Book Review – Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

Book Review – Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

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I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

It’s a really strange feeling, reading a science fiction dystopian novel amidst a pandemic outbreak. I mean, we are all staying indoors, wearing masks, washing hands, keeping our fingers crossed, hoping someone, somewhere would find a solution – a vaccine. A magic potion that would just turn things back to normal again. In short, we are all waiting for some ‘heroes’ to save the day. At least some of us are waiting. Some others are the heroes – the doctors, nurses, cleaning staff, ambulance drivers, pharmacists, researchers, government leaders, etc. I belong to the former category. The best thing I can do now is to stay safe and not create any further trouble for my heroes. A similar concept runs through this novel set in a future utopia-turned-dystopian world (happening after 2325 AD) in a human-colonized-planet named ‘Pearl’, 16 light-years away from earth.

In the novel, science and technology progress so much under humans that 4 world wars and numerous magical vaccines later, humans realize that they don’t have to worry about physical ailments or death anymore. The exponential surge in the population forces humans to search for inhabitable planets and eventually to colonize Pearl(something NASA, people like Elon Musk, etc. are already pursuing with regards to Planet Mars). Pearl has humans living inside a totally controlled environment including weather and day-to-day activities. The perfect world run by machines makes the human-inhabitants to live just like jail inmates or machines on an assembly line connecting their sleeping halls, meadow and meal halls.

“This place. This life. Every day. It’s all the same. We wake up. We eat, play in the meadow for a while, eat again…”

However, small glitches start occurring in this perfectly run world. People who have long forgotten their ability to think, make decisions, find solutions, even to communicate are forced to get out of their comfort zones. The two main characters in this story, Samuel and Penny begin by following a copper-eyed-woman whom they call a hero. She finds the solution to the first glitch, but soon she goes missing from the colony. This chain of events repeats with different glitches and heroes until one day the spectators are forced to become heroes. But this is not an easy task for Samuel and Penny. The torn-paper-clues tease their brains, death of fellow colonists increases the severity of the situation, but importantly the question that troubles them the most –

“Someone knew… Someone had done this thing…”  

But why?

For all of you who haven’t read this book yet, this is a good place to stop. Just know that I enjoyed reading this book, but there were a few areas where I wished the author pushed further.

“Spoiler alert!!!”

The initial spirit of this book felt slow, dull, and monotonous just like the life of the protagonists. But as soon as Samuel starts solving the mishaps, the book picks up pace, the narration becomes more passionate and interesting. Overall the book is an easy read, there is a good chance that most of the readers would finish it in one go, just like me.

Life in the colony might remind you of the dystopian worlds you have read before. For some odd reason, my brain immediately associated it to the vibe in the novel ‘1984’. The central idea of the book: as humans progress, our minds might suffer from the atrophy of disuse, reminded me of the novella ‘Time machine.’ But apart from these familiar elements, the way the story unfolded felt fresh and innovative. I mean, for the most part of the book, I was as clueless as Samuel and Penny. The little image clues were clever and tricky.

A few areas I loved so much that I wanted the writer to just go on and on:

  • The debate-like-discussion between Leo and Samuel towards the end of the novel. I loved it but I wanted that talk to go even further than it actually did. I wanted them to state thoughts and ideas beyond the obvious.

“But as long as you think for them, they will never think for themselves. And then the last vestiges of humanity will be lost.”

  • The ending. Samuel chooses to come back but he can’t fully fit in, he can’t go back. But the world is his oyster, to make or break. There is a cool sense of freedom and power of choices at that moment. I loved this moment in the book, so I wanted the author to explore it further and say something unique that could capture that moment perfectly in my mind forever.

“Where are we going?” Penny asked.
Samuel raised his chin toward the open meadow.
“Wherever we want.”

Some crazy thoughts/doubts I had at the end of the book were:

  • Maybe this is the reason why God/universe-in-itself created Earth as imperfect. A perfect system would never have challenged a human. And what is human without challenges and problems and his/her ability to adapt and overcome it?
  • I wanted somebody to just tell the people in Pearl about veganism.  Even Leo and his group don’t crack it; one major reason why I was happy with Samuel not joining their group. The group was intelligent, curious, and ambitious, but they could definitely be kinder. Not to forget the colonists who died by the river.

“He was glad of that, and each time he ate, he reminded himself that he was alive only because so many other living creatures had suffered and died, and that he must somehow find a better way to survive.”

  • Why didn’t the people from earth never contact Pearl again? Leo and his group wouldn’t have to start everything from scratch again, had this happened. Is it because earth is already destroyed by then?
  • Why didn’t anyone leave a proper manual for the weather control system? Or a booklet showing how it was built? Basically, why there were no books or stored data that would have enabled the colonists to reconstruct the colony from scratch or develop it further if they wanted to? I’m sure our Mars colonies will have all the data needed to reconstruct another earth from scratch if there ever arises such a need.
  • Maybe this is how our world began, how different human civilizations began. Maybe God is to our world, what first humans were to the inhabitants in Pearl.

I basically enjoyed the overall concept and narration of the book. I liked the author’s take on the future world. I liked the series of events that led to the colonization of Pearl. But few areas that dulled my interest as a reader were:

  • All the initial glitches were domestic ones – like locked doors or missing furniture. I would have been really worried if that happened at my home, but in a sci-fi novel, I felt we need more than that to keep a reader’s interest on.
  • Leo and his group, even when they showed an alternative way to live as a colony, feels primitive to the reader. Samuel might hear the descriptions with interest, but for a sci-fi-loving-reader who is looking for details of futuristic world/ science & technology, these descriptions would have been boring.

I know these weak areas were necessary for the plot, but they reduced the enjoyability-factor of the book for me. This is a totally personal opinion.

My rating for the book is 3/5. 

To the readers who stayed till the end, do read the book and let me know your thoughts about the same. Happy reading 🙂

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22839622-our-dried-voices?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=zPeQp25sXK&rank=1

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