Monday, March 16, 2015

Aerodynamics, Manta Rays, and New Species REVIEWING: Natural Selection



I had stumbled across this book on Goodreads a long time ago and honestly not all the reviews were very good. It was on my recommended books area because I had been reading things like Jurassic Park and Jaws, just to name a couple. I found it unexpectedly at the local library and picked it up for the summer reading I was doing. So without further ado, here is what I thought. 

Natural Selection
Author: Dave Freedman
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction/Thriller
Year of Publication: 2006

This book started off really strong. I was super into it until about 200 pages in. This might not be a reflection on the book itself, considering that when I hit that mark, I started getting busy. I had carried this book around quite a bit, to the eye doctor's office and even the mall at one point. I was blasting through it like crazy! However, somewhere between chapters 44-50, I started losing my momentum. This rarely ever happens to me. Sometimes I start a book and I just don't finish it. I'll pick it up later on, start over and get through. That or I'll get bored out of my mind, but I'll feel a nagging sensation that just screams FINISH IT ALREADY. This book wasn't too terrible, because I clearly didn't have that emotion. I guess I can say that it was just kind of there. I had it sitting on my vanity for at least two months and just didn't feel like reading it. I knew I wasn't far from the end, but that didn't make me want to jump right back in. I wanted to finish it, yes, but not out of complete desperation to be done and get it as far away from me as possible. 

To start off simply, let's pick at the cover a bit. At first, I honestly couldn't tell what the creature was. I was having one of those times where you look at a picture one way and later on realize it's supposed to be something else and it seems super obvious from that moment on. On the Goodreads image, I thought it was some kind of funky trilobite with a long tail....having mistaken the left "wing" for an extended appendage. and seeing a shape inside the teeth rather than teeth and a mouth. Very silly of me. Now I know what it is. 

This book is basically about a team of scientists plus one extra guy who begin to investigate a few odd occurrences and end up on the trail of what they think is a completely new species. There is a lot of science going on and I think it's supposed to be thrilling. Occasionally, it is. I liked the setting, when the scientists are on the water or in the red wood forest. That's pretty cool. I like the resourcefulness of the creature, and its heightened intelligence. I also thought the characters were rather good. They weren't stellar, but they weren't cardboard cutouts. Well, a few of them weren't. Jason, the main character, does show a lot of development. He undergoes significant change over the course of the book. Lisa isn't too stagnant, but she doesn't really change that much from what I saw. The rest are just kind of the same. They are all unique and flawed in their own ways, making them interesting to begin with, but they don't seem completely rounded out towards the end. I got the action parts at the end and they were exciting, but at some point I stopped caring about mostly everyone. I cared about Jason, occasionally Lisa, and I only sympathize with the married couple in this novel because they want to have a family and you can see them pushing through some hard challenges. 

The dustjacket says: ""Weaving science and thriller in a way not seen since Jurassic Park, Natural Selection introduces a phenomenally dangerous new species that is rapidly adapting in a way never before seen...." 
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't really expecting something as incredible as Jurassic Park. This sentence isn't really that far off from the book, but people wanting something similar to Jurassic Park won't find it all here. This book tries to be deep and get you engaged in its story, but somewhere along the way it just starts to drag. Even when I wanted to get super excited, I had a hard time. I'm not a morbid person who loves death, but every creature movie gets at least one or two good scenes where the creature the characters are facing devours somebody. That doesn't happen til pretty late in the book. Most of the book is spent tracking down the creature, which could be a pretty fun concept too, if you know how to execute it properly. The science regarding the creature is some of the most fun stuff, but too often are the characters sitting and waiting for the next big thing to happen. It takes much too long to tell this story. Are there things I would have cut? Yeah, definitely. Some events are just too predictable. Beyond that, they take too long to be addressed, but then get almost instant solutions! I'm not saying who, but somebody at some point betrays everyone else. Not only was it predictable, but the main group of characters had that problem solved almost instantaneously. On top of that, the person didn't have to deal with much in terms of consequences!!! If you're going to include a problem, make sure its actually worthwhile, and then make sure that the appropriate consequences will come of it. I found some segments to be so cheapened because they only stuck to the surface and didn't go the extra mile to make them worth my reading. Maybe this sounds bad, but a summary would've been more enjoyable than having to read through some of this book. This book had all the right pieces, but it doesn't even come close to being one of the best creature thrillers out there. If this book was ever made into a film, it would be a direct-to-TV, Syfy Channel feature. Everything needed to make the book great was there, but the author failed to deliver a satisfying thrill. Was I thrilled? Not really. Was it entertaining? Yeah, somewhat. I didn't hate it, but I really don't think I'll be rereading it anytime soon, if at all. Once was enough for me. The romantic element is very subdued and it does help to further develop some characters, but it isn't spectacularly done. I liked it, but I don't think it would have bothered me if one of them had been eaten and wrecked the chances of them being together in the end (which is odd coming from me. I usually cheer couples on and hope against all hope they'll come out together when all is said and done). It worked, but it wasn't enough. 

I just realized this book was supposed to be horror too. It didn't meet my standards of excellent horror thriller in regards to a creature. The creature itself was interesting, but connections between one aspect of the story and the other were never strong. There's the creature....there's the humans....they meet and....then I felt really disengaged. This would not stand up next to the best creature thrillers out there that I've read or seen so far. It doesn't come close. To mention Jurassic Park is to set the bar high for yourself. I didn't read it to compare it to JP. I read it as its own story and then had to come to the reality that not nearly enough was done to make it half as good as anything that Michael Crichton has written in terms of scientific thrillers. To compare itself to JP was to doom itself even further than the less than stellar execution had already done. The idea was good, the execution was ok, and it could've been way better. Half was good, half was unnecessary and parts of it still don't feel right to me. The puzzle pieces haven't been properly connected to each other, even though every piece is there that could have made it excellent. 

While not a terrible story, Natural Selection fails to deliver thrills and takes way too long to do anything satisfying. Some characters are well developed, others fall short and become forgettable almost immediately. There are too many quick fixes and not enough punishments granted to people who complicate things and almost ruins the lives of the people around them. The creature does not do much to anybody to make it truly terrifying as all instances of "horror" are few and far between. Overall this book is fun, but not overly thrilling, and it failed to excite me, although it did grant a few good hours of entertainment. Overly predictable, I have to give Natural Selection a 3, though in all honesty, I'm leaning towards a 2.5, out of 5. 

This concludes a review here at The Real World According To Sam, thanks for reading!!! 

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