I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Warren by Brian Evenson
Published by Tor.com on September 20 2016
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
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The nitty-gritty: A strange and thought-provoking story about loneliness and what it means to be human.
For me, memory is not only at times flawed and corrupted but also overlapped and confused, one personality hiding parts of another, blending too, so that the selves within my head sometimes seem many-headed and monstrous or deformed and impossible to comprehend.
It’s been a while since I read a Tor.com novella, but every time I read one, I’m reminded of how much I love these small bites of science fiction and fantasy. The Warren is extremely short—barely sixty pages in my eARC copy—but the length didn’t really matter, because this story was so atmospheric and emotional. It immediately reminded me of Hugh Howley’s Wool, a story with a similar feel of desolation and dread. It’s one of those stories with a slow build that unsettles the reader little by little.
The Warren takes place on an unnamed planet that seems to have undergone an apocalyptic event, or perhaps the planet just isn’t fit for human life. In any case, a man named X is the sole occupant of a space station-like dwelling that he calls the warren, with only a computer voice (called “monitor”) to talk to. When the story opens, X has discovered a storage unit outside of the warren that contains a body—a man who appears to be dead, but who stutters awake when X removes him from the container. Although the presence of this person is never really explained, X takes him back to the warren, only to discover he’s developed a sickness from the poisonous air of the planet, and now X is sick too.
The man, whose name is Horak, challenges everything X believes to be true about his life in the warren and even his very existence.
OK, so there isn’t much of a plot here, but The Warren works more as a character and mood study than anything else. The most fascinating thing about X is that he was created by someone named Wollem as a receptacle for all the souls who came before him, and now he shares his headspace with the knowledge and thoughts of all the others of the warren. All X can remember is that Wollem left soon after he created X, and now he is all alone. Physically, at least. Inside his head it’s actually quite crowded.
When X discovers Horak, they have a long conversation about what being human means, and indeed, which of them is human and which is not. I always love stories that blur the line between human and alien, or human and machine. X is clearly something other, but it isn’t until a twist near the end of the story that the natures of X and Horak become more clearly defined.
Because it isn’t safe to leave the warren, X rarely goes outside, and even then he bundles up in a space suit. But his desire to find answers, and even more important, his desire to find more material in order build the next receptacle (whose name we can only guess will start with a Y) leads him on an odd journey. Unlike most stories, the ending of The Warren doesn’t really answer anything. And even X seems perplexed by everything he’s learned, and puzzled that even after his adventures outside the warren, he’s still alive with no real answers. But despite this, I finished the story with an odd sense of satisfaction and a feeling that not all mysteries are meant to be solved.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.