I decided to dip my reading toe into some science fiction with this book, and I found it intriguing and entertaining. What would you do if you could live forever? That’s the premise of this book, and the results reinforce Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It’s 2125, and thanks to prophylactic pill called Chulel, aging is a thing of the past. Fertility has declined, population growth is non-existent, and people live young, healthy lives for centuries. But if you live that long, can your brain possibly store all your memories? Not to fear, your memories are now under corporate control. Jenda Swain is a living the life of a valued cog in the Dallas offices of Your Journal, having worked there for 90 years. Everyone relies on YJ as a secure repository for their personal stories, photos, thoughts and feeling. She is content with her life and career until she meets an aged woman who claims to know her, but of whom Jenda has no memory. She wonders if she ever had.
Jenda is about to take a required, every-seven-years sabbatical, and on the spur of the moment and with the vague recollection that she used to paint, decides to trade her reservations for a year in California for an artists’ colony in Mexico, where her mother had gone a few times. Her decision is fateful. There she meets handsome Luis-Martín Zenobia, an anthropologist by training but following a study of the traditional arts and crafts of the surviving native populations of Mexico, has become an artist of some note. They fall in love, and Jenda discovers Luis-Martín is a retrogressive, painting in real oils on archival canvasses and has dissident tendencies, untrusting of a corporation that stores memories. He introduces her to some of his friends, who share his distrust, and triggers memories she can’t jibe with what she knows of herself from YJ. This leads her to discover what truly happens after each person’s sabbatical and how YJ manipulates society.
The answer to the question I asked is woven into the romance of these two – Jenda, who becomes aware that large parts of her life, as it exists in YJ, are missing, and discovers how the company is manipulating everyone’s lives – and Luis- Martín, who embraces enduring creation and has plans to disrupt YJ and essentially restart society.
The book is full of futuristic surprises: a wrist-worn digilet, which is a computer with a colloidal drive; clothes that are designed to be thrown away after one wearing so no washing is required and fashion is always up to date; paintings that are three-dimensional facsimiles and recyclable; fabricated trees which produce new leave according to a timetable; pills for everything, including the enhancement of the sexual experience and the slightest feeling of anxiety or sadness. However, the issues of the story line are familiar to all of us: social media, corporate politics, consumerism. The author has just taken these issues and extended them into the future.
Did I like this book? Yes and no. Its premise is inherently interesting, it made me think, its various threads are woven together neatly, and it has an emotional ending. The problem was the fact I couldn’t connect with Jenda until about halfway the way through the book, when her struggle to find her lost memories and reclaim her past finally got to me. This may have been because there was a lot of telling and as a result, I felt more like a watcher than a participant in her life.
Despite my differences with the writing style, the book kept me engaged, more so in the second half, and I intend to read the second volume in this series.
About the author (from Amazon):
Donna Dechen Birdwell is an anthropologist whose curiosity about what makes human beings tick propelled her to travel widely, listening to the stories of many different cultures and eventually coming up with a few of her own. High on the list of countries she knows and loves are Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, Costa Rica, Cuba, England, Ireland, Spain, Nepal, India, and Tibet. Her work is deeply influenced by the stories and imagery of these places.
Donna is an artist, poet, and photographer as well as a novelist. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Southern Methodist University and previously taught at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. She now writes, paints, and photographs in Austin.
You can find Donna Birdwell at:
And you can find Way of the Serpent on Amazon at: