Half Way Home

End Date:  June 27

Author:  Hugh Howey

Published:  2013

Genre:  Young Adult

Pages:  366 (paperback)

Selected By:  Lady Esbe

Average Score:  Scoring Great Book

“Less than sixty kids awaken on a distant planet.  The colony ship they arrived on is aflame.  The rest of their contingent is dead.  They’ve only received half their training, and they are being asked to conquer an entire planet.  Before they can, however, they must first survive each other.” – from the Goodreads summary.

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Gigglemug Reviews

Lady Esbe:  Scoring Great Book

Well this is take two.  I managed to destroy my old laptop and, unlike my usual M.O., I hadn’t sent my review to Elle immediately upon completion of the book, so I am now getting the pleasure of re-writing one.  I hope I remember all of my points and that this does not come off too disjointed.

I became a fan of Mr. Howey when I read the Wool Omnibus.  He’s great at tackling problems that humans create and face on a daily basis and in extreme conditions.  I think this novel does no less than that.  It draws you in quickly and before you know it, you’ve read so much so fast, you’re still craving just to find the resolution.

This book screams to me about things that worry me, no matter how distant in the future it may be.  We begin the novel with tragedy.  Of five hundred colonists, only approximately fifty survive.  I am impressed by the idea that rather than sending a completely manned expedition across the universe, but starting with embryos that are sustained, then raised and trained by the artificial intelligence to cut down on expense or loss of life during many years of exploration as a unique solution for space exploration.  That is where my admiration of the process ceases.  The artificial intelligence system is responsible for gathering data for the planets it lands upon, along with rearing and educating the colonists.  Now, the AI is also responsible for determining the best circumstances under which the colony to thrive, the direction or directive of the colonists day to day activities and ultimately, if the colony is deemed viable enough to merit survival.  Because there is no empathy, because it can be single-minded in it’s pursuits of logic, the AI can make one of the worst dictators there is, as proven by this book.  When a logical and empathetic plea is made to the AI to reallocate resources to ensure that the colonist thrive is completely ignored and met with more stringent demands by the AI system, it is only logical that people would rebel.  In fact, the AI terminated over four hundred colonists because of a calculation.

Now the ingenious part is the training in stasis.  Each colonist is trained while they are being sustained.  They are to receive their full training by the time they awaken at the age of thirty.  However, our victims are awakened a solid fifteen years early with half their training.  Now, they were literally born last night and must acclimate to their environment with not nearly the training or guidance they would have had, as those with more authority and command die as a result of the AI’s termination process, I feel that some people fall right into their roles, while others aren’t nearly as adept.

For instance Porter, our main character from which most of the story is told from his perspective, is a psychologist.  I wanted to be behind him.  I wanted him to excel despite his abbreviated training.  I’ll give him his due that he is very observant.  This is the only tenant of his profession that at which he excels. This is where I get frustrated with him, he doesn’t practice any of the basic facets that people learn in Psych 101.  Ok, he was born last night.  Ok, he’s fifteen and what fifteen year old is adept at handling his feelings, much that of others… simple answer, few and far between.    He has a seeming, “disadvantage” because of his programming (and no it has nothing to do with his psychology training), what we find is a deliberate design by the AI.  I did find him, and as he adeptly proclaims, a whimp.  I am lead to believe that no matter the time period, you’ll have hunters and gatherers.  There are those who are naturally innovative and fearless when it comes to adapting to a foreign situation and shift into their roles as providers for the colony.  Porter happens to fall into the cast of gather rather than hunter.  I can respect that.  It’s just survival of the fittest at that point and those who are “strong” will tackle the more dangerous feats while those who are a bit on the less adventurous side err on the side of caution and doing much needed mundane chores.  I’ll point specifically to the scene after their group has fled the colony and have divided amongst themselves things to be done.  Porter stays with the girls to set up camp.  I’m sure with little to no gear and need of making shelter and the like, it’s not necessarily a girly thing to do (think the trainwreck of a show called Naked & Afraid on Discovery Channel – where you have people who are ill-equipped for the environment they are in and must adapt and survive).

Now my major disappointment with Porter is his inability or unwillingness to tackle certain problems head-on.  He knows his actions are in direct conflict with his training.  He is a strong participant in the practice of avoidance, which drove me absolutely insane.  The thing that grated on my nerves the most  was, he knows he has no romantic feelings for Tarsi (and I’ll circle back to that source of annoyance), yet, rather than tell her so and put a firm line in sand, he allows her to drape herself over him and cuddle and so forth, knowing full well he has feelings for another.  While it may have hurt her a little while, I do believe, a blunt conversation was needed with her because she just didn’t read the signs.  Porter did speak up on matters of well-being while in the colony and in the wilderness.  He seems adept at making the proper decisions when he doesn’t have to deal with emotions, but with actual processes and physical well-being.  He admits he has awareness and understanding of the precepts of his career, enacting them himself is a problem.  I could reconcile myself to this because, well, they were technically born last night and he’s a teenager.  I expect awkwardness, despite the training in stasis.

My larger source of annoyance came in the form of Tarsi.  I feel like she imprinted on Porter, who saved her from the conflagration and couldn’t conceive of them having a relationship not to her tailoring.  In her mind, she was to be his mate.  Nevermind what he wants.  She lays claim and is very overt about her attentions to him.  While the guys seem a wee bit enlightened in this or we are going back to the primitive women choose their mates based of what they feel are potential survival instincts, it’s hard to say which is the predominant factor, the guys accept the girl’s choice of mate with little fuss or muss.  Prime example would be Kelvin.  He has feelings for Tarsi and because she has not so subtly claimed Porter as her own, Kelvin concedes defeat and acquiesces quietly and calmly to Porter.  Now, Tarsi’s pushiness can be attributed to her being a trained teacher, leading people to draw the conclusions she desires.  However, her clinginess drove me insane.  She does not read the queues that are readily available to her.  *****SPOILER ALERT***** >>> There is a scene where she cuddles up to Porter at night and he has absolutely no reaction.  However, Kelvin flanks him, also cuddling and then Porter becomes aroused.  Hello?  Did you not get he didn’t become aroused by your advances?  Come on now.  We have all been guilty of being blind to something staring us square in the face, but her behavior is just too much for me.  The only conclusion I can draw is that because Porter rescued her from the initial catastrophe, that she is awestruck by him and doesn’t know how to separate brotherly/sisterly feelings from that of romantic interest.  It is unfortunate that this is quite true in reality for many people as well.

I can’t quite grasp or am trying to understand whether Howey meant for us to question nature vs nurture.  In this case, all the characters were trained while in stasis.  Each had different experiences and understanding of what was to occur and their role in how those occurrences play out as a whole.    It made me also question, whether there was group “training” while in stasis.  If two or more people were destined to perform the same task, whether farmer, mechanic, commander, or intellectual, did the AI bring some of them into sessions together.  This was a question I had and that is never answered.  For example, Myra is typical codependent woman who will go from guy to guy so as not to be alone.  I was concerned by her devastation over the death of Stevens.  From what I could tell, they had known each other for hours or a little more than a day when Stevens dies.  The blubbering scene she makes at his funeral is just too much for such a short period of time.  Why has the attachment grown so quickly?   However, this is a typical human trait.  We also have that of the bully in Hickson, or more to the point, someone who cannot think for himself and will mindlessly follow the ordinances of Colony (the AI) without question.  His focus is the mission even at his or other’s demises without the thought of creating a better situation to resolve problems they face.  Finally, of the negative variety, we also have Oliver.  Oliver is a trained Philospher, of which they lump in religious studies as well.  Unfortunately, Oliver is of the Jim Jones persuasion and is willing to poison the koolaid, drink it and force all others to drink it if he can.  He’s fanatical and even his glad tidings and positive outlook that we are initially introduced too, he felt off from day one.  I question that if these beings are being breed to achieve a purpose, it would seem to me that these negative traits would be breed out or trained out while they were undergoing their functionary training.  However, not all is lost in this situation.  <<< *****END SPOILER***** 

The person I’m most fond of in this story is Kelvin.  Kelvin is true blue.  He’s a hard worker, protective and willing to take a chance to improve his friend’s and his own lot in life.  When he becomes fed up with the situation at the colony, he is the leader amongst his crew (of Porter, Tarsi and himself).  He takes the initiative to gather things that they may need and to devise a plan to move forward to free them of a miserable existence.  While he has his desires, he understands that what he want may not be what anyone else may want (Tarsi’s affection) and does not press his cause out of respect, which is more than I can say for Tarsi.  Kelvin is the hunter to Porter’s gatherer persona.  Once in the wilderness beyond the colony, Kelvin willingly explores the area to surveil what they may be up against and to determine where they are in relation to the other colonists.  While it takes all kinds to create a society, Kelvin is my ideal colonist.

We have many problems presented to us in the course of the novel. We are faced with labor issues, food issues, personal rights to the rights of the whole, treatment of animals in food “production” and general treatment of the working class.  I partially agree with Elle regarding the ending.  It is a little too pat, a little to clean, in all the messiness that is the teenager’s lives.  The confrontation between Colony and Porter enlightens us as to Porter’s role and why he is wired the way he is.  However, when it comes time for action, there isn’t any.  He’s distracting Colony and then it’s over.  We know it’s shown through Porter’s eyes.  However, there could have been further discussion as to how the plan came together and worked so seamlessly.  Also, the ending with Porter explaining what they wished for the people responsible for these expeditions to learn from their mistakes and not to underestimate them in the future, I felt that his vagueness was an attempt to keep them safe so that another expeditionary team wasn’t sent to their new home.  However, it was still too clean in all the mess that was made.  We are to accept his word that acceptance for one and all was just a given and they were all working harmoniously toward the end game of creating a successful society amongst themselves.  This I do not believe and it was hard to get behind.

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  It had it’s problems, but I’m not sure that those problems weren’t meant to be there.  I think this meant to challenge our perceptions, thoughts and understanding of what it would take to successfully build this enterprise.  That even in youth, barely alive, you will find the diversity in careers, ideology and experience that will either coalesce or completely disintegrate amongst these people.  I look forward to my next read by Mr. Howey.  In a book that isn’t clean, the ending was too clean and that is my only real gripe about the actual writing.

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Kelvin.  (Most-Hated Character:  Tarsi.)

Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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Elle Tea: Scoring Great Book

The first thing I have to say is that the pace of this novel is excellent.  The story begins with a burst of frenzied activity that never quite lets up, and the chapters are brief but packed with movement, information, and dialogue.

I quite liked our protagonist, Porter, and I enjoyed the twists and turns the story took, leading me to form one hypothesis after another before it finally slapped the answers I so desperately wanted on the table.  This is pure Howey style, one which will be familiar to readers of the highly successful Silo series.

This was a great book, and the other Ladies will wax ecstatic on its wonderful traits, so, rather than repeat what they will state myself, I have condensed my review down to the only two complaints I could make about this otherwise intriguing novel:

The Ending.  As Esbe states above, that ending just really threw me.  Howey takes such care and so much time feeding us the details of this strange world and its fledgling inhabitants, from the external (such as the environments and native creatures) to the internal (such as our protagonist’s struggle with his own identity), that I found the abruptness with which the final confrontation occurs really jarring.  *****SPOILER ALERT***** >>>  One chapter essentially ends with, “Okay, guys, let’s go get ’em!”  And you turn the page (or hit the Next button, as the case may be), and… boom.  It’s all just about over, and all that’s left is to discuss the how and why.  The zoom to the finish line wasn’t only restricted to the conflict taking place within the colony and with the AI; a majority of the novel focuses on the building and maintaining of relationships, yet suddenly at the end Porter’s internal struggle, the futures of his supporters, and the fates of the detractors and antagonists are simply wiped away with a few paragraphs that can be paraphrased as something along the lines of, “So, all is well, neener-neener.”  This brusque rush to the end leaves a lot of unanswered questions, chief of which, to me were: What exactly happened to our primary antagonists?  Porter spends a majority of the novel agonizing over his self-identity; exactly how did those around him take the revelation that we’re told he eventually made?  The colony was torn between two factions, each of which supported opposing ideologies; what sort of agreement did they come to to ensure they could, indeed, live together, and how “together” are they, truly?  <<< ****END SPOILER *****  

Porter’s Self-Identity.  This is a conflicted complaint, because this issue was also one of the things I most loved about the novel.  *****SPOILER ALERT***** >>>  I have to commend Howey for electing to focus on a male character in the midst of a sexual identity crisis.  And while I really love the message that the gender with which one most associates or to which one is attracted is not something one chooses but, rather, something that is, for lack of a better term, hard-coded, in the context of the story and the explanation provided by the AI at the end of the novel, I have to ask: why select that particular trait for that particular job?  The AI explains that the first batches of colonists must breed to ensure the continuation of the colony as a whole, thus out of every 500-person colony only one is ever selected specifically because of a predisposition towards homosexuality, and this individual is always assigned the job of colony psychologist.  But… why?  If you’re a computer and, therefore, devoid of any sort of emotional attachment or sense of right-and-wrong, then your whole goal, your whole purpose is to crunch the data you’ve been provided in order to determine the best maximum result… and if that data tells you the colonists need to get to breeding – stat – then what purpose would you (or, rather, your programmers) have in specifically selecting one person out of 500 to be indisposed to the heterosexuality that would make uterine breeding possible?  Not only that, but by only selecting one out of the 500, you’re also ensuring that actually two people will not be participating in the colony’s breeding program (two, because one would be the lonely psychologist, and the other would be the superfluous colonist who has nobody with whom they might attach themselves).

Also in line with this sexual identity issue was just why the homosexual inhabitant of each colony was automatically assigned and trained to be the psychologist.  Are all of the psychologists across the various colonies male?  If so, then they were each selected and bred in such a fashion that would ensure a proclivity towards homosexuality, which I can only assume must be because the various AIs across the colonies are either (a) certain that this scenario will ensure impartiality by maintaining that each psychologist will never be in a committed relationship or (b) are under the assumption that this would somehow make the psychologists more inclined towards sensitivity.

If reason A, then the AIs have made no strategies or formulations to account for the human variable, and their scheme would ultimately fail: as humans, we form attachments whether we want to or not, and those attachments don’t necessarily have to be requited in order for us to show partiality towards one person or another.  Just because the object of their affections doesn’t reciprocate their feelings wouldn’t necessarily keep the psychologists from showing partiality towards those individuals, as we see with Porter himself: he clearly shows favoritism and extra attention to Kelvin, despite his certainty that Kelvin himself simply sees Porter as a friend.  Not only that, but Porter treats Tarsi, his female friend, with partiality specifically because she is more known to him than the others of their party.

If Howey is going for reason B however, I have to adamantly oppose that message: to begin with, it’s stereotyping, and that’s something I’m entirely against – sensitivity is a trait most commonly associated with women, but simply being born with two X chromosomes or being born a homosexual man does not necessarily ensure that you will be sensitive any more than it ensures you’ll pursue “feminine” chores.  There is a specific scene wherein the boys of the group rush off to go hunting, while the girls of the group remain behind to tidy up the camp and prepare food; Porter silently agonizes over his choice to remain behind with the girls, afraid this will “out” him to the group as a whole.  But, truly, why has the AI elected to spend its time filling the heads of these colonists with the ideas that there are things girls should do and things boys should do to begin with?  Would you not want all of your colonists to share equally in all of the chores in the event there was some cataclysmic event which greatly reduced your numbers?  And by stating that girls-and-gays automatically want to stay by the fire while the hetero-boys will rush off towards adventure kiiiinda sooooorta undoes a little of the great work Howey did by having his protagonist be a teenager with a sexual identity crisis to begin with.

There is a third option for the AIs reasoning that I have kept separate, as it is, in my opinion, the weakest explanation of the bunch, and that is this: the various AI systems across the colonies have been programmed to include homosexual male psychologists within each colony for some sort of ultimate survival test.  This option came up during our book club meeting, but I still cannot understand what purpose this inclusion would serve, nor is it clear why this hypothesis would be applied to every colony prior to determining whether it is, indeed, successful and necessary in order to achieve a positive impact on the mental treatment and maintenance of the other 499 colonists for which the psychologist is ultimately responsible.  <<< ****END SPOILER *****  

But those questions, as I said, came up all at once, all at the end.  And this truly was a great novel, and I’d certainly recommend it to fans of YA sci-fi and / or Hugh Howey’s other work.

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Porter.  He was very empathetic, and the first chapter involving the vinnies really endeared him to me.

Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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BillMo:  Scoring Great Book

My favorite part about this novel was the point it made that no matter where you are, if a group of humans are stuck together, there will be divisions.  You will see people scramble for power while others try to achieve some semblance of order, and the rest – the majority, in fact – simply want to find some spot of their own so that they can get on with the business of actually living.

I didn’t pull any quotations from this book, as it was very fast-paced and kept me interested in it so completely that I was lost in it until the end.

And the ending is the only reason I didn’t give the book 5 cups of sweet and delicious tea.  I won’t tell you what happens, but suffice it to say that it was a little anticlimactic after all of the build-up that Howey did so well for the first 90% of the story.

I also really felt that Porter’s lack of confidence was a little pitiful; I understand that the characters we’re focusing on are fifteen-years-old, and I did feel that a lot of his uncertainty could be traced to the personal situation he was dealing with, but I got a little tired of feeling so badly for him, as he spent a majority of the novel doubting himself and his decisions.  He handles his “differences” with grace and strength, and I think he is an excellent protagonist for younger people of today – you can’t help but feel proud of him for remaining true to himself and stepping up to be a leader, despite his own misgivings.

I would definitely read more about Porter and the colonists, in the event Hugh Howey decides to turn this stand-alone into a series.  (Like the other Ladies, I’ve read the Wool series, and I would recommend that, as well!)

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Porter.  I identified with his doubts and fears about the burden of leadership.

BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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The Divine Ms. Em:  Scoring Great Book

I enjoyed this book a great deal.

The premise of this post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel is about a program that takes an entire potential colony, sends it and everything it needs to survive in a ship (including the 500 fertilized human eggs within gestation vats that provide virtual training to the growing humans for thirty years prior to releasing them into the “real” world), and jettisons that ship across galaxies to new worlds.  Part of their virtual training includes lessons provided by the colony AI which are individualized for each potential colonist depending upon their assigned planned profession.

The main character, Porter, and the other 499 colonists of his potential colony awaken prematurely at age fifteen.  Porter wakes up next to Tarsi, the girl who shared the vat next to his own, and they quickly develop a rapport that, for Tarsi, quickly builds into attraction and infatuation.  *****SPOILER ALERT***** >>> This situation is difficult for our hero, as he discovers his own attraction – to their mutual friend, Kelvin, who, in turn, swiftly becomes infatuated with Tarsi.  I really like that the protagonist of the book is homosexual, as having a believable and realistic gay main character in any media (especially those with heterosexual creators) is a rarity, but I was never really clear as to why Porter automatically felt that the outward denial of his own sexuality was necessary – I think this posed questions that couldn’t successfully be answered by the end of the novel, namely: Are the colonists programmed by the AI’s virtual training system to have preconceived ideas about sexuality?  If not, is Howey implying that this shame is just as instinctual and ingrained as sexuality itself?

It is interesting to see not only the romantic and platonic relationship described throughout the course of the novel, but also the dynamic between the colonists as a whole: some are completely submissive to the colony’s AI system (itself called “Colony”), while others seem to be more independent and capable.  I’m not entirely sure how realistic this aspect of the tale is – that “newborn” adults of any age would blindly follow the directions of a computer while slowly starving to death, giving no thought to their own basic survival needs.  But once the self-appointed leader of the colony begins making weapons, using force to maintain his position, and punishing any who question his authority, some of the members do manage to escape, including Porter, Kelvin, and Tarsi.  <<< ****END SPOILER *****  

I really like the planet’s unique environments, such as a forest of trees which stand two kilometers high and which has a canopy so dense that it is possible to walk across it as if one were on land, and the creatures who live there, such as the vinnies – huge caterpillar-like creatures that serve as sources of food and methods of transport for the colonists.

As I said, I greatly enjoyed this book from beginning to end, though I do think it ended rather abruptly.  I read other reviews while reading this which compared it to The Lord of the Flies, and while I won’t say it’s quite that caliber of novel, it certainly gets a similar message across quite clearly.

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Porter or Tarsi.

Ms. Em read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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