March 26, 2013

Mike Lancaster: "0.4" (or "Human.4")

Title: 0.4 (U.S.A.: Human.4) [0.4 on Amazon - Human.4 on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Point 4 (1st of 2 books)
Author: Mike Lancaster [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Dystopian
Year: 2011
Age: 12+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Unique premise. Gripping, thought-provoking story that sucks you in. Told in a peculiar way (via audiotapes; reason is explained at the end).
Cons: Rather short novel that doesn't leave much space for character development - though I guess it isn't supposed to, given the nature of the story itself. Laconic writing, with very short sentences.
Will appeal to: Those who are in for a different dystopian - not of the usual post-apocalyptic variety, but more of a creepy, wondering-where-we-are-heading-for type.

Blurb: Kyle Straker volunteered to be hypnotized at the annual community talent show, expecting the same old lame amateur acts. But when he wakes up, his world will never be the same. Televisions and computers no longer work, but a strange language streams across their screens*. Everyone’s behaving oddly. It’s as if Kyle doesn’t exist. Is this nightmare a result of the hypnosis? Will Kyle wake up with a snap of fingers to roars of laughter? Or is this something much more sinister? Narrated on a set of found cassette tapes at an unspecified point in the future, Human.4 is an absolutely chilling look at technology gone too far. (Amazon - from the Human.4 version)

*Reviewer's note: actually, the strange language only affects computers, while TV screens remain blank...

Review: Note: despite being published with two different titles, it is the same book. I linked to the respective Amazon pages for the two versions because of the blurbs and reviews being different; but as for Goodreads, apart from the blurbs (taken from the Amazon pages I mentioned), the reviews are of course identical - so I didn't bothered :).
Before getting onto the actual review, a short note on the titles. Without giving too much of the plot away, I can say that 0.4 works better than Human.4 to me for that very reason - it is less spoilery. At a certain point of the book, someone comes up with a theory about what the mentioned 0.4 stands for, and only later do we get the right explanation. Human.4 is probably more suggestive in terms of attracting potential readers, but on the other hand, when I came across the title 0.4 for the first time, I had to know what the book was about - so I guess that one works too.
I actually devoured this novel - couldn't wait to know what would happen next. And on closing the book, I was seriously giving it 5 stars. Then some apparent inconsistencies popped up in my mind, and my rating dropped to 4 stars. Then I read it again and realised that everything made perfect sense, but the writing started to bother me a little, mainly because of the predominant use of very short sentences. I also realised I wasn't particularly invested in the characters, thought this is understandable, since the book is quite short, which doesn't leave much space for character development. (And I assume Lancaster wasn't really going for it in the first place - this isn't a character-driven story). Finally, the novelty (and subsequently, the excitement) had worn off, because all the big secrets were out by then. But the fact is, this book was able to excite me enough to make me overlook all those aspects at first. Ultimately, the story is so creepy and thought-provoking, I couldn't exempt myself from giving it 4 stars. It is, indeed, a great take on technology and its connection with humanity.
The blurb above doesn't do justice to this novel. Of course, it couldn't be otherwise, or the story would be royally spoiled. The fact is, what happens immediately after the talent show is far more creepy than everything you can imagine after reading the blurb - and still it's only the prologue for a much creepier occurrence. Also, 0.4 isn't set in a distant future, but in the present age - and though what happens has, let's say, a transcendental premise, still the story sounds so rooted in reality, because of our increasing dependence from technology, up to the point where we get virtually fused with it. [...]

Lancaster uses a well-adjusted device at the beginning and at the end of his story: he poses as the editor and explains how Kyle's narrative has been discovered and published, while never addressing the time that has passed since Kyle himself recorded it. We can only assume it's been a long time - and this detachment makes for a series of ironic notes scattered through the book, masked as explanations of things and ways from a distant past.
Kyle, the lead, is not a hero. He's just a 15-and-a-half-year-old boy thrown into a terrifying new reality, who's even on the verge of surrender at one point, if just in order to understand what the horror is about. None of his companions (teen Lilly and adult Mr. Peterson and Mrs. O'Donnell) has a better insight of the situation, though the old man did see something that will eventually help Kyle decypher the creepy puzzle. 
There's a concrete sense of danger immediately after the talent show incident, that prompts Kyle to flee home...there's a scene later that hints at a hostage situation...but things aren't always what they seem. After the first big shock, something is gradually happening that will result in Kyle and his companions being obliterated. That's why family and friends' attitude toward them goes through different stages, and this will even allow a certain character to explain what's up at one point. (Incidentally, in doing so, the same character is also able to volunteer a clever theory about ghost-sights). By the way (like I said above), after my first read, I thought I spotted some inconsistencies in this department - but the second time around I was able to wrap my head around them. The only, oh-so-small thing that still bugs me is: if Kyle's tale is slightly incomplete because he wasn't aware of the blank bit at the end of the tapes (since he wasn't familiar with the outdated technology), how did he manage to record uncut intros, avoiding the same trap at the beginning of them? Yeah, nit-picking, I know ;).
0.4 has an open ending, up to a point. We get the big picture of what happened, but as for Kyle and Lilly, there are a couple of distinct possibilities. So, if you're a fan of HEAs or closures, be wary...you won't find them in this novel. Not that they are the point here. Just like the characters weren't the (main) point of the story.
I think I covered every aspect of 0.4/Human.4 that I could without entering spoiler territory. Of course, the juiciest bits when it comes to discussing it are the spoilery ones. Anyway, in short...this is a book aimed at a young male audience; but anyone - young or old, male or female - who loves sci-fi and dystopian, and/or ever pondered about the weight of technology in our life, will surely enjoy it. Like I did :).

For quotes from this book click here.
For my review of "1.4" (second installment in the series) click here.
For more Sci-Fi books click here.


Cover for the Edgemont USA version

4 comments:

  1. Wow - that sounds pretty freaky! Thanks for the heads up on the open-ending. I'm ok with that as long as I'm prepared lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sometimes open endings are good...well, I do like them occasionally...when the point is not the final destination, but the voyage itself...

      Delete
  2. Hey!! I'm currently reading it... it's really thrilling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it is - and the sequel is good, too!

      Thanks for dropping by :).

      Delete

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