I saw plenty of reviews comparing Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks to the works of Michael Crichton, and quite frankly, it’s difficult to challenge that. Footnotes! Expert commentary! Not being quite sure if the expert commentary and references are real or not! AND MORE FOOTNOTES! Footnotes are fun, so no complaints there.
I hasten to assure you that this was a book I was looking forward to. I chased it down the week it was published, by heading to the highly recommended local sci-fi bookstore Stefen’s Books (who has a fantastic display of Black writers both local and international available, as seen by the photo – I’m currently reading The Deep by Rivers Solomon from that collection. I was also recommended The Old Lie by local writer Claire G Coleman, and I have A Blade So Black by LL. McKinney next on my book pile).
I like Max Brook’s writing. I even enjoyed the film version of World War Z (which, if you’ve been stuck at home working like many of us have been during COVID19 times, has been helpfully available on streaming telly along with Pandemic, Outbreak and 77 other similar movies). After spending months with that kind of entertainment available, I feel quite confident that I could attend to whatever Kate Winslet advises about mask wearing (of course she’s pro), sing Taylor Swift songs along with Lupita Nyong’o’s ukulele, and run as fast as I can to soundtracks favoured by Danny Boyle (including the peppy tracks from Trainspotting, although the rather ethereal tunes in 127 Hours might prove a bit of a challenge).
But I was left cold by story of big fluffy predators who make shy Kate Holland’s “tree change” adventure in the commune of Greenloop a slow moving nightmare, with pages of flurried bloodied horror and abandoned journal entries. Featuring (yet another Brooks’ trope) unnamed narrator, it investigates Kate’s brother’s article about her disappearance, and the story of her journal (left on the scene of a techno-compound in the hilly regions near the eruption of the volcanic Mount Rainer). From there it goes to a journalistic investigation, dotted with Senior Ranger Josephine Schell’s expert’s commentary on the region, and lots and lots of useful footnotes and cool quotes at the top of each chapter.
Yet the story of Kate and her husband, with fairly unmemorable (and quite frankly interchangeable) other wealthy tech types in the compound (apart from a fiercely independent war survivor, Monstar) didn’t connect with me much at all. While the theme of how humans place a expectation of fitting into the wilderness like a neat puzzle piece rather than adapting to (or even realising the implications of) isolation was a strong one, I didn’t really feel much concern for the characters. Honestly, the part that really engaged me was an interview with Monstar’s character about the source of her name and I wish there was more about her throughout. That and the reports on how the US government slashed the budgets of early warning systems leading to the disaster not being adequately addressed to begin with. Hello from bushfire-prone Australia, is all I have to say about that.
Eventually I wasn’t sure if I should have been on the cryptozoological side and cheering for the monsters, who quite understandably had to survive their home being destroyed, and then discovered the only food source left was a bunch of mostly-clueless trapped humans with their crappy lack of wilderness survival plans. Pun unintended, but things devolve throughout fairly predictably and I ended up finishing this book in a day. Much like I remember finishing the novel Congo in a day, while stuck in hospital getting my wisdom teeth taken out. If you find yourself stuck in a similar situation, you may enjoy this fairly entertaining footnote-heavy tale, but as it was initially planned as a film, I suspect I’ll like seeing it on the big screen more.
Oh, and support your local bookstores. Talk to them about new releases like this one and also get them to recommend releases by authors that might not hit bestseller lists as quickly as a Brooks novel will, but are absolutely worth your time and worth you spending money to keep them writing more.