Approximately one million years ago I received a couple of sci-fi-y books from Soft Skull Press to get me primed and ready for Jamestown. They were Under My Roof by Nick Mamatas and H2o: A Novel by Mark Swartz. Both are thin, quick reads and neither really got me in the good spot.
The better of the two was UMR. It is a YA novel, but could definitely be enjoyed by adults, and was by many. In a post-apocalyptic USA, a psychic teen watches his world crumble then reform into an action-packed dream when his father decides to play out his midlife crisis by seceding from the country. His bargaining chip is a homemade atom bomb hidden in a garden gnome. In the beginning, having a country is like having a popular but mediocre rock band; people appear from everywhere to get in on the action, but few see the rebellion for what it really is. Because the kid can read his father and everyone else’s thoughts, he knows, but doesn’t quite know what to do. I think this is an apt metaphor for adolescence and maybe a ten to twelve-year-old would be really into the crazy stuff that happens and the character’s ability to eavesdrop on people’s thoughts.
I am going to do Mark Swartz a great disservice and attempt to review his book even though I don’t really remember it. It does say something that I was unwilling to re-read this book for a fresh look. The plot goes something like this: in a world without potable water, where artificial water-like drinks are heavily advertised and rarely drank, a scientist discovers a natural fungus that seems to exude more fresh water than the seawater it takes in. He is only a pawn in the water wars and knows it, but his doesn’t stop him from trying to be an agent of his own fate. This does not go well for him. The scientist character lacks a total personality which made it hard to root for him and the secondary characters, a natural water activist, a PR lady, weren’t that intriguing either. I suppose the world Swartz built was meant to carry the novel but it didn’t.
These two books aside I am still excited and surprised by much of Soft Skull’s catalog. They are in more financial trouble than usual so go there and buy some books. While you are at it, buy Heredity by Jenny Davidson for me.