I think I set a record even for myself recently: I read a 500-page book in two days. On Monday of this week, we drove from Salt Lake City, Utah to Flagstaff, Arizona, a 7.5-hour drive, and on Tuesday, we drove from Flagstaff to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, another two. I read almost the entire time. It’s not every book that could’ve commanded that much of my attention. What’s the book, you ask? Genesis by Brendan Reichs. I picked it up at Costco, having read its prequel Nemesis. I liked the first book, except for the massive cliffhanger at its end. It was so massive that I almost didn’t buy it, but I did, so I guess I fell for that. I’m glad I did, though. Genesis was one of the most taut, intense, dark books I’ve ever read.
What Genesis Is About
It’s dark because of the premise, which is that, in the face of a cataclysmic event that has killed all life on Earth, 64-members of a small-town high school’s sophomore class have been preserved as digital versions of themselves inside a super computer. Every detail of their lives within the little valley of Fire Lake, Idaho has been preserved, but they’ve been told that the super computer doesn’t have the capacity to preserve all of them digitally forever. Thus, they need to fight things out until they get down to the right amount of kids. There are no rules, because if one of them dies or gets killed, they just “reset,” kind of like in a video game. There are no parents, no other people, and a limited supply of food and other resources. Some students hide, most fight, and those that fight discover that each kill they make imbues them with more strength. So, picture Hunger Games combined with…The Andy Griffith Show? Min, one of the two main characters, doesn’t want to kill anyone, and she hates Noah, the other main character, because she’d started to fall in love with him at the end of the first book, and then he shot her in the back. She tries to hide at first, but is drawn out by some of her classmates because she’s a “beta.” Noah’s determined to figure out the program they’re inside of, and feels like it’s finally given him a purpose, a chance to lead that he’d never had in real life.
If I had known how violent this book would’ve been before I bought it, I wouldn’t have bought it. It’s very violent. As it was, I shouldn’t have read it all the way through. But I did, and I didn’t get nightmares, which I’m prone to.
So the thing that drives the plot forward at breakneck speed is the discoveries Min makes about why they need to limit their numbers, and the continual formation and dissolution of various alliances the kids make to protect themselves against those students who become bloodthirsty tyrants, all against the backdrop of “hey, why is Greg Kozowitz, who I used to sit with at lunch, shooting Floyd Hornberry?” or “why is skinny Jacob Allred, the school chess club champion, hoarding all the barbed wire?” It’s kind of crazy, and at some points, all-out insane, especially toward the end, when discoveries–really big ones–pile up on every page. It’s so insane that I very much wish that Reichs would’ve provided a map of Fire Lake, and a roster of the kids, similar to the one provided of the enemies in Gemina. In fact, I think that Reichs could’ve easily made this into a YA graphic novel like the ground-breaking Gemina and its prequel Illuminae by providing those things, as well as things like code from the binders they discover, Tack’s map, maybe a short summary or timeline of what happened in Nemesis, etc.
So it’s dark, and has a plot that moves at break-neck speed, but more than that, it also has a certain intensity that comes from its characters and style. Reich has a gift for showing things so vividly they’re almost blinding, in a way that simultaneously develops characters. Noah and Min, for example, are very different characters, so they notice vastly different things, and describe them very differently. It’s wonderful to read a book that doesn’t sacrifice beauty for the sake of action.
And, best of all, it didn’t end with a cliffhanger. It ended with a very big question, but resolved this story’s question—that of whether the kids could maintain their humanity so that they’d be worth saving—very nicely.
Who Would Like Genesis?
If you liked any of these books, or like anything post-apocalyptic, I can almost guarantee you’ll love this one:
- Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
- The Host by Stephenie Meyer
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
- Maze Runner by James Dashner
- Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey
- Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody
- Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Nutrition facts label? A fair amount of swearing. No sex or nudity. Lots of violence, as mentioned.
If all books came with nutrition facts labels showing the essential “ingredients,” what would you like to see listed?