Sputnik’s Children by Terri Favro

Sputnik's Children by Terri Favro
I think this is an improvement over my last book snap? Look at those pretty iridescent stars…

Author: Terri Favro
Title: Sputnik’s Children
Format/Source: Paperback/Publisher
Published: 11 April 2017
Publisher: ECW Press
Length: 348 pages
Genre: Science fiction in literary clothes
Rating: ★★★★
GoodReads | Indigo | IndieBound Wordery

I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Cult comic book creator Debbie Reynolds Biondi has been riding the success of her Cold War era–inspired superhero series, Sputnik Chick: Girl with No Past, for more than 25 years. But with the comic book losing fans and Debbie struggling to come up with new plotlines for her badass, mutant-killing heroine, she decides to finally tell Sputnik Chick’s origin story.

Debbie’s never had to make anything up before and she isn’t starting now. Sputnik Chick is based on Debbie’s own life in an alternate timeline called Atomic Mean Time. As a teenager growing up in Shipman’s Corners — a Rust Belt town voted by Popular Science magazine as “most likely to be nuked” — she was recruited by a self-proclaimed time traveller to collapse Atomic Mean Time before an all-out nuclear war grotesquely altered humanity. In trying to save the world, Debbie risked obliterating everyone she’d ever loved — as well as her own past — in the process.

Or so she believes . . . Present-day Debbie is addicted to lorazepam and dirty, wet martinis, making her an unreliable narrator, at best.

Alternate timelines + cult comic books = say no more. (Though I am generally not a fan of unreliable narrators, that turned out to be less of a transgression against my personal preferences than I braced myself for.) Sputnik’s Children combines alternate history and literary character building to tell a creative and entertaining story.

I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret the above summary, particularly this statement: “Sputnik Chick is based on Debbie’s own life in an alternate timeline called Atomic Mean Time”. Is Debbie imagining this alternate timeline or did she actually believe she lived it? The latter turns out to be true. To clarify, Debbie currently lives in ‘the real world’ of 2011. She’s considering writing the origin story of her cult comic book hero, Sputnik Chick. Debbie believes she (herself, Debbie) grew up in Atomic Mean Time (AMT), an alternate universe similar to ours, but that’s stuck in Cold War time with a constant threat of nuclear bombings and World War III. Debbie’s youth in this other timeline inspires her Sputnik Chick stories. The bulk of the book is Debbie’s first person narration of her time in AMT, with occasional chapters of third person narration in the ‘real world’ leading up to the present. The question is, did Debbie actually live through AMT or is this just a concocted story?

At its core, Sputnik’s Children may be described as a coming of age novel. The majority of the story takes place during Debbie’s teen years, beginning when she’s 12 and continuing to mid-twenties. Debbie has to deal with a maturing body, unwanted sexual attention, and her first romantic relationship. This relationship is a significant component of Debbie’s life in AMT. Debbie is White and her boyfriend John Kendall is Black. This relationship creates tension from societal expectations in their small town of the 1970s.

What sets Sputnik’s Children aside from other small town stories is the science fiction setting of AMT. Debbie has to contend with the fact that her community expects to be destroyed at any moment by an atomic bomb. Favro establishes the AMT world in the first few pages, laying out the core differences between Atomic Mean Time and Earth Standard Time (the ‘real world’). This gives the reader a chance to focus on character and plot right away, without having to spend too much effort on becoming oriented with the setting. AMT differs in slight ways from the real world, resulting in an alternate universe where the Cold War only intensified in the seventies and corporations manufacturing weapons rule the day. (I do love a shadowy overseer organization.)

The plot of the story comes in the form of a time-travelling man from the future, who wants to prevent World III. He believes Debbie is the key to doing that. Debbie herself only time travels once, with seemingly little impact on the plot (aside from the personal changes she notices, having skipped a few years into puberty).

The Bottom Line:

Sputnik’s Children is a character-based take on science fiction that blends comics, the Atomic Age, the seventies, and interracial romance into one compelling tale. The question of whether Debbie has made everything up or actually lived it is almost irrelevant – you’ll enjoy the story either way.

Further Reading:

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Brief Thoughts: Urban Dystopia

Are these books technically dystopias? To me they are! If we want to describe them more generally, I’d call them ‘furturistic YA scifi’. 

In the Unwind Dystology, Neal Shusterman thrilled readers with the story of a society that deals with its out-of-control teens by “unwinding” them—transplanting more than 99% of their bodies into other people. In the latest installment of this sequence, Shusterman—along with collaborators Terry Black, Michelle Knowlden, Brendan Shusterman, and Jarrod Shusterman—explores even more aspects of a world that has accepted the unacceptable. These short stories examine the world of unwinding in a way we haven’t seen before, providing a fresh framework, new characters, and a different take on some events.

One last hurrah in the world of Unwinds! I have enjoyed every work I’ve read by Shusterman. Though I still think Unwind (the first book in the series) remains the strongest, Shusterman created a fascinating world that deserved the further exploration he gave it. Even after four books that tied up Connor, Lev, and Risa’s stories, there were questions and scenarios that us fans would love to read about. This book does not feature any stories about Connor, Lev, and Risa after the events of UnDivided(final book in the series). I feel that’s appropriate given, like I mentioned, their story was told in the actual series. There is one story featuring Hayden and Grace that alludes to what they might be up to.  Stories include background on Jasper and Roland, why Risa was sent to be unwound, and the experimental activities of the Dah Zey. Unbound makes a great read for anyone who’s still curious about the Unwind dystopia after finishing book four.

In this dark urban fantasy, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

I have only read Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic and its sequel A Gathering of Shadows, but those two were enough to enamour me to her. (The Archived has actually been on my TBR for a few years, though I can’t get motivated to read it since there’s no set publication date for the final book.) I enjoyed ADSoM so much that I became eager to read This Savage Song. I probably would not have read this book had it been written by anyone else. This book is YA gritty urban fantasy. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else. After a somewhat slow start, the action picks up and the story remains quick-paced.  I should have known better than to expect I would fall in love with it just because of the author. It’s not my type of story. If you enjoy urban fantasy, I think you will enjoy this book. It is what I imagine to be standard in the genre. This is the first book in a duology. I liked it fine enough that I’ll probably read the second when it comes out. I want to know more about the monsters! They were different than I expected.

Have you read any books by Neal Shusterman or Victoria Schwab?   

Review: Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer

Author: Jeff Vandermeer
Title: Acceptance
Series: Southern Reach #3
Format/Source: Paperback/Sister’s copy
Published: September 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 338 pages
Genre: Dystopian scifi
Why I Read: Devoured the first book, trooped through the second book, excited for the final book
Read If You’re: Ready to get some answers about Area X!
Quote: “I could not come to terms with the possibility that one day I might put aside my vigilance and become the moaning creature in the weeds.” (164)
Rating:  ★★★★½ [ratings guide]
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon

Previously: My sister and I discuss the many mysteries of Area X presented in Annihilation (Southern Reach #1)  

I first read Annihilation because my sister selected it for Family Reads. I enjoyed the story so much I immediately jumped into Authority. Authority, however, greatly differs from Annihilation. I became less eager to read the final book in the trilogy. The fact that my library didn’t have a digital copy of it didn’t help! I contented myself to wait until I returned to Canada and could borrow my sister’s copy. In what felt like a reward for my patience with Authority, Acceptance gripped me from the first page. Broken into three parts – the light house keeper’s tale before Area X is fully Area X, the director’s tale before the 11th expedition, and Ghost Bird + Control’s tale in the present – VanderMeer has penned an intense conclusion to the Southern Reach tale.

I’d like to pause here for a second and talk about the differences between each book in the trilogy. Acceptance felt more similar to Annihilation (than Authority), but the two books still feel independent from one another. I found Acceptance more intriguing and more intense, whereas Annihilation felt more like an exploration. Authority I found mostly bureaucratic and mostly dull. Annihilation and Authority are brought together primarily via Acceptance, but each book has its own style. Don’t try too hard to make them match up with each other (i.e., don’t expect a consistent style of narration) – they’ll fit together naturally as you start connecting the dots.

In terms of pace, Acceptance steps away from Authority back towards Annihilation. I blazed through Acceptance, reading in a way I haven’t read for a long time. I forgot about that feeling! When you’re reading solely for the story’s sake, because it fills you with a fiery excitement and you just have to know what happens next. One scene that sticks in my mind because of this feeling is when Lowry confronts the director and I had to pause in the middle of it to go back to class. Acceptance kicks off with a quick start, hitting you with more questions, but then gives ANSWERS, to other older, questions you may have been wondering about since Annihilation. After the first two books, I had wholly resolved myself to not receiving any answers about Area X’s mysteries, so I was surprised but extremely pleased to find certain answers suddenly being dropped. Such answers were unexpected, but (appropriately, I would say) only a handful of questions are really answered and you’ll still have plenty to ponder about the bigger questions. The prose, understated compared to what I usually enjoy, works well in conveying the shocks, surprises, tensions and can’t-stop-now moments that I’ll remember this story for.

All my notes on this book can be divided into two categories: A) “AHHHHH OMG CAN’T BELIEVE I’M READING THIS” and/or B) “Ohhhh whoa I can’t believe I’m reading this!”. Both of these comment types I’ve discussed above (A = driving moments that suck you into the story, B = answers I wasn’t expecting). I don’t have anything else I want to write about! I think I would have to read this trilogy twice, back to back, to really get all the answers that are locked within. Some things are clearly spelt out in Acceptance, but I get the sense there’s so much more I would understand if I really paid attention… (for example, I think a lot to do with Whitby went over my head). But, this feeling doesn’t frustrate me. I don’t think you need to have all the answers to enjoy this trilogy. But I bet there is more to be mined if you’re willing to dig deeper! And now we’ve come full circle to what my sister and I discussed after finishing the first book…I can’t wait til she finishes the trilogy and we can hash out the entire thing.

The Bottom Line: Don’t let Authority keep you from finishing the trilogy! Acceptance is worth your time. 

Further Reading: 

Family Reads: The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy

 Welcome to September’s Family Reads! Family Reads is a monthly feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book. Posts with a link-up go live around the last Sunday of each month, so feel free to grab the banner and join in however you like.

Reno: Reunited! This month, my sister and I conducted the first side-by-side Family Reads. We’re shaking things up with a graphic novel, selected because we couldn’t finish our first choice on time now that we’re once again busy with school and work…Sister recommended this one to me. Scott Snyder’s name on it piqued my interest, as I was only familiar with his work on Batman, which I enjoyed.

Sister: Once again, I was looking through the graphic novels section at work (my usual method for discovering new books!) and I stumbled across this one. I liked the art and the back description sounded really cool.

Sister gives this book 4 stars and I give it 3 stars. A graphic novel turned out to be a great choice for our first read with us living under the same roof because we could look at the art, flip through the book and reread parts together. This book turned out to be similar to Annihilation in that we didn’t really know what it was all about! You’ll get more out of this discussion if you’ve read the book (spoilers ahead!). Here is our discussion on the art style, Lee + Leeward, and the somewhat confounding conclusion.

On the art:

Sister: I thought the layout demonstrated creative but sometimes confusing.
Reno: Yeah, the panelling around when Leeward confronts the Governess towards the end was difficult for me to follow.
Sister: I loved the colouring, though.
Reno: I preferred the colours for the first half, although I think both halves were coloured to suit the story. I liked the darker colours and the deep blues. There were more warm hues in the second half, but I personally like my comics to be dark like grim Batman.

On the Lees:

Reno: I liked the first part more. Archer was my favourite character.
Sister: Same here. I feel like we had more time with her, got to know her personally a bit better, whereas I felt we didn’t know a lot about Leeward because she was too busy doing things.
Reno: Being introduced to Leeward, the first thing I thought was, “Why the name?” I think there’s more to her than was made clear in the story…
Sister: She’s totally a descendant of Archer’s! She even uses eye drops.
Reno: Yeah, and I think there was further elaboration near the end that I didn’t pick up on.

On the conclusion: 

Sister: I generally liked the comic and would reread it for that reason, but mostly I’d read it to clarify the ending.
Reno: Yeah, I think I had the same experience as you. I was pulled into reading, the story was clipping along, then I came to this info dump that felt like “bam bam bam bam everything explained” and I was left wondering “Wait…” What did you think was explained at the end?
Sister: …I don’t know. It’s kind of like…the Mers… they have this heaven but it’s not heaven and they’re showing it to people…uh, I don’t know, let’s be real, I’m not sure.
Reno: Okay, I don’t understand that part either, haha, so let’s look at the bigger picture. I think…humans are aliens – that much I got. And they spread their seed, sometimes they grow, sometimes they don’t, but they forget about it because their tears are weird. I don’t know if the Mers were original creatures or a false start of humanity.
Sister: Lee Archer’s explanation right at the beginning (about Mers being humans) confused me because I really liked and believe that explanation, so it was hard for me to let go of that idea – to accept that it wasn’t fact and was just one character’s opinion.
Reno: That’s another thing I wasn’t sure about. Are the Mers intelligent creatures? Why do they want to destroy us all the time? Is it because we invaded their homeland? Why are they ‘collecting’ people? I think it was explained but I didn’t get it…I also don’t get why the government is evil. I know the government is always ‘evil’ but usually there’s a ‘reason’ why.
Sister: I think the government thinks that pursuing the broadcast will lead to trouble from stirring up whatever’s down below.
Reno: I thought the story was great until we got to the end and I didn’t know what was happening… Probably we should have re-read the ending before this chat!
Sister: So Archer has just been floating in this dark space for 200 years with other…somethings. People? I think some of the reason that part was hard to understand was because Leeward was taken to the ship and the storytelling jumps between when Leeward was with Archer and when she’s presently on the ship. 
*We finally decide to go over the conclusion together. After a close re-reading of Archer’s conversation with Leeward, here is what we think was explained.*
Seeds (something akin to God, rather than sent out by humans) scatter across the universe. Sometimes humans grow from those seeds. Humans began to grow on Earth, already home to Mers. (This part we’re not sure about – we’re not certain what ‘grows’ and whether Mers were already there or were a false start to humans.) Humans being humans destroyed the more developed Mers, leaving only a more ‘primitive’ form. Humans cry to forget the terrible thing they did, but the Mers don’t want to let humans forget. When humans were on the verge of completely forgetting, the Mers shook them up, as if to say “Hey, we’re STILL here, remember!”

After all that discussion and reviewing, we still felt we only understood a part of what we were meant to, if we understood that at all! This contrasts to our experience with Annihilation, where we didn’t feel like we were meant to understand anything.  Have you read The Wake? Did you find it as confusing as we did, or were we missing something? If you’ve written a Family Reads post this month, add your link here. 

Family Reads: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

 Welcome to Family Reads! Family Reads is a monthly feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book. Posts with a link-up go live around the last Sunday of each month, so feel free to grab the banner and join in however you like.

Reno: Ahh, she’s not Mom! I’m pleased to introduce my sister, who chose this month’s read, Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. I’d read about Annihilation online, but it didn’t spike my interest too much (though I liked the cover). After my sister suggested it for Family Reads, however, I realized at under 200 pages it would be a great book for April’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, so I was happy to give it a go. 

Sister: While I was at work a few months ago (I work in a bookstore), Annihilation‘s spine first caught my eye. The back description also intrigued me. When Reno asked if I wanted to collaborate on her blog, I thought this would be a good book for discussion.

We both gave this book 3.5 stars – however, this changed by the end of the discussion! We tackled many of the questions a reader might ask about the story. Annihilation leaves plenty to speculation. I’ve written the first bit of the post in the usual conversational style, but the rest takes the form of a Q and A. Some of the questions we explored in depth, others we just tossed out. Props to Sister for generating most of this discussion. You’ll get more out of this discussion if you’ve read the book (spoilers ahead!). I’ve read Authority but Sister hadn’t – we reference that book but without spoilers. Here’s our discussion on the writing style, the biologist, and the many mysteries of Area X.

Before she died, the psychologist said I had changed, and I think she meant I had changed sides. It isn’t true – I don’t even know if there are sides, or what that might mean – but it could be true. I see now that I could be persuaded. (93%)

On answers: 

Reno: Does it bother you that there aren’t many answers in this book? Does it usually bother you when there aren’t answers in a story?
Sister: No, but it usually does. I think it’s because of the writing style. Normally, I’d be getting ticked off, keeping track of what’s this and what’s that and you didn’t explain that bit and that doesn’t make sense, but with this book, I just went along with it. My reaction was, “Huh. Okay then.”
Reno: Yeah, you just roll with it. One of my early impressions of the book was that it felt like a video game. Like I was the biologist exploring the world and trying to figure it out, and you have to explore a lot before you can find answers.
Sister: And you may or may not find answers, but you’re not too heartbroken because it was more about the exploration. I’m not even expecting many answers in the second and third books, but I’d like to know A) how Area X came to be and B) why they tell so many lies about it.
Reno:  I’d like to know about how the border works. I think that would explain a lot about Area X.

On the tension created by the biologist:

Sister: I felt really anxious and tense while reading, but when I look back I don’t feel like the writing itself was anything intense. It’s just “This happened, then this happened”. I think part of the reason I was so anxious was because of the biologist was so tempered.
Reno: She wasn’t freaking out, but I was on her behalf.
Sister: Right, VanderMeer didn’t write specifically to create a suspenseful thriller but the way the biologist reacted, all rational and calm, made it that way.
Reno: The biologist herself is the creepy one half the time.
Sister: Yeah, for example, why is she glowing? [We discuss the scene after the biologist leaves the psychologist and enters the forest, and agree that it was especially freaky because of the biologist’s nonchalant manner.]
Sister: The annihilation scene with the psychologist is also like this.
Reno: Ah, I searched for discussion questions and there was one about that scene. Someone suggested the psychologist was trying to annihilate herself, because she was so freaked out by the biologist.
Sister: Oooh.
Reno: The most logical reason is that the psychologist was trying to get the biologist to ‘annihilate’, but still…
Sister: Well, the psychologist is losing it a bit, but I think the biologist was glowing before she noticed and that’s why the psychologist thought she was a flame. The tension created through the biologist really pulled me through the story. I whipped through sections because I was having such an intense reaction to them, but I don’t think it had anything to do with the writing. I think it was because of how the narrator reacted, or didn’t react.

On discussion improving the story:

Sister: It’s not a hard read. You could get through without any critical thinking, or you could choose to put a lot into it and get something totally different, which I think is kind of cool. You could go with the flow or question everything. Which I guess you could say about any book…but for example, you don’t need to question The Hunger Games. Everything’s pretty well laid out. With this book there are no answers.
Reno: You can dig into it however you like.
Sister: Right, there aren’t any answers and you don’t know if anyone is sane or accurately perceiving the reality they’re in.
Reno: I’m enjoying the book a lot more now in retrospect with our discussion. I don’t think I’ve ever theorized so much over a story. This discussion can go any way you like – choose yes or no, choose yes or no. It’s like a growing tree. Before I was in the camp of “You can just breeze through it” but now I see there are so many intriguing things to consider.

Questions for consideration:

  • Why was this expedition so small? Why wouldn’t you take a medic?
  • Who killed the anthropologist? 
    • Reno: I think…the psychologist did.
    • Sister: Right? But at the very end of the book, when the biologist looks in the surveyor’s journal, she sees the surveyor wrote ‘I took care of the anthropologist.’
    • Reno: And the biologist killed the surveyor…That’s when I really started to think the biologist wasn’t stable. I do not want to be around her. I had mixed thoughts about the surveyor.
    • Sister: She seemed pretty rude sometimes.
    • Reno: And sometimes I thought she was the most normal one. If she killed the anthropologist, she did so for a valid, good reason.
    • Sister: But then why did the psychologist say she killed the anthropologist?
  • Why are the expedition members all women?
  • Where is Area X in the world?
    • Reno: Southern United States. Somewhere kind of swampy, like Florida (is Florida swampy?) Where there are lots of crocodiles. What do you think?
    • Sister: South America, because of parallels with the Amazon and so many unknowns. The lighthouse photo shows it was civilized before… Whatever happened – they got absorbed or reincarnated or turned into weird things or something.
  • How did Area X originate?
    • Sister: I think the air is super contaminated and everyone’s hallucinating but that’s not as fun a story.
    • Reno: One explanation is mentioned in Authority that I hadn’t thought of, and I was disappointed because I didn’t want it to be that (though other readers might like that theory). I want it to be like where you find out it’s all been caused by humans messing up an experiment or something like that.
    • Sister: But I don’t want it to be bland and boring like the Mazerunner, where it’s very obvious and purposeful.
    • Reno: Yeah, I just want them to have been doing experiments or something like that. My initial thought was that it was some sort of controlled experiment – let’s give them all drugs and see what happens, but it quickly becomes clear it’s not a controlled environment.
  • How does the border work?
    • Sister: Super curious about the border.
    • Reno: Me too, one of my biggest questions.
    • Sister: Why do you need to be hypnotized? 
    • Reno: Do you even need to be, or are they just saying that?
    • Sister: Right! Is it like North and South Korea where you just go through a door and you’re in a different place, or is it actually some crazy experience that you need to be sedated for.
  • Is it a tunnel or a tower? Is it alive?
    • Sister: Tunnels to me don’t go straight down…they go through.
    • Reno: I see what you mean, yes.
    • Sister: To me calling it a tunnel was weird.
    • Reno: Ah, you biologist over there.
    • Sister: Eh, calling it a tower was also a little strange. I’d call it a hole.
    • Reno: Hahaha, let’s go explore this big hole over there!
    • Sister: That’s what it is! How about if it’s alive?
    • Reno: That was creepy. And the biologist was like “I’ll just keep going, then.” 
    • Sister: Part of me wonders if the tunnel was actually alive, or if she was just spooked and that was her own heart and she tried to rationalize it away – “No, I’m fine, that’s the tower’s heartbeat, not mine.”
    • Reno: Ooh. I always just thought it was alive. I’m terrible with unreliable narrators because I believe everything they say, even when I know I shouldn’t.
  • What’s up with the Crawler?
    • Reno: We’ve gotten this far and we haven’t mentioned the Crawler. It was a big part of the book for awhile then it…wasn’t?
    • Sister: Right, then it wasn’t. I’m somehow not even that curious about it. The way it’s written, I just accept it as part of Area X.
  • Why choose the biologist?
    • Reno: Something else we haven’t talked about is the biologist’s back story.
    • Sister: She was kind of unstable before…
    • Reno: You wonder why they picked her.
    • Sister: She touches on that at one point – that maybe it has to do with her husband (sure, or it’s because you’re a little crazy.)
    • Reno: They only choose four people; why choose one that’s a little off?
    • Sister: And that leads to more questions. Assuming this is set on earth, where are they picking people from? Nearby Area X or all over the world? How are they picked? Is Southern Reach a global government? Anyway. The biologist might be a little insane, but she’s very smart, rational and observant. She’s very sciency, observation and explanation based. 
    • Reno: She says she feels some things, but she rarely reacts (for example, with the Crawler or in the forest.) I wouldn’t do anything she does. Is she brave?
    • Sister: I wouldn’t say brave…maybe unafraid? Kind of stupid, or ignorant. 
    • Reno: And she’s never really been in trouble. Except with the Crawler, maybe, when she comes out glowing.
    • Sister: Another question – is the glowing from the spores or just from Area X in general? She says it’s the spores but…
    • Reno: I think she might know that’s not the best explanation but she doesn’t want to admit to herself what it might really be. I think it’s some way she’s reacting to Area X.
    • Sister: Did the biologist break her hypnotization or was she never hypnotized to begin with? 
    • Reno: Well, how did she go through the border?
    • Sister: I brushed it off to be drugs, haha.
    • Reno: She says it has to do with th spores buuuuut….
    • Sister: The psychologist alludes to the biologist being an issue, never giving her straight answers, etc. Maybe Southern Reach wasn’t banking on her being ‘unhypnotizable’ – or maybe they were…
  • Why was the biologist glowing?
  • Is everyone actually dead?
    • Reno: I thought of that movie Source Code, with Jake Gyllenhaal, in the beginning of the story. That maybe it was something like that.
    • Sister: I wonder if the biologist actually died after the surveyor shot her. The biologist just brushes off what happened, she doesn’t react much…
  • What really happened to her husband?
  • Why don’t they use names?
    • Reno: I think it’s a control thing by Southern Reach.
    • Sister: To remove personal attachment? That was a big deal for surveyor at the end. Her screaming at the biologist to tell her her name.
    • Reno:  And the biologist shot her. I was a little scared of the biologist then.
    • Sister: But the surveyor did shoot her first. In theory, the biologist shot back in self-defense but she was glowing. That would freak me out if I was the surveyor, too.
    • Reno: I feel bad for the surveyor. I got kind of a ‘true name’ vibe, like knowing it would unlock some power.
    • Sister: Or did the biologist not look like herself and the surveyor just wanted to confirm she was indeed the biologist?
  • How would you make this book into a movie?
    • Sister: Apparently it’s been optioned. I feel like a movie wouldn’t work because the story can be so different for each person.
    • Reno: Everyone has their own version of Area X.
    • Sister: The story is so heavily based on the internal narration of one person. How would you show everything so you know it’s just her perspective and not necessarily reality?
    • Reno: Yeah! A movie would, by nature, shut down so many of the questions we’ve been able to discuss here.
  • Does Southern Reach really know what happens in Area X
    • Sister: I thought Southern Reach could see what they were doing. They alluded to being removed from Area X if they wanted. Is it like a Hunger Games arena where everything is observed? Or is someone communicating with Southern Reach? (How?)
    •  Reno: I imagined Area X as a contaminated area of Earth. So, hypothetically you could fly over and peek in, but I then thought the border was too weird. Even if you looked you couldn’t see in….So the point is, yeah, how does Southern Reach know? Do they even know or are they just saying that to be comforting? Like that device that signals danger but never turns on.
  • Can you leave Area X?
    • Sister: Can you leave without Southern Reach’s help?
    • Reno: I don’t think Southern Reach matters. Maybe you could leave if Area X deemed it okay (Southern Reach can’t help.)
    • Sister: You think Area X is sentient?
    • Reno: Hah, yeah, I guess I do!
    • Sister: Ah, cool! I don’t think it’s sentient but I think you could enter and not be contaminated by whatever’s in the air, like you’re immune. But so far there hasn’t been anyone like that.
  • Why did the psychologist jump?
    • We discussed this question quite a bit, but mostly it was just us going back into the book to review what happened.
  • What’s up with the journals in the lighthouse?
    • How did they get there? Who’s collecting them? Not supposed to read each others…when did the biologist write this journal, anyhow? A few days after it all happened? She carefully constructs her narrative, deliberately withholding information until she decides it’s okay to share. She’s an aware unreliable narrator, which makes it even harder to believe what she says. She’s not reliably unreliable.

Lots to discuss! Sister and I both found talking about this book made it ‘better’. I even changed my GoodReads rating to 4 stars. Have you read Annihilation? What do you think of our theories? What are your theories? If you’ve written a Family Reads post this month, add your link here.