Monday, June 27, 2011

Human.4 by Mike A. Lancaster

Posted by Simcha 6:06 PM, under ,,, | 6 comments

Kyle Straker isn’t looking forward to the annual community talent show and having to sit through hours of lame performances, but he promised his friend Daniel that he’d attend. Daniel has been making such a big deal about his new hypnotism act that Kyle can’t help but be curious about it, especially since he claims to have successfully hypnotized his own sister.

Kyle has no intention in participating in Daniel’s act but when no one else responds to his request for volunteers Kyle finds himself stepping forward. Daniel is surprisingly affective as a hypnotist and each of his volunteers are easily led into a light trance. But when Kyle opens his eyes again he is faced with a terrifying sight. Daniel and everyone in the audience are frozen in place with expressions of horror on their faces. Something had happened during the few minutes that Kyle was hypnotized and only he and the three other volunteers are unaffected. In just the space of a few moments the world as he knows it has come to an end, and his life will never be the same again.

Human.4 is narrated through a series of cassette tapes that were discovered at some point in the distant future. The book is prefaced with an editor’s note from the book’s author, Mike Lancaster, explaining about the tapes and their importance in relating a relatively unknown part of history. Occasionally footnotes are included explaining various words or phrases that Kyle uses; words that we, the readers, are familiar with but are archaic and foreign to those listening to the tapes.


I had picked up Human.4 at the library knowing nothing about it and I had really no idea in which direction the story would go. The story begins innocuously enough with the town’s preparations for the upcoming talent show, narrated to us by Kyle, an average teenage boy. We find out a little bit about his parent’s troubled marriage and his best friend Simon and his new girlfriend, who dislikes Kyle. But among the descriptions of his every-day activities Kyle slips in hints and warnings about the dark event that will soon be taking place, giving the story a feeling of menace from the very beginning.

    That’s my family Drives you absolutely crazy But you miss them when you’re no longer there When the bad stuff comes-and it always will- you look back at those moments with longing. The bad stuff was just around the corner. The talent show changed everything. Forever. That’s why I like to think about the way things were, however imperfect they seemed at the time. In extraordinary times, the ordinary takes on a glow of it’s own.

Readers’ curiosity is peaked early on as we are told that something catastrophic is about to happen, but not what. Tension slowly builds as the story progresses towards that event but then once it occurs readers are still left in the dark, along with the book’s protagonists, as to what exactly has occurred. The terror and confusion that Kyle and the other survivors feel is clearly expressed to readers and the surprising explanation, once provided, does little to alleviate it.

I was easily caught up in Kyle’s compelling narration and I read the whole book in less then a day. Lancaster does an excellent job of drawing readers in and keeping their attention as the sinister mystery is unraveled. The ending, when it came, was a bit of a shock for me since the resolution I had been anticipating never took place. Perhaps I should have expected this considering the hints provided in the beginning, but I was left feeling that there was too much left unaddressed. I think I'm just used to most of the stories I read being wrapped up in some way by the end, especially young adult books, and was thrown off balance when it didn't happen that way here. Though days later I’m still thinking about the story, which I suppose is a testimony to how effective it was.

Lancaster has already written a sequel to Human.4, which is scheduled for publication next year, and I'm very curious to see what the subject of that book will be. Will it pick up on the story told in Human.4 or follow the futuristic race that "edited" that story, or something else completely? Whatever the case may be Lancaster has certainly hooked me and I look forward to reading whatever he comes up with next.

6 comments:

Hmm, this is one I've never heard of. Sounds really interesting. Thanks for the review. I'll have to look into it.

Ditto; never heard of but now am over-the-top curious. I want to know what happened when he was hypnotized! And the cover is quite chilling.

I am not sure about this one. Sure it sounds good but I still can't say if I would like it or not

Melissa: Yeah, I had never heard of it either. It was a pretty fast read with some interesting surprises. I think you would enjoy it.

Stephanie: I was very careful to try not to give too much away because I knew nothing about the story when I started and I think that made the reading experience more enjoyable. But if you end up reading any synopsis or even the book blurb you'd probably find out a bit more about the mystery. And I agree, the cover is pretty creepy though it does make sense half way through the book.

Blodeuedd: I think it's different then what you normally read but you might like it.

Once I'm back in the mood for YA this may be on that I look into. Thanks for the review.

Although there is no similarity in the story or the style of writing, I am fairly certain the author, Mike Lancaster, was a Hitchhiker's Guide fan. There are aside entries that are reminiscent of Guide entries, and a fairly obvious nod with a comment, ". . . or the well-planned revenge of the dolphins."

I enjoyed this easy, quick read, and was surprised at how much a story this short and simple made me think. Not bad.

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