Book Review: This Mortal Coil

I never called myself a sci-fi person. I didn’t watch Star Wars or Star Trek as a kid, didn’t get into Metroid Prime or War of the Worlds. I was much more taken with fantasy. When it gets right down to it, I suppose I just liked magic as a plot element more than technology.

But. I read This Mortal Coil, a YA science fiction debut, last week. And I was floored.

this mortal coil

Author Emily Suvada uses her extensive knowledge of biology, coding, chemistry, and genetics to craft a not-so-far future world in This Mortal Coil. Catarina is a hacker and geneticist, living alone in the woods after a horrifying virus has killed a majority of the North American population. The only geneticist who could have hoped to make a vaccine for the disease—Cat’s father—was kidnapped and then killed. The virus is airborne, and the only way to become immune is to eat the flesh of an infected individual. (I’m not sure how the science checks out here, but it’s kind of cool? Like reverse zombies.)

But that’s not the worst part! The worst part is—wait, look at the book cover. Can you guess what I’m going to say? The worst part is, the virus turns infected individuals into time bombs. They eventually explode into a gruesome cloud of red mist, spreading the virus (it’s airborne, remember?) to any nearby unfortunates. It’s horrifying, it’s disgusting, and it’s so good.

It’s been a while since I’ve run the YA circuit, so I’m a little behind on the popular tropes and trends. For what it’s worth, though, I can’t remember the last time I saw a character like Cat front and center. She’s intelligent, geeky, unashamedly talented, quick on her feet, and full of grit. And sometimes she fails. I found her realistic and inspiring, and I hope teenage girls—especially those interested in pursuing STEM careers—look up to her as a role model.

This Mortal Coil is 415 pages of fast-paced, relentless plot twists and high-tension scenes. I was completely sucked in, breathless, and read it in full over the course of a single day. When I finished, I wanted to read it all over again. I’m known to reread books, but never on repeat, so to speak—it was a new experience for me.

The fun doesn’t stop when you finish reading, though. Suvada has crafted an engaging social media platform on Twitter and her website. And she’s left secrets for her dedicated fans. In the book, Cat finds a sequence of DNA in a mutated pigeon that looks like a poem. She doesn’t decode the full thing, but the entire poem is in the back of the book, ready for inquiring minds to crack. The poem isn’t the only thing you can decode, by the way….You’ll have to find the other secrets for yourself!

A fantastic debut, This Mortal Coil will surely be heralded as a YA sci-fi classic in the years to come. Book 2 is already in the works! Buy This Mortal Coil at Powell’s or on Amazon.

Awesome. Original. Stunning. And yes, “unputdownable.” 5/5

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On Writing, National Novel Writing Month, and Omega 84

galaxy

Remember when I said I would try to write every day for three weeks? Well, in a stunning turn of events (not), I failed. But much like my workout challenge, it wasn’t a complete failure. Out of twenty-six days, I wrote for sixteen days and missed ten. This includes creative writing and blog writing. Of those sixteen writing days, I wrote over 750 words on eight of them.

This is by no means my best record. But compared to the amount of creative writing I was doing a month ago, it’s a huge increase, and one that I’m proud of.

Let me tell you a story. In one of my classes, we were put into groups and given an assignment to create a fake publishing house. We also had to write fake query letters to the fake publishing houses. I didn’t think much of my query letters; none of my existing projects fit with any of the publishing houses in the class, so I made up some new ones. One of these stories I named Omega 84.

The fake publishing house I queried, Astral Waters Press, “publishes” science fiction novels featuring LGBTQ+ characters. Coming up with a fake story idea to fit those requirements seemed easy enough, I thought. So I wrote a query letter for a fake story called Omega 84. I won’t divulge too many details—suffice to say it features a gay woman who travels across space a few centuries in the future—but after I wrote the query letter, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. In bed that night, I lobbed questions at my fiancé: What do you think of this? How could this be believable? What should I name the home planet for my character? He didn’t have many suggestions, but he provided support…and then a reminder that he wakes up at six in the morning for work. I stopped asking questions after that.

But I didn’t stop thinking about Omega 84. Pieces started coming together. A narrative arc formed. My character’s motivations became clear and before I fully realized what was happening, I had my first book idea in two years.

I decided (foolishly) to write it for NaNo. So far, I have about eight thousand words, an outline through chapter five of the book, and a rough idea of what happens after that. School caught up with me again and I didn’t write as much as I wanted to, but it’s a start—if a difficult one. Fantasy is my comfort zone: with few exceptions, it’s what I read and write. But science fiction isn’t a far cry from fantasy. (They’re shelved next to each other in bookstores and libraries for good reason!) And I’m not afraid to tackle this unfamiliar genre.

That said, I’ll need some help. I’ve chosen my books through the end of the year but I’ll need some new reads, including some science fiction books, for 2017. Have any suggestions? Drop a comment or tweet me @fictionlass (see the sidebar). And if you’re interested in following my progress with Omega 84, you can search this blog for the tag “Omega 84” or Twitter for the hashtag #Omega84. I fully intend to finish a complete draft of this book and then try to edit it. If I haven’t posted about it in a while, feel free to bug me. I look forward to hearing from you!