Monday, May 4, 2020

Review: The Mother Code by Carole Stivers

The Mother Code
The Mother Code by Carole Stivers
Publication Date: August 25th, 2020
Hardcover. 352 pages

About After the Flood:

"A little more than a century from now, our world has been utterly transformed. After years of slowly overtaking the continent, rising floodwaters have obliterated America’s great coastal cities and then its heartland, leaving nothing but an archipelago of mountaintop colonies surrounded by a deep expanse of open water. 

Stubbornly independent Myra and her precocious seven-year-old daughter, Pearl, fish from their small boat, the Bird, visiting dry land only to trade for supplies and information in the few remaining outposts of civilization. For seven years, Myra has grieved the loss of her oldest daughter, Row, who was stolen by her father after a monstrous deluge overtook their home in Nebraska. Then, in a violent confrontation with a stranger, Myra suddenly discovers that Row was last seen in a far-off encampment near the Artic Circle. Throwing aside her usual caution, Myra and Pearl embark on a perilous voyage into the icy northern seas, hoping against hope that Row will still be there. 

On their journey, Myra and Pearl join forces with a larger ship and Myra finds herself bonding with her fellow seekers who hope to build a safe haven together in this dangerous new world. But secrets, lust, and betrayals threaten their dream, and after their fortunes take a shocking—and bloody—turn, Myra can no longer ignore the question of whether saving Row is worth endangering Pearl and her fellow travelers."

Quick note: I realized that this review is now a few months ahead of its release in August, but since I read my ARC back in February/March and it was a May release, I had it scheduled for now and I think I'm just going to stick with that. So many books have been rescheduled to July/August, so I know that's already going to be a busy. 

The Mother Code is a sort of futuristic sci-fi/thriller/bioterror/genetics-focused mash-up that ended up being not quite what I expected, but still proved to be an entertaining reading experience.

The story takes place in 2049 when a biowarfare 'experiment' gets a little out of control (to put it mildly) and scientists can pretty much tell that's probably going to take out most of, if not all, of the human race. They decide to combat this by essentially creating genetically engineered children who will be born and raised in various random locations throughout the land in order to try to ensure survival of the human race. This premise itself had a lot of really compelling points to it, but the story's execution was a mixed bag.

The narrative switches back and forth between two times periods: one during the apocalyptic biowarfare event and the other several years after, when the world has mostly fallen apart, save a few select people here and there, and the genetically engineered children have been born and are being raised. I was glad to be able to get some insight from both periods in order to better understand the entire situation and the characters involved. Within these narrative switches we meet a decent handful of different characters and get to experiences specific POVs from a variety of them. I found this effective in adequately conveying all the different perspectives, emotions, and opinions at play behind such an event and the controversial scientific experiment that is being put into play (you know, genetically engineering children to be born out of robots and also raised by them). However, I also found myself not caring overmuch for most of the characters and I found them a bit one-dimensional most of the time. It's hard to describe, but I seemed to find myself more interested in the things happening around the characters rather than the characters themselves. The only exception to this was Kai, one of the children born to restart the human race and whose POV was particularly interesting to explore, though I also didn't feel quite as connected as I could have been.

I think my main problems with this book were centered around the fact that it was described as more of  an AI-based story that really went deep into an exploration about motherhood and how AI might or might not be able to play a role in that. While the AI was a huge portion and it did explore these ideas to an extent, there was a much bigger focus on the bioterror aspect and the, ahem, global pandemic that  was destroying the world (I probably wouldn't recommend reading this right now if you have a lot of anxiety about the current world situation!). I didn't dislike that this was a focus, but it detracted from what was, in my opinion, a much more interesting storyline that had endless possibilities. Instead, we focused more on characters that weren't overly interesting and technical discussions that didn't particularly capture my attention.

One thing that I'm fairly neutral on, but that people might like or dislike is that The Mother Code has a decent amount of technical information with hard science-like explanations and the info-dump-quality of that basically meant it went in one ear and out the other for me (metaphorically, since this wasn't an audiobook, of course). I have seen science students/etc. say that the science was pretty well done overall, so I give kudos to Stivers for that, but if you aren't into that, you might want to be aware of that going into this one. I also want to note that Stivers' bio lists her as a biochemist, so I think that adds another level of authenticity to the excessive technical discussions that were present and made them a little more interesting to me.

The pacing of The Mother Code seemed fast, but it seemed to drag in a few places and it took me longer to read it than I expected. Stivers is a good storyteller, but there were still some rough edges that

Overall, I've given The Mother Code three stars. The overall plot and writing were well done and thought-provoking, but it wasn't quite what was advertised and I found it not quite as engaging as it could have been.

*I received an ARC of The Mother Code in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the novel.*

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