Book Review: Watership by Jenna Whittaker

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Review of Watership

Watership by Jenna Whittaker is a genesis post-apocalyptic science-fiction narrative. If you were looking for a book about rabbits, which is the first thing I thought at seeing the title, that book is written by Richard Adams and is Watership Down.

There are no rabbits in this book. What is in this book is hope.

The typical post-apocalyptic tale is cautionary, reflective, and ultimately an admonishment of society’s willingness to embrace our headlong dash toward oblivion. Author Whittaker takes a different tack. Watership focuses on rebirth. In their time of twilight, humans joined hands with another race in order to secure continuance. The earth gives birth to an egg, the watership, burdened with the entirety of humanity’s genetic and electronic legacy. A few scant members of devolved humanity are brought aboard the arc-ship before its exodus and it is there the problems begin.

Watership begins with Desu, a Crawler, a member of a genetically bred race of caretakers who have watched over the last remnants of humanity. There is a little bit of Pinocchio-syndrome in that Desu admires the humans and their “freedom” of thought. Aside from Desu, the crawlers obey only the core and the mandates of their directives. Having grown fond of one human family, the lead crawler takes the initiative to assure they are not left behind before the exodus of the watership. The plan goes awry, and the alien bug-like Desu ends up the sole caretaker for an adolescent girl named Kira. As the ship and its valuable cargo blast into space to avoid Earth’s final death throes, the story and its problems are just beginning.

The elements of the story: a automated ship blasting into space, the seeds of humanity’s rebirth, alien caretakers, and stow-away devolved humans… there’s a lot of potential in the setup. I found myself frustrated because these dynamic aspects didn’t really get to shine the way they could. Author Whittaker maintains a largely omniscient view throughout and sticks to an expository narrative technique. It is clean, it gets the job done, but I felt there was so much more emotion and immersion possible.

As I said in the opening, the book is about hope. It is also about sacrifice, trust, and social responsibility. There are many messages resonating in this piece. The ending is a little predictable, but that really isn’t the point, it’s the journey. I just wish the style better exalted the positive outlook.

Rating (1-5)

Execution: 2.5 – 3.5 — This is a clean easy-to-read book. My biggest quibbles are unnecessary viewpoint shifts, and exposition instead of dialogue. In many places, we are told what is said rather than developing a scene. I thought there were many lost dramatic opportunities that suffered because we are only half way in a character’s head.

Setting: 4.0 — As noted, the elements of the story have great potential. My rating is acknowledgment of the potential. There’s a lot of good description in this, but the key pieces lacked framing and perspective; a sense of really being in the alien surreal places. Smells. Tactile sensory, and physical registers– there needed to be a stronger sense of place. The book promotes itself as science fiction, but the technical aspects are generalized to the point they better resemble magic. In that regard, the book is more fantasy than science fiction.

Characters: 3.5 — Desu and Kira are the main actors in this milieu. We really only get to deal with their surface thoughts and history. Iyarid, Los, and the story’s true antagonist Chara, get somewhat token treatment. Iyarid had lots of potential as the enemy / ally with his self interest and deception.

Overall: 4.0 — I give this book a higher rating than the sum of its parts because it didn’t make me struggle, nor did I detect any hubris or self-consciousness in the story-telling. Author Whittaker has invested her blood and time into this work and I feel the sincerity of it. It is a worthy idea and I look forward to Ms. Whittaker’s future endeavors.

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