Partials - Dan Wells

Partials - Dan Wells   

It’s been two months since I read this book and my notes are not exactly helpful in creating anything resembling a coherent review. It probably wasn’t the most brilliant idea to read Partials while also watching Battlestar Galactica for the first time either. My notes go something like this: “Cylons!”, “Boomer!?!”, and then “Arwen? Seriously? WTF?!”.

I was overjoyed to see this narrated from a limited third person POV, because YA 1st person heroine narrators tend to get on my nerves something wicked, but it wasn’t enough to stave off a growing annoyance with the main protagonist, Kira.

There were a couple of ideas I found interesting; not that they were particularly novel, but rather the kind of concepts I like reading about. However, in the end, too many questions remained unanswered and conclusions seemed a bit hastily cobbled together.

So we find ourselves in the post-apocalyptic setting of small community on Long Island, apparently consisting of the sole surviving humans in a war that was won a decade ago by the Partials. The Partials (Cylons) are machines that physically resemble humans that had initially been engineered by humans to serve as weapons in a conflict the reasons for and opponents in which are never fully disclosed. Seriously, who was fighting whom and why? How come the Partials and the humans in the closed community (besides some freelance farmers and rebels) are the only survivors? Do I have to wait for the next instalments in the series to get these answers? Did I miss them? Had I fallen asleep without noticing when these things were explained?

The almost complete genocide of the human race was not brought about by the Partials (or maybe it was?), but by a biochemical weapon called RM, a virus that killed most everyone, except for those few people who were immune. The offsprings borne of these survivors, however, are not immune and the newborns dies shortly after birth.

16 year old Kira, an intern at the hospital, sets out to cure this disease to save the yet unborn child of her best friend. Since it is believed that the virus was let loose by the Partials, who are themselves immune to it, she intends to make tests on a live Partial and sets out to go out and catch one to run experiments on it. Apparently, she is the only one who has ever thought of dong this. The most important goal of the community’s leaders is to produce offsprings who will survive, forcing women into pregnancies as soon as the reach maturity and intending to moving the age at which the are required to get pregnant for the greater good from 18 years of age to 16, but the have not thought once in the last 12 (?) years to try a different approach as Kira suggests now. These supposedly oppressive authorities (who are they any way, or more specifically, how did they come into power, just by being the oldest surviving members of he community?) allow Kira, and her alone, to study the captured partial for five days. It was only possible for me to dispense my disbelief because of the introduction of a possible conspiracy. I liked the breeding farm (BSG again)/ cattle comparison on, but unfortunately the few expressions of outrage at this are not as consequently executed as I would have liked.

“No threat to anyone?“ asked Dr. Skousen. “What about the three men who died across the river? What about the two women of breeding age who almost died with them? Surely you of all people, with your job in maternity, understand the need to protect every possible pregnancy.”
“If you please, Doctor,” said Kira, feeling her face grow hot with anger. “We’ve asked to be treated like adults, not cattle.” (page 196)

Not everyone calmly accepts the government’s decrees to enforce more pregnancies. There are insurgents (called The Voice) who attack the community n order to force the government to abandon this Hope Act that demands that girls get impregnated as soon as the reach the age of 16.

Kira is portrayed as the sole voice of reason in the dark, who warns the government to be more lenient instead of tightening control. But she really is in two minds about the developments, she still believes that the leaders have the people’s best interest at heart and defends their actions even against the protests of one of her friends. Her little speech on page 271 lost her the little respect I still might have had for her courage and ideals:

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe something is more important than your rights? That maybe the survival of our entire species is more important than your right to whine about it?”
Xochi raised her eyebrows. “Someone’s feeling bitchy.”
I’m just sick of hearing about everyone’s civil rights and everyone’s privacy and everyone’s inviolable power of choice. We either solve our problems or we go extinct – there is nothing in between. And if we go extinct, I don’t want it to be because Xochi Kessler was too worried about her rights to pitch in and save us.”
Xochi bristled. “We’re not talking about pitching in,” she said, “we’re talking about institutionalizing rape. We’re talking about the government taking full control over your body – what it’s for, what you do with it, and what other people can do to it. I’m not letting some horny old dude screw me just because the law says I have to.”
“Then pick a horny young dude,” said Kira, “or get inseminated artificially – those are all options, and you know it. This isn’t about sex, it’s about survival.”
“Mass pregnancy is the worst possible solution to that problem,” said Xochi.

Really, Kira? Really?!? Options? Want to think again? She later explains that her own fears and doubts led to this outburst and even though I might be able to understand this lashing out in reaction to her own rising panic, it was very hard to sympathise with her for quite a while, and my reading of her actions and decisions was certainly tainted by the above utterances.

As I said, there were a couple of ideas I liked and some things that greatly annoyed me, not all of them could be blamed on the book itself, but rather on my choice of complementary visual entertainment. Again, as much as I liked BattleStar Galactica, it’s not recommended watching material along with reading Partials. I just feel that I might not have been impartial (ahem). Seriously, the comparisons present themselves at every other turn. This might actually add to the joy of reading partials, but I guess that one should give each medium the chance to impress on its own.

I liked the passing reference to the possible evil super-corporation bringing about the end of the world as we know it, ParaGen. I was immediately thinking of SkyNet or the Nexus Corporation/Rosen Association, one of the precursors for synthetic freedom fighters and humanoid robots. I might have digressed and re-read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep at that point. :o)

The introduction of the concept of military partials models versus non- military models used for ominous other purposes was nice and inevitable.

The mention of the need to shut down nuclear power plants in order to avoid the horrible consequences of letting them continue unsupervised is also positively noted.

Also good, but necessary for the future development of the series if the notion of fractions among the Partials. All very nice, but fairly predictable.

The book raises some interesting questions about society (consequences of having no parental generation – inhumane laws: could a law like the Hope Act be passed if people knew that their own daughters would be forced to obey it?) and pre-apocalypse consumerism (on their trips outside the community compounds they encounter deserted shopping centre+parking lots after shopping centre.). Kira’s absent mother (no memory of one from even before the RM outbreak) opens up interesting possibilities.

I would have liked to see more actual fighting involving the Partial, Samm. In the one fight he was actively involved in, his bad-ass fighting skills reminded me of River Tam and I was biting my nails in joyful anticipation but it was over again much too soon.

I did, however, question a number of things, first and foremost among them is that Kira is the only one who ever thought of a different approach to the solution of the dying babies problem. This thought was recurring and distracting.

I also questioned the selection of education in this new world, the things the kids knew and didn’t know, what has never been of interest to them before and how come they never questioned that. After all, the destruction of society was only twelve years ago, they should be able to recall certain facts from the past, even if they choose not to teach the recent history in school anymore (why ever not?).

There were some things that simply seemed ridiculous to me. On day 2 of the Partial examination we are faced with this sentence: “She set down her stack of notebooks and couched by Samm’s table, checking his face and arm – a ritual that had become standard now.” (page 276/277) She’s dong this for he second time now. A ritual? After exactly one repetition? I actually flipped back a few pages to check whether I’d missed that we were much farther advanced in the story by now – nope, it’s day 2.
Then there were unnecessary repetitions like “…said Isolde, her voice slurring” on page 271 and 272, just in case we had forgotten that she was a little tipsy.

What I really hated, though, was that everything centred around Kira. She has a number of really great supporting characters around her, but they are mostly treated as accessories. Kira makes all the decisions within the group, even those others are obviously more qualified to make. What did Jayden, Markus, and Xochi come along for? Just to nod appreciatively, make an observation, and watch Kira fit it into HER plan? Why does it always have to be Kira who comes up with the plans? Isolde suggests a diversion to pull the guards from the room the Partial is held in, but it falls to Kira to produce a workable idea for the rescue. The one supporting character who actually replies “Already done” to one of Kira’s commands is killed only a few lines later. Yeah, right. The other guy helping the group is equally disposable.

Also, even though this is a relatively minor concern, where does Kira conjure the bags of equipment from when we are explicitly told when and where she lost them, but never where she mysteriously picks up new ones, so she actually has one at her disposal that may be destroyed again eventually?

The whole “solution” in the end seemed rushed and too easy, too readily grasping at straws. The hardened resistance fighters were too easily convinced to change their course of action, magical pixies indeed!

I could go on, but I don’t want to further curb my enthusiasm (or what is left of it) to pick up the next book in the series.