Severance by Chris Bucholz
Genre: Adult Science Fiction
Publisher: Apex Books
Release date: November 2014
Source: e-book from publisher
The nitty-gritty: A fascinating premise for a story, lots of laugh-out-loud moments, but ultimately a meandering plot that failed to hold my attention.
The trolley continued on its way, though by now Stein wished she had simply just gone up to the garden well and walked. The trolley seemed to bring out the worst in people, a symptom of mass transit systems which had survived the trip to the stars. A mass transit system within a mass transit system: Russian nesting dolls stuffed with awful, awful people.
I so wanted to love this book. Apex Books has published some wonderful stories, and I’m always eager to read new Apex titles. And the cover alone for Severance made me want to dive in, I mean just look at it! But somewhere along the way, I lost interest in the story, and I have to say it was difficult to read this one to the end. I’m having a hard time pinpointing exactly why it didn’t work for me. Bucholz certainly has solid writing skills, and I especially loved his hysterical dialogue and the inner thoughts of his supremely funny characters. The plot had the potential to be great: a Generation ship called the Argos, hurtling through space for the past 239 years, will soon reach its destination planet, Tau Prius. But there is a plot afoot to derail this plan, which may send thousands of people to their deaths. It’s up to maintenance worker Laura Stein and her rag-tag group of friends to stop it.
It seems like an exciting and action-packed plot, and I kept waiting for the exciting part to come, but the story felt as if it were stuck on a big ship with nowhere to go, just like the people on the Argos. Stein (as she is referred to) works in the maintenance department, and her main job on the Argos is to…fix and replace heat thermostats on the ship. OK, so not the sexiest job on the planet—erm, ship—but I had high hopes that Bucholz would perhaps gloss over the details of fixing thermostats. But no, the reader gets many pages of Stein and Bruce moving about the deteriorating ship, searching for broken thermostats and replacing them. This goes on for quite some time, until the action gets going about half way through the story, when Stein discovers a group of dissenters on board who are trying to separate part of the ship.
Even then, I found the action repetitive, as though the characters were running in circles and repeating the same actions over and over. A non-violent first half (the only weapons around are stun guns, which can knock you unconscious but don’t kill) morphs into a very violent second half, as civil war breaks out, with the two sides fighting for control of the ship. I found myself unmoved by everything that was happening, for some reason, perhaps because I didn’t connect with any of the characters.
Laura Stein is the type of take-charge kind of female character I normally love, but I think the opening scene of the book—Stein sneaking through a heating duct and then spraying urine into someone’s bedroom for a prank—put me off her character, and I never did warm up to her. Bucholz delights in all types of bodily fluid humor, and he even invents a “Vomit Club,” a group of bored people who get together and try to make each other vomit. Hey, I’m not making this up, folks! Reading about people who go around the ship marking their territory by pissing on things is bad enough, but the Vomit Club pushed me over the edge. All of this is delivered with what must be Bucholz’s unique brand of humor, and while I did enjoy much of the snarky dialogue and funny quips between characters, the potty humor just wasn’t my thing.
The story goes back and forth between the present and the past, where we see an ancestor of Stein’s who has uncovered the very plot against the ship that is unfolding in the present, as he tries to figure out a way to send a warning message into the future. I loved the idea of using genetics to accomplish this task, but it was never really explained very well, and in the end, I found the whole idea more confusing than interesting.
What I did enjoy was Bucholtz’s clever set-up of a future society of thousands of people who are trapped together and really have nowhere to go. Good jobs are few and far between, and those who can’t find a job join groups (like the aforementioned Vomit Club, among others). Drugs are readily available, and Bruce often uses one called Brash, a cool red pill that gives a person unreasonable courage in the face of danger. Many story details made me chuckle, including the ship’s “fake” homeless residents—the Fauxmless—so called because while there really isn’t any reason to be homeless on a space ship, the Fauxmless think it’s trendy. And although weird, I also enjoyed the idea of the potted meat plants that grew throughout the ship. (Yes, as in chunks of meat that grow on plants!)
Bucholz’s writing is spot on—he’s clearly a seasoned writer, as his job as a humor writer at Cracked.com proves. Severance is filled with often brilliantly funny parts, but for me they just couldn’t hold the story together. But do check out the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, where lots of readers really enjoyed this book.
Thanks to Apex Books for supplying a review copy.
Find the book: