Read by Julia Whelan
Length: 14 Hrs 6 Min
Genre: Post Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Young Adult
Quick Thoughts: Partials is an action filled, thought provoking Post Apocalyptic novel that will please everyone from teenage dystopian fans to lovers of Hard Science Fiction. While Partials is just the first edition of a planned trilogy, it is also a completed tale with a logical ending that doesn’t leave you hanging, yet manages to have you longing for whatever comes next.
One of the more fascinating issues that often appear in Post Apocalyptic and Dystopian fiction is that of reproductive rights and fertility. No matter what we do, our society cannot exist, if we don’t procreate. Two of the more grim post apocalyptic novels I have read are Brian Aldiss’ Greybeard and PD James’ Children of Men, both of which describe the breakdown of society due to the inability of humankind to reproduce. These visions are truly horrifying. Yet, other novels, particularly those of the more dystopian bent describe the stripping away of the reproductive rights and legal protections of women either for religious reasons, or the all too realistic, "for the good of humanity." Novels like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale show the ritualized rape of women in an attempt to strengthen the species genetic purity or to create greater numbers of human offspring. With reproductive rights being a major issue of the past few decades it’s not surprising we are seeing more and more dystopian novels tackling this issue. Yet, in Partials, Dan Wells presents an twist on the fertility issues, one in which the classis Plague novels like The Stand by Stephen King only dealt with in a peripheral manner, and unsatisfactorily, in my opinion. If there is a devastating Plague that wipes out a majority of humans (in Partials it’s 99.996%) what is the likelihood that newborn infants will be immune. In the world of Partials, they are not. The Senate of the Surviving humans living on Long Island deal with this issue by passing The Hope Law. This law requires women of a certain age to get pregnant as often as they can. The Senate believes this will eventually allow their society to hit the plague threshold, leading to a living human baby.
In Partials, Dan Wells has created a grim future history that blends some of the most fascinating elements of Post Apocalyptic and Dystopian fiction. In order to win a war against China, the US Government commissions a race of biologically engineered super soldiers called Partials. Yet, after winning the war, the Partials are now misplaced in a society that considers them tools, not humans. The Partials rebel and that war leads to the release of a super plague. The novel centers on one character Kira Walker, a young apprentice physician who makes it her life mission to find a cure to the plague that is killing all the newborns. Kira is strong willed and quite obstinate, but is quite a likeable protagonist. She is young, still under the age of required pregnancy, and has conflicted feelings about the Senate’s plans to save the species. Wells has creates a character that truly drives the narrative. He allows his world to be revealed through her eyes, which act as a lens, sometimes distorting the issues at hand, yet always based on the truth as she sees it. She is surrounded by a vast array of characters, her strong willed boyfriend, a young soldier who truly believes in the good intentions of the Senate, and some enigmatic girl friends. Sometimes it’s hard to keep some of the female characters straight, but that a minor issue since this is really Kira’s show. Kira’s search for the cure of course leads her to defy the Senate, and travel into enemy territory. I really enjoyed Well’s vivid descriptions of a decaying New York City, and the wonder it brings about it Kira. This type of imagery is one of my favorite aspects of Post Apocalyptic fiction when done right, and hers Wells does it right.
Wells packs this story with many issues that will have you thinking. Beyond the reproductive issues, Wells explores what it truly means to be human, the corruption of power, the complacency of the oppressed and the pitfalls of science. Yet one of my favorite issues he explores is something I call generational blindness. The adult characters of Partials, having lived through the Partial’s War and the devastation of the plague, call the younger generation “Plague Babies” with acid tongue derision. This term was used to highlight the naiveté of the younger generations, who didn’t experience these atrocities as directly as the adults. Yet, in many ways, the horrible experiences of the adults often lead them to an inability to consider options that for others seem quite obvious. In many ways, this reminds me of the way my generation reacts to September 11th. For me, September 11, 2001 is a vivid memory that will filter my views on many topics for the rest of my life. For those of the future generations, this may not be the case. They understand intellectually what I understand emotionally. I think this issue of the generational blindness is what makes Kira’s character and her quest work. Despite the fact that scientists did extensive tests to try to discover a cure for the disease plaguing their society, Kira could bring a perspective that they were not even able to consider and would rejest out of hand. Wells handling of this issue is one of the things that makes Partials stand out.
While Partials is a book that often made me think, it is also one heck of a good action tale. Although the pacing is sometimes was uneven, moving from rapid fire action scenes, to intricate scientific explorations and virology, when things get moving, they move well. Partials is full of memorable scenes, from terrorist attacks, to chases that will keep you on the edge of your seats. And those rare moments when Wells allows you to get comfortable, expect some game changing moments that will leave you on the floor. Partials is an action filled, thought provoking Post Apocalyptic novel that will please everyone from teenage dystopian fans to lovers of Hard Science Fiction. While Partials is just the first edition of a planned trilogy, it is also a completed tale with a logical ending that doesn’t leave you hanging, yet manages to have you longing for whatever comes next.
This is my first time listening to narrator Julia Whelan, and I feel overall she does a good job. I was impressed with her ability to create unique and appropriate voices for adult and male characters, yet some of her younger female characters sort of blended into each other. This created some issues with dialogue between the young female characters. I sometimes had trouble figuring out exactly who was saying what, and had to rewind the audio a few times to make sure I had things right. Where Whelan excelled was in the pacing of the action scenes. She allowed the vividness of Wells language come alive as Kira and her friend’s travels through darkly beautiful landscapes, and encountered hostile forces. Whelan also did a good job with Kira’s inner dialogue, filling it with the appropriate emotions, and adding to the impact of her perceptions. All in all Whelan brought the right tone to this novel and made it an enjoyable audio experience.
Note: This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse” series, where I examine Post Apocalyptic fiction and review titles for content and their place in the Post Apocalyptic subgenre.
Note #2: A special thanks to the wonderful folks at Harper Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.