|WE by John Dickinson|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Classy sci-fi thriller about free will, individuality, collectivism and the genetic need to reproduce. It's intense, eerie and absolutely, utterly absorbing. Top notch stuff for older teens and adults alike.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: January 2010|
|Publisher: David Fickling|
Paul Munro has been disconnected from the World Ear in readiness for a mission that will last a lifetime. Sent to man a tiny station built at enormous effort and expense on a desolate moon in the outer reaches of our solar system, he will never be able to return. Gravity is one-tenth that of Earth and his flesh has wasted, his bones enbrittled without the strength of calcium. If he stood on the Earth now... his skeleton would splinter under his weight. It took eight years to get there and the rest of his life stretches before him fearfully.
Because, without the World Ear, the WE, Paul is afraid and lonely. He has never spoken, but now he must. He has never needed to rely on his own interpretations and internal truths, but now he must. Too far from Earth and too in need of protection to connect to the network the station is cut off, and Paul has only his three fellow crew members with whom to interact. It's confusing. It's separate. It's not right.
But Lewis and Van and May don't see things in quite the same light. They think the WE spells the end of individuality and that collective is destroying the very essence of what it is to be human. They see Earth as rogue. For Paul, it's the crew that's rogue, and he sets about proving it...
Wow. This is absolutely top notch, classy stuff. You don't get much in the way of hard sci fi in young adult writing, but WE makes me wonder why. It's beautifully written, with a sparse and elegant style that suits both the isolation of the environment and the isolation of its central character who feels so radically disabled by the wrench of the break from the WE. The main theme is clear - it's the age old trade-off between the rights of the individual and the collective. But it's also about alienation and anomie, about the search for the new, and about that most basic of instincts - the need to reproduce.
It feels very claustrophobic, but its ideas are expansive. There's a great deal to think about. Tension builds remorselessly and I became utterly absorbed in Paul's struggle to make sense of what's going on and once he has, to decide - by himself - what he should do about it. The crew may see themselves as cut off from Earth, but much of the time they are equally cut off from one another. The conflicts are painful, not just for Paul and the others, but for the reader too.
It's an immensely rewarding book: demanding but beautiful - and as suitable for adults as it is for older teenagers. The science is perfectly rendered - complex, but comprehensible to a duffer like me, the characters are charismatic, and the scope is both intensely concentrated and dramatically expansive. I can't recommend it highly enough.
My thanks to the nice people at David Fickling for sending the book.
They might also enjoy Being by Kevin Brooks, and, of course, the seminal Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick. Younger readers can consider free will in Joe Craig's books about Jimmy Coates, the teenage assassin who is only 38% human.
You can read more book reviews or buy WE by John Dickinson at Amazon.com.
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