The magic embodied by Chapman is followed by the malicious wonders of technology in the second common thread of the novel. Here we follow John, a brilliant inventor turned repentant eco-rebel, as he tries to redeem himself for his part in creating an Ohio-based planetary mega-interest known as Earthtrust. Earthtrust, founded by John’s childhood best friend to help tackle the ravages of over-farming and climate change, has become an unambiguous part of the problem. We have a clear idea of ââthe direction taken in the third thread of the book. In this grim vision of the future, a lonely, haunted entity known first as C-432, then as C-433 scours the frozen continent in search of pockets of biomaterial to bring back to the abandoned piece of metal. let him call home.
The two C’s in this third thread share not only a letter, but also hooves and horns with Chapman since the first – a sign of the web of connections around which Bell builds his novel. The perfect apple that one character seeks is linked to the perfectly inedible genetically modified specimens encountered by another, which in turn are linked to the fruits of an extraordinary future tree that emerges from a very unexpected ground. Elsewhere, the flowers, chicks, and rabbits from the front pages are glimpsed again in the empty cloned eyes of future animals, and they in turn find their echo far into the future in creatures made of tiny swarms of flying robots.
Bell wisely resists excess with connective and structural vanities, and thus prevents âAppleseed,â with its three-part design of tightly woven threads, from turning into a giant puzzle the mere completion of which might have, Ã la âCloud Atlas, âby David Mitchell, mastered its emotional content. Bell is clearly not in this formally ambitious but still deeply human job to score points for making clever formal moves. Attractive seriousness backed by deeply felt optimism infuses âAppleseedâ. Which means that while we’re not in the literary equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube in its pages, neither do we have in our hands a relentlessly savage post-apocalyptic hellish landscape like Cormac McCarthy’s âThe Roadâ. The direct influences in “Appleseed” – drawn as much, you can tell, from high-level film, television and video games as from literature – are elsewhere. Bell has metabolized his inspiration knots well enough that, while they give an interesting texture (a touch of “Westworld” here, “Black Mirror” and “Oryx and Crake” there), they never overwhelm. . It is as it should be. Shoving the whole world to the brink and trying to imagine a way it could be brought back in a meaningful way, not cheap, is too important an order to play against a backdrop of nods and winks: Bell has the radical organic reboot of the entire planet in his sights.
Half-measures – like lukewarm carbon offsets and slightly stricter emissions standards that we mistakenly thought will somehow solve our problems – won’t do the job there. The taming, reseeding, reseeding, and mood-altering ventures that the fascinating and imperfect Bell characters engage in are good as far as they go, but in the end, “Appleseed” suggests, our current ways of being will all have to be hammered into very small pieces – “Gravel of marble counters, ceramic dishes, stainless steel appliances.” Gravel for fences and roadways, gravel for lampposts and traffic lights. Gravel of plastic chairs, plastic dishes and plastic children’s toys â- before anything resembling a rebirth can begin. What emerges on the other side of the apocalypse as “Appleseed” the performer will hardly resemble what entered there. But he has a good chance of being handsome.
The tough but redemptive “Appleseed” certainly is. If there are a few small missteps along the way (like the Disney-meets-David Lynch moment near the end of the novel, when sinister dwarfs appear), what an almost 500-page novel that addresses the plight of a seriously injured planet do have a few? The big picture is that Bell has achieved something special here. âAppleseed,â a much-loved addition to the growing canon of top-notch contemporary climate fiction, sounds timely, prescient, and true.