MY BOOK WORLD
Every novel creates an environment of its own. Author Matt Bell does so in spades in this ambitious work of three worlds and how they eventually converge. Slowly you do sense the three strands coming together, especially each time that Chapman and Nathaniel come to live with the Worth family and they witness the payoff of having planted apple trees from seed decades earlier.
Bell alternates chapters by way of individual characters beginning with Chapman and Nathaniel (loosely based on Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman and brother Nathaniel Chapman). This strand is set in the 1700s and traces the two brothers as they prepare acres and acres of apple nurseries in Ohio and surrounding states, planting individual seeds rather than using grafting—to earn money in the future. Bell makes Chapman’s character even more legendary by creating him as half human/half faun (a mythological character, not a fawn).
The other two strands—a science-fiction thread set in the latter half of this century, and a thousand years from now when the earth is experiencing a new ice age, creating an environmental plea—alternate back and forth between the Appleseed thread until the cataclysmic climax and almost languorous denouement. Readers must trust author Bell, that he knows what he is doing because at times you feel as if you’re on a runaway roller coaster ride that won’t end. And the fact that he releases details gradually makes the speculative and sci-fi aspects of the novel more believable, more easily woven into its fabric (and your memory). At one point, he lists five and a half pages of what have become extinct species, and you make yourself read every one of them, to the experience the pain of what it would (will?) be like to lose that many creatures in the future.
Bell creates the novel’s own vocabulary, much like Anthony Burgess does in his A Clockwork Orange and other works—they are endemic to that novel. Words like “rewilder” (persons attempting to rebuild the natural world); Sacrifice Zone; Volunteer Agricultural Community (VAC); advertainments; nanoswarms; macrofarms; barkspot; no-when; somewhen. Just a few. (The publisher might wish to include a glossary in the back, in a final edition.) Bell makes a good practice of recapping or summarizing backstory so readers know where they are in the sweep of things.
Perhaps because this copy is the publisher’s “advance reader’s edition,” (I received it as a Goodreads giveaway fulfilled by HarperCollins) it may feature more than its fair share of typographical errors, but I list the ones I found because it’s a thing I do:
Typo: “hope_ are” (184) should be “hopes are”
Typo: “unlike t he one” (232) should be “the”
Typo: “Chapman say_,” (297) should be “says”
Typo: “Eury most not expect” (311) should be “Eury must not
Typo: “if Earthtrust was a country” (362) should be “if Earthtrust
is a country” to be consistent with contextual use of present tense.
Reading Appleseed is a big ask, not so much on the part of the author (who is excused on the basis of creative control) or the publisher but on the part of literature itself. One must approach the novel with an open mind, especially if you don’t often read fantasy, sci-fi, or speculative fiction. Bell produces a phrase that might just rise up as a slogan for our earth’s future: Either we all survive, or no one does (159). Frightening but possibly true.
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