Wednesday, July 20, 2011

7th Sigma - Steven Gould


About the book

Welcome to the territory. Leave your metal behind, all of it. The bugs will eat it, and they’ll go right through you to get it…Don’t carry it, don’t wear it, and for god’s sake don’t come here if you’ve got a pacemaker.

The bugs showed up about fifty years ago—self-replicating, solar-powered, metal-eating machines. No one knows where they came from. They don’t like water, though, so they’ve stayed in the desert Southwest. The territory. People still live here, but they do it without metal. Log cabins, ceramics, what plastic they can get that will survive the sun and heat. Technology has adapted, and so have the people.

Kimble Monroe has chosen to live in the territory. He was born here, and he is extraordinarily well adapted to it. He’s one in a million. Maybe one in a billion.

In 7th Sigma, Gould builds an extraordinary SF novel of survival and personal triumph against all the odds.


384 pages (hardcover)
Published on: July 5, 2011
Published by: Tor
Author’s webpage

Thanks to Tor for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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One thing I really love about accepting review copies of books is that I end up reading stuff I never would have read otherwise. It really opens my eyes up to new authors, or authors that I should have read and heard of long ago. One of these authors is Steven Gould, who, after further investigation, I discovered is well known for a 1992 novel called Jumper. Well, I got 7th Sigma in the mail and realized that it was about giant metal eating bugs and I knew I had to read it. Hey, in all honesty, who doesn’t want to read about giant metal eating bugs?

7th Sigma takes place in the southwest United States, which was mysteriously overran by metal-eating bugs. Most people have fled the territory, living in safe locations. However, some individuals remain in the southwest. These people are mostly hard-as-nails settlers who refuse to give up their land due to these bugs so they make due with what they have. It’s an interesting view into a sort of dystopian wild, Wild West.

Despite the almost depressing setting, Gould’s book is filled with likeable characters, like Ruth, an Aikido teacher and Kimble, an innovative teen who has managed to live on his own in the bug infested territory for several years. These two characters are the best developed in the book, and will probably serve to hook the reader into the story at first. Kimble is a fairly interesting character who may come off a bit too perfect at times, however, he’s easy to enjoy reading about.

Perhaps due to the fact that one of the characters is a teenager, the book can be read as a transitional young adult/adult book. There is some language in it, and some mistreatment, but other than that it reads like a young adult work more than anything else. This can be good and bad. If you are a fan of young adult books, the youthful writing style probably won’t bother you. If you tend to have issues with young adult books, this book might not work out for you so well. However, one fact remains. Gould wrote a transitional piece, which really broadens the potential reading base for 7th Sigma as a whole.

The bugs in 7th Sigma are interesting and certainly eye catching, however, Gould seems to transition the book from being about these metal-eating bugs, to being a spy/adventure/thriller piece about halfway through. While the bugs are the basis for the reason why the southwest is the way it is, they don’t quite take the stage like many readers would expect, or desire. Instead Gould seems to add them to the plot more as important background scenery more than anything else. Furthermore, Gould never really answers any questions regarding the bugs (ie: Why are they there? What is their purpose? Etc.). Some readers may find fault with how he handles his creations, especially if they are the reason you decide to read the book in the first place.

However, in the end, there was something about Gould’s writing style that has me feeling like 7th Sigma left me with a slightly sour taste in my mouth. Perhaps it’s the fact that the story is told in vignettes that affected me. Honestly, looking back on it, I’m not sure what it is about the book that sets me off a bit. However, I never did feel fully engaged in the work as a whole. There seems to be a definite distance between the reader and the plot and characters. This is impacted greatly by the fact that some of the action seems to take place “elsewhere” and instead of “witnessing” it as a reader, you hear about it through a discussion between characters, or something along those lines. Furthermore, as some reviewers have pointed out, the ending of 7th Sigma isn’t quite a cliffhanger, but it is left open ended. Gould could easily add to things at a later date, or he might not. Either way, this may leave some readers feeling like the book isn’t finished and the plot hasn’t been nicely tied up.

Regardless, it’s hard for me to say whether or not this book was a hit. On the one hand, I am disappointed by how the author pushed some important subject matter to the back burner. As I discussed above, I never did feel fully engaged in this book as a whole. However, on the other hand, 7th Sigma isn’t really deep, or thought provoking and I don’t think it’s supposed to be. It’s a fast paced ride through an interesting world. It’s immensely fun and entertaining. For readers who are looking for that kind of thing, I think 7th Sigma could be an amazing hit.

3/5 stars

4 comments:

  1. I'm not well versed on YA or YA crossover fiction, and I really like the premise and the world; though it does sound a little clunky on the execution. Thanks for the review :D

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  2. You can read an excerpt from it, "Bugs in the Arroyo" here:

    http://www.tor.com/stories/2009/04/bugs-in-the-arroyo

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  3. So what's the 'conflict'? Just surviving in that area out of pure stubbornness? Is there a more important underlying reason? Why are they still in that area? At least the bugs don't eat flesh. That would have been nasty.

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  4. I have to confess major envy that you're getting review copies from Tor. I guess I'm still too small to get their attention, because any requests I've made to them have been ignored. So I'll just live vicariously by enjoying your reviews of their books instead! :)

    I've heard some pretty good reviews of this book, and it's generated its fair share of hype. I think, even if you didn't give it a really high rating, that it might be the kind of book I'd enjoy anyway; I'm weirdly attracted to books with odd viewpoints, seeing things from the eyes of those who aren't necessarily right in the thick of things. I find it kind of an interesting approach. And a fast-paced fun read it never something to be turned down!

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