This is not an easy book to review. What makes it fascinating is both simple and so integrated that I struggle not to reveal what should come out as you read. Not every reader will appreciate the novel as, though it has action sequences, it’s more a personal and philosophical exploration than most science fiction despite the genre element being crucial.
The Seep explores the concept of utopia, self-identity, and immortality among other questions, but it isn’t a treatise or analytical. Instead, the novel begins with a lesbian couple having friends over to commiserate the beginning of an alien invasion. These hive-mind aliens have contaminated the water supply, already taking root in their human, and other, hosts. It’s the gentlest invasion ever, and no one is sure what this means.
The timeline advances rapidly from that point to another dinner party where Trina, the main character, learns one of her friends has made an ethically questionable decision using the aliens’ ability to manipulate matter into whatever the host desires. Learning this changes how she sees her friend, but it also makes her question what came before The Seep as now reinterpreted through the alien mind.
Then her wife makes an irrevocable decision, and Trina’s life falls apart.
It’s this point where the story changes from mundane (if alien-introduced horns and wings can be characterized as such) into an alcohol-induced vision quest Trina doesn’t even know she’s on. It can be hard to tell what is metaphor and what is reality, especially with the hive mind capable of transforming anything, but that matters little as Trina’s reactions hold the narrative focus.
The reader is invited to contemplate the theme questions alongside the main character, and I enjoyed that journey. I don’t have any more answers than I had before, but I have a better understanding of the framework behind my answers, and new questions to consider. The book stays near to the troubles of modern day from political and social to economic and environmental.
True to the themes, the cast draws from many races, sexual orientations, and gender identities. Despite this, until Trina revisits the Detroit of her past, the feel is rather middle class to me, odd when at least two of the original group are artists, though hardly starving. It reminds me of a comic I used to read about a lesbian couple living a rather ordinary life in the lesbian community, something as hard to attain as a profitable art career. It’s more the tone of sardonic humor than anything else. The book’s omniscient narrator stays with Trina but speaks from a knowledge greater than Trina can claim.
Though it is not tied to a specific religion or even preachy, the novel serves as a sermon of sorts. The story speaks to the importance of the past as it crafts us into the person we are today. Of how we need to treasure each moment because once it’s gone, we can never return. Either it or we will be different, changing the interaction. The book reads like a drug-addled stream of conscious at times, but one from which we rise a little wiser having asked questions about what is truly important and who we really are.
Besides, on the less philosophical side, the conceptualization of The Seep is fascinating. I enjoyed the personal relationships that revealed Trina as part of a complex community even when she believes herself abandoned. She also breaks into the traditional format with The Seep, revealing more of herself and the hive mind than before.
P.S. I received this Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.