• Book Review: "Lovers in the Woods" by Helen Alexander

    Helen Alexander's
    Lovers in the Woods, is an inventive and imaginative science fiction novel, set in the futuristic landscape of Metrodom. Many of its inhabitants are drones, Dolls, or other creatures having odd appearances with tentacles and wings. In spite of their unique features, they act and socialize like humans.

    Leon unintentionally lets loose a deadly virus from the past, while trying to communicate with a young girl, who is mentally reaching out to him, even while in a coma that has spanned centuries. Unfortunately this causes the database controlling their society to start launching missiles, which threaten the entire population of the Metrodom, where Leon lives. Leon’s goal is to undo the damage, but before he does, he and several companions are accidentally sent back in time.

    Nina, the girl in the coma, is a sweet and innocent character, but questions about her humanity, identity, and purpose arise throughout the book. This conversation takes place in a dream.
    “"Listen, Nina," Leon spoke up at length. "I need to ask you something. It's important. Promise to tell me the truth."
    "I promise," Nina replied. "What is it?" Leon thought it over some more, and then said, "Is there anyone keeping you here?"
    Nina thought about it for a while. "No," she finally answered.
    "Are you sure?"
    "No," Nina said, after some hesitation. "But I don't know who he is."
    One of the most unique elements of the book is the virtual environment in which the computer hacking takes place. It's a vividly described system of rooms and halls, where the computer virus and shadowy guardians take form. Although Leon is doing technical work to get rid of the virus, it takes place in a physical plane of existence.

    For example, this passage describes the virus in the virtual environment:
    “"Hands off, buddy," Coco snapped at it, and pulled his arms crosswise to his chest. He approached the cocoon and stood looking at it, craning his neck like a museum patron. His black eyes were scanning its interior. The Shadows murmured intermittently among themselves, shrugging their vague shoulders. "Yoo-hoo, anybody in there?" He knocked lightly on the side of the shell, and pressed one ear to it, listening for movement, but there was no sound.”
    The themes of the book raise questions about identity, humanity, life, and responsibility. Although many of the characters are not human beings in our current understanding, they have the same motivations and goals that we do.

    Although it can be hard to follow at first as you are introduced to a society much different from our own, the story is deeply moving, with spectacular action scenes and fresh elements for the reader to grasp, such as characters with alien features, and the dream and virtual environments. I like how the historical background needed for the adventure is sprinkled throughout, rather than being spilled in the beginning.

    Many of the characters are charming, particularly Leon, who doesn't seem to have much going on with his life other than hacking for his company, until he learns about Nina. And although he bumbles into letting the virus loose and then tries to run, he finds it important to clean up the mess. The adventure is the heart of the novel. It makes a challenging reading experience, so if you are willing to investigate the surreal world that Lovers in the Woods portrays, it is well worth reading.

    Get "Lovers In the Woods" at Amazon.com

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