Besides Naturalization

Besides Naturalization

Besides Naturalization is a science fiction novella by Isabel Chloe. It was first published in 2013 and is set in the 23rd Century after many humans have immigrated from earth to populate distant worlds. The story focuses on a ten year old girl as she takes her first steps towards maturity.

In the futuristic world of Hynocripta, robots take care of the day to day needs of everyone. It is Lily’s tenth birthday and she has just reached the age where she will receive her P-ball and pet-rent, both of which will begin to nurture her and help her learn how to express her feelings as she matures to adulthood.

During her daily lessons with the P-ball, she begins to realise that everything in her life is not as happy as she once believed. Her father seems to care more about his work than spending time with her and her feelings towards her abusive grandmother are very mixed.

Feeling deeply troubled, Lily searches for a way to strengthen the bonds with her family as she begins to learn what it means to grow up.

I received a review copy of this eBook from the author in exchange for a fair review and, even though I feel a little bad about doing so, that’s precisely what I am going to do. I do not mean this to be harsh and I’m very sorry if I cause any offense to the author.

In reading Besides Naturalization, it is very clear that Chloe has a vivid image in her mind of what the human race will be like in 23rd Century. You get the distinct impression that she must have thought out every aspect of this world, considering every way in which technology could make our lives better. Yet beneath the surface there is always the undercurrent that maybe the world is not as utopian as it seems.

There is a definite feel within the novel that an over-reliance on technology leads to apathy. Daniel expresses his dissatisfaction in having to carry food from the oven to the table because his mother has failed to select the ‘auto-serve’ option, displaying a laziness born out of the expectancy that technology will do everything for a person.

At the same time, I felt that the P-ball was incredibly sinister. Although its intent seemed to be as a kind of portable child psychiatrist, its incessant prying into Lily’s feelings seemed to do more harm than good, often leaving her in tears. Although I am not certain if this was the author’s intent, I found that this little orb of ill-will just gave me the chills. In virtually every society in the world, a ten year old is very much still considered a child and yet in Hynocripta it is the age when they start to be moulded into adults by the P-ball’s daily advising program. It was almost as though this technologically advanced age leeched the childhood away from people as soon as it could.

Unfortunately, all of the novels good ideas could not change the fact that it is very poorly written. I was under the impression that this story was aimed at middle graders, yet I found it to be far too complex for a younger reader. The references to futuristic technology were near constant throughout the story, often with no explanation as to what these were and how they functioned. I often found myself having to stop and reread passages several times so that I could understand what it was that the author was trying to say.

An example for this is Lily’s pet-rent. I get the impression that this is kind of like some robotic dog that acts as a guardian for a child when their parents are otherwise unavailable but beyond this I have no idea what it is or how it functions. It does not speak, does not seem to really do anything beyond occasionally hugging Lily and I don’t have the foggiest what it looks like. Yet Lily is very excited to get one on for her birthday and so it must be an important feature of their world.

There was also something that I found immediately jarring about the style of prose but it took a while for me to settle on exactly what bothered me so much. Virtually all of the sentences were roughly the same length and written in an active voice, usually beginning with a character’s name, causing large passages of the novel to read as “Lily did this… Andrea said this… Lily laughed… June gave them cake”. Added to this was a confusing splattering of character reactions that did not seem to relate to what was going on in the story. Two characters would be talking, then one would turn pale, and then the conversation would continue. It did not add anything to the scenes. It just confused me as to whether the author intended for some deeper commentary to be running through the story that I was just not picking up on.

The plot of the story is virtually non-existent. I appreciate that it is only a novella (less than ninety pages long in paperback) but I would still have expected the story to have a beginning, middle and end. The story can be basically summed up as Lily goes to school, then has a birthday party, then goes on holiday, then comes home again. After this the story just seems to stop. There is no real running storyline through this, no conflicts that need to be resolved. In fact, anything that could be deemed to be a conflict is merely brushed over.

It is indicated that Lily has a strained relationship with a father. He wants her to toughen up and go to law school (though he never actually says this directly to her) because he is adamant that she will survive the world. As the world is never actually portrayed as being especially harsh, I’m assuming that this is his way of being overprotective in the wake of her mother’s death at the hands of a plot-convenient, unidentified virus. This conflict between them is never really resolved by the end of the story. It just kind of goes away without being mentioned or faced.

The lack of character development is a huge problem within the novella. None of the characters in the story show any kind of personality and their actions have no real significance. Michael and Mary often argue but to no real purpose. Lily’s grandmother is abusive to her but no reason for this is given (and this plot thread is simply resolved an off-camera exiling to Earth, allowing for no catharsis what so ever). Lily and her cousins were also flat with no distinguishable traits. On a few occasions, I was fairly sure that the author actually mixed up some of the character’s names (particularly Andrea and Mary) but they all spoke with such similar voices I found it impossible to tell for sure.

To conclude, I unfortunately can’t recommend Besides Naturalization. Although it’s clear that Chloe had some nice ideas they just weren’t visualised very well and the story lacked in both plot and character development. I felt as though it could do with a good redraft in order to tighten up the prose and give the story a stronger focus, in order to put the intriguing technological elements to good use.

Besides Naturalization can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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