Book Review : Brian Evenson - The Warren (2016)
Pre-Order THE WARREN here (Available on September 20)
It does not matter what the truth is. What matters is how it feels.
Andy Weir's science fiction novel The Martian was an immediate best seller when it came out in 2014, spawning an almost immediate (and successful) movie adaptation starring none other than Matt Damon. And why shouldn't it have been? The premise was utterly terrifying: what would happen if a real life space mission left you stranded on a planet hostile to human life due to an unforeseen disaster? Weir's novel is a smart and efficient drama, but it avoids the most fundamental question it asks: what the fuck would happen to you if you were to be abandoned by every possible form of life? Fortunately, veteran author and grizzled explorer of the human condition Brian Evenson picked up where Andy Weir left off with his upcoming novella The Warren and the result is terrifying, bizarre and defiantly serious like every science fiction narratives should be.
So, X is alone in the warren, right? It's unclear whether he lives in a post-apocalyptic world or on a colonized planet, but the world around him is clearly hostile to existence. Is he even a human being? He doesn't talk or think like one. X might very well be a programmed intelligence or of an unknown alien species. His solitude is eventually broken by the warren's monitor, announcing him another life form has been found nearby. Rudderless and floating in reminiscences of human contact, X takes on himself to deliver this life form from an eternity of nothingness. He's not exactly what you would call an empathetic guy, but X hopes it will help fix his damaged and failing memory and that it does just that, somewhat. It's what I THINK happens in The Warren. Memory and reality are fleeting concepts in this one.
The Warren is terrifying in plenty of unusual ways. It also has original ideas about the concepts of memory, identity and loneliness. "Being" in a vacuum is fucking scary. The purpose of X's existence is unknown to him and to the reader until outside activity gives him a sense of direction. His memory is damaged from an unknown occurrence, which I believe might only be prolonged absence of contact with other beings. "Being" alone is having no clear sense of purpose, no identity (because there are no other people to reflect who you are) and no way to gauge the danger of outside forces. The Warren is very much an existential novella. It uses a science fiction setting to explore the primal terror, confusion and potential damage that complete isolation can cause. It explores several other questions in its 96 pages, but its portrait of isolation and alienation petrified me.
Since I learned most things in a way that I have come to feel would not be considered normal for those who might read this record, my sense of balance and order is sometimes far from perfect. At times, I become confused about the order in which things should be told.
The question of humanity is also central to The Warren. Once again, Brian Evenson astutely uses the bare, apocalyptic setting of his novella to examine the question in the purest way fiction can afford. Biology aside, there is once again very little for X to hold on to. And even then, can he really trust his memories, the warren's monitor or even Horak? Is being human even a good thing? Unlike narratives such as The Martian or even The Walking Dead, who champion human spirit in adversarial circumstances, The Warren deals in doubt rather than certitude. Are we complacently sure of what we are? Has comfort and certitude blinded us to Greater Truths? I don't want to spoil anything, but these question lead to one of the most haunting endings I have read in some time. It's still messing me up a couple weeks later.
The Warren was my first Brian Evenson. This author had been highly recommended to me by several people, though and I now understand why. Evenson's writing is unbound by genre clichés and meaningless certitudes about the human condition. The Warren was a lean, mean and challenging experience unlike anything I've read before and perhaps its most fascinating aspect is that it asks questions that only the reader can answer for himself. I love being confronted like that. I find it constructive. Expect seeing Brian Evenson's name again on this site and very soon because I'm definitely yearning for more of these violent and paranoid existential dreamscapes. I read to find books that challenge me and redefine my perception like this. The Warren's hitting the open market next Tuesday, so get ready.