Human 76 is a real thing in the world now, and as I mentioned in my last post, I have read early versions of a few of the stories, but haven’t read the final versions of any of them, and haven’t seen many of the stories at all. In light of that, what I propose to do is write a review of each story as I read it, one every 2 or 3 days.
We begin our adventure with a very short prologue, and the first story, called “Leaving the Nest” – both written by Lisa Shambrook. The prologue was new to me, but I had read an early version of “Leaving the Nest” at the beginning of the project.
Lisa had the unenviable task of setting the stage for the rest of us, and so her hands were somewhat tied in terms of the story she could tell. She didn’t let that slow her down or cramp her style, though. The prologue sets the tone, and it’s a dark, brusque, urgent opening that promises a wild, thrilling ride (Stephen King, Schmeevin King – I like my adjectives). “Leaving the Nest” delivers on that promise and adds a healthy portion of emotional heft.
“Quiet, you fool! You’re safe now!” Rough hands gripped Ghabrie.
A kestrel swooped but Ghabrie could not hear its call. She could hear only Nahria’s shriek. Ghabrie strained to glimpse her little sister through the mass of rebellion warriors and Prometheans. The two sides were withdrawing, both claiming their spoils and retreating. Ghabrie thrashed: kicking, biting, struggling against strong arms that restrained her.
“Nahria, I’ll come for you!”
The butt of a rifle thumped the side of her head as her words still echoed across the barren landscape. Ghabrie slipped into an oblivion brought by the hands of her liberators.
* * *
When she woke she swallowed her nausea, winced at her injuries, and wept at the loss of her reason to live. She vowed never to rest until Nahria was back at her side.
That’s the prologue, in its entirety. Sets the tone nicely, doesn’t it? One of the comments that several of the other authors have made at various times was how closely all the stories matched in their tone and treatment of Ghabrie. I suspect Lisa Shabrook’s deft handling of these elements here deserves much of the credit for that.
“Leaving the Nest” concerns itself with Ghabrie’s early life, as well as introducing the reader to the main characters and the world they inhabit. It takes the form of a series of recollections by Xanthe; mother of two, and adoptive mother of many more. Via her flashbacks we meet Ghabrie, find out how she met her bird, what happened to separate her from her sister, and how she began her quest. We also get a surprising amount of information about the Ghabrie’s world, her community, and the apocalypse that makes this collection of stories post-apocalyptic. I say surprising because you don’t notice you’re being given the information at the time. It’s woven so naturally into a very well-told and compelling tale that all of the world-building and backstory-ing seems to happen accidentally. That’s first-rate writing.
Here is an excerpt:
“So, you heard him last night, did you?” she asked the child behind the door. “Come on in, and let’s see if he wants a snack.”
The child, grubby and thin, slid round the door and wandered into Xanthe’s container. The shipping containers had quickly become homes. People had barely escaped with their lives, so the facilities at the shipping yard were luxurious and the Blast survivors had made the best of what they had found. For the first few months they had huddled in the caves dug out at the foot of the mountain, the huge, gaping storage depot. Then as they realised they had escaped to a pocket of land free from radiation at the foot of the huge Tinder Mountain range, they emerged to reclaim the shipping yard, its surrounding land and a compound they could protect and live in. The survivors had cleared debris, turned the hot, metal shipping containers into homes and built new homes with the timber, tin and breeze blocks salvaged from the warehouse. The stagnant lake protected the north edge. Nothing could traverse the lake and the ships still harboured there were lost as the sulphuric water corroded and ruined the iron. Xanthe had been able to see the rolling waves from the door as the young girl stepped closer to her bed.
“Do you want to see?” she asked the child.
The girl nodded and Xanthe beckoned. Soon the child was sat upon the bed and the baby bird, almost as skinny as the little girl, fed from her hand.
The final version of the story is much as I remember from the early one I read months ago – tweaked here and there, the prose tightened and polished but, for the most part, the same in form and feature. It excites me as much now as it did then, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book. Even my story, which is next.
The ebook is available in epub format for free here.