These Lifeless Things
by Premee Mohamed
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted February 9, 2021
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Premee Mohamed's These Lifeless Things is the first novella in the new Solaris Satellites imprint from Rebellion Publishing. It is set some fifty years after "The Setback," a period that lasted only about three years, of which little of substance is known except that the majority of the population died. A group of scientists is studying one of the old "siege cities" for clues as to what caused the devastation, which none of the survivors remembered, or else were unwilling to recount. The narrative alternates between the past and the "present." Emerson is one of the investigators, with their story in normal text. Presented in italics is a journal written by Eva, one of the few survivors in the city, scavenging for food and tools, while also trying to avoid Them, the invaders. It's actually a poetry book Emerson had found, in which Eva wrote her story in the wide margins.
I probably shouldn't be reviewing before re-reading, since I'm convinced I missed a few clues along the way. Is Eva's account reliable, or was she just imagining statues coming to life to stalk and kill humans, possibly dreamt after reading Shelley's Oxymandias? Were the "sentinels" different than those statues? Who, or what, were the invaders? At one point Eva seems to imply They have no bodies, They are just shadows, huge shadows, to the humans. Where did They come from, what do They want? Are They the "lifeless things," or does that refer to Eva and the few she knows just barely surviving, hoping mainly to avoid Their attention? Other oddities are the trees that have supposedly transformed into predators, growing claws on their branches, shards of glass or metal on their trunks. Or is that just another delusion in Eva's mind? Emerson is able to find a few things referenced in Eva's diary, but cannot definitively answer any of those questions. The statues are just statues, lifeless as expected. The trees are just trees.
Even though I have a few reservations as to what was going on in the story, I have no reservations about giving this a strong recommendation. It's possible both narrators are unreliable, but it's enough of a puzzle to make me read again, and hopefully soon, but not right away. Too many other books waiting. I'm anxious for others to discover this story, hopefully I can gain insight from other perspectives.
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