! So fucking gorgeous, that’s how.
Back to the point, I was not disappointed at all. I was ultimately elated and wishing for more. And other fans will be too.
5 out of 5 stars
Books in Series:
I’m listing all of the books so you can easily see where The Wind Through the Keyhole falls.
The Gunslinger (review)
The Drawing of the Three (review)
The Waste Lands (review)
Wizard and Glass (review)
The Wind Through the Keyhole
Wolves of the Calla (review)
Song of Susannah (review)
The Dark Tower (review)
Series Review (written before we knew there would be more)
Ok, before I review, the numberings need a bit of explanation. Comic books are issued very similarly to academic journals. So there are skinny issues that come out every few weeks (generally). A few of these bound together make a volume. A bunch of these bound together make a book (what we call in academia a “bound journal.”) I *was* reading the books of The Walking Dead but then I caught up to the author. I decided I didn’t want to buy issues, because they’re flimsy and you read through them very quickly, so I’m now reading the volumes. I hope that makes some semblance of sense. This will probably be the case throughout the rest of the series, because you have to wait a long time for the books, and I just am too impatient for that. My reviews will then be much shorter, because a book contains a few volumes, and I am now reviewing one volume at a time. Moving right along to the review!
This volume is basically cleaning up the mess from the action of the previous one and prepping for the action of the next one. Classic in-between chapter. What this volume really reminded me of is the infamous “Live together or die alone” speech by Jack in Lost. In fact, this volume sees Rick basically trying to turn into Jack and failing miserably. Long-time readers know I’ve never liked the guy, so personally I got a lot of schadenfreude out of seeing him be so pathetic in this volume.
That said, the survivors are definitely going for a new strategy, which will lend itself well to future fresh storylines, which any long-running series needs.
Fans of the sex will be quite happy with the developments in that area. Drama! Intrigue! Changes of partners!
Overall, it’s an enjoyable entry, if not mind-blowing, that perfectly sets things up for the next volume. Fans won’t be disappointed!
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Newbury Comics
Previous Books in Series:
The Walking Dead, Book One (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Two (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Three (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Four (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Five (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Six (review)
The Walking Dead, Book Seven (review)
Jasper can’t believe he’s actually homeless, although a lot more people are homeless now than used to be. But still. He got his BA in sociology. He’s worked hard. How did this happen? He’s living with a tribe of other 20-somethings. They keep hoping things will get better, but somehow they just seem to keep getting worse. The economy doesn’t improve. Home-grown terrorists known as Jumpy-jumps start routinely terrorizing people. Driving anywhere, having dependable food, actual working police forces, they’re all a thing of the past. Not all apocalypses happen overnight.
I actually hesitated over keeping this book on my wishlist, but I’m very glad I did. I found it to be not quite what I was expecting. In a good way.
I think a lot of men in particular will enjoy it, because it kind of reminds me of a Judd Apatow film. There’s this complete and utter loser guy who you entirely hate (and I suspect McIntosh hates too) but who is just so damn funny you keep reading it. A lot of apocalypse books focus in on a strong leader type, but Jasper is actually a coward who just keeps trying to squeak by. On top of that, he claims to be looking for true love, but is actually completely lacking in any understanding of women. One of his “apt” observations, for instance, consists of stating to a guy friend, “Have you noticed that fat women have been getting hotter?” He’s trying to say that the more starvation threatens, the more attracted he is to women who obviously have enough to eat. But he isn’t philosophical about it at all, and that’s kind of hilarious. He also tries to impress a girl at one point by commenting on the fact that she’s reading a book, but he says it in such a way that it’s obvious he himself doesn’t read at all, which is utterly baffling in a world that no longer has electricity or other entertainment. Basically the whole book is laughing at a cowardly dude-bro, and that’s fun.
The apocalypse itself is quite creative. As the title and blurb imply, it’s a slow one. Gradual. Things get bad and just never get better then more things get bad. It’s a creative mix of economics, homegrown terrorist groups, scientists trying to make things better but actually making it worse, and international politics. None of it came across as utterly absurd or ridiculous, which shows that McIntosh did a good job.
There are two scenes that are truly horrific, which of course I loved. There’s a very creative death scene that I think will haunt me for a long time. (Again, that’s a good thing). The plot overall is a bit meandering, but that makes sense since Jasper isn’t the most focused or proactive dude on the planet. I’m a little sad the book ended when it did. I get why McIntosh ended it there, leaving things open-ended for readers, but….I could have read about Jasper much much longer. Yes, he’s a guy I would hate beyond all reason in real life, but I guess that schadenfreude factor is what makes the book so fun.
Now, I did read the audiobook, and I have to say I was very disappointed in the narration by Erik Davies. It does not live up to the content of the book at all. My main problem with him is that he does that awful thing of putting on what he thinks is a woman’s voice every time one of them speaks, but what actually sounds like a small child and nothing like us. I actually had to stop and rewind a couple of times to double-check if I was angry at how the book was portraying women or if the narrator was making it seem like the book was portraying women as childish idiots. Suffice to say, it’s definitely the narration, not the book. Yes, Jasper objectifies women and basically calls any woman who doesn’t fit into his definition of what a woman should be “crazy,” but the whole book is laughing at him, so really the book is showing how ridiculous it is to view women like that. The narrator reading women in this childish voice really messes with that whole presentation. So, definitely don’t get the audiobook.
Overall, then, this is a fun apocalyptic scifi featuring a cowardly loser who is delightful to follow and laugh at. I highly recommend it to scifi fans who also enjoy slacker flicks, but definitely get the print or ebook versions, not the audio.
4 out of 5 stars