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One of Us by Craig Dilouie

One of Us

by Craig Dilouie

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324503,926 (3.22)5



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Is it a horror novel? Is it a thriller? Chiller? YA? Science fantasy? I’m not sure. But I know it’s -handed allegory.

A sexually-transmitted disease (called “the plague”) has caused severe abnormalities, defects, and aberrations in 10% of children (during 1960? 1990? I can’t tell). Government has stepped in to prevent carriers from creating more, but this book is not about that. This book is about a small set of them at an orphan home that would make Miss Hannigan cringe.
Miss Hannigan Annie

The book never uses the term “mutation”, but let’s call them what they really are: X-Men. The book goes out of its way to make sure everyone knows the plague children are persona non grata. They’re forced into unpaid labor at local farms. They have “school” but no one teaches them. The security abuses them regularly. And even though they’re treated like lepers, they have special skills that should make them exploited, not shunned.

For example, one kid can finish anyone’s sentence, so he’s pulled out to a government facility to figure out muffled radio communications. But leaves behind the one who has pyrokinesis (pyro), the human gorilla (Beast), and the one who remembers everything that has ever happened to him with perfect recall, even as far as being born (he’s the “brain”). The main character looks like a dog and has similar attributes (like Wolverine). I can’t believe that the American government would leave these kids in their crappy “Home for the Deranged” instead of military testing facilities.

And so they’re treated like stand-ins for blacks during the peak of Southern segregation. Thus the story is a full-length “don’t bully the dragon” tale. I know X-men’s an allegory too, but not as transparent as this. It even takes place in Georgia. And that fact doesn’t do the book favors.

Everyone is a redneck or murderous or lecherous or otherwise a Stephen King third-stringer. The stereotypes are predictable “man is the real monster” stuff and it uses rape as a plot-driving device. The author is Canadian and he writes like he’s only heard of the South but never been there.

It doesn’t break any barriers or do any fresh takes. And despite the message, it doesn’t practice what it preaches (i.e. for an allegory about black people, where are the black people?). ( )
  theWallflower | Feb 14, 2019 |
4 & 1/2 STARS

I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

One of Us is a classic example of a book that should not be judged by its cover, even though I initially was guilty of this very mistake: when looking at this title on the Orbit newsletter, the cover appeared so bland to my eyes that I was not even tempted to read the book’s synopsis. My bad. Luckily for me, some of my fellow book bloggers possess a more open mind and a keener curiosity, and through their reviews I learned that I was missing out on a very intriguing story, so I rushed to correct my error.

I knew, going in, that I would find myself in the midst of a dark, harsh tale, one that would push several of my buttons, but when all is said and done I don’t regret having read it despite the anguish and rage and frustration that it engendered: this novel is like a mirror into mankind’s soul, and once we look at ourselves through it, what stares back at us is something we should try to grow up from if we want to keep calling ourselves ‘human’.

The story is set in an alternate 1984 (a curiously apt choice at that…): fourteen years before a teratogenic virus spread all over the world causing the birth of mutated babies, and while many did not survive long after birth, a good number of them made it through. Rejected by their families, they were confined in the Homes, virtual prisons where the “monsters” would grow up out of sight and out of mind, while the world community, in a rush of puritanical zeal, implemented a strict regime of screening and control on sexual intercourse, especially where young people were concerned, to avoid further spreading of the plague.

In the rural community of Huntsville, Georgia, one of the Homes lies on the outskirts of town, the kids it holds employed as cheap labor in the surrounding farms, while their scant education is geared toward destroying their sense of worth and implementing blind obedience: the “plague children”, as they are called, are nothing but slaves, living in squalid conditions that would make Dickensian tales pale in comparison, most of their “teachers” little better than the dregs of society, taking on the job for lack of worthier opportunities. Yet something is changing, because with the onset of puberty many of the Home’s inmates start showing peculiar abilities, like reading or influencing minds, starting fires, flying, and so forth; a few of them are spirited away in secret installations where they are employed by the military or the intelligence services, but the rest of them, on the advice of Brain, try to keep their powers hidden. Brain is one of the more feral looking children of the Huntsville home, and the one who possesses the keener intellect: the acute awareness he was born with made him understand that one day the showdown between the “normals” and the “monsters” would come, and he wants them to be ready to fight back – for themselves and their right to exist. Once the conflict does erupt, the fury and resentment that have been long simmering under the surface – on both sides – flare up into a bloody climax fueled by mindless violence and carnage of apocalyptic proportions.

The first question that comes to mind while reading One of Us is the one about the definition of ‘monster’: does being born with a dog’s head and paws, or an upside-down face, or looking like a cross between a lion and a gorilla make you a monster? Or should the label apply to those who confine these hapless creatures into internment camps, literally (and gleefully) torturing them for the slightest deviation from the imposed discipline? Humanity does not show its best in the sliver of society represented by the Huntsville community, one where the fear and loathing for the plague children comes out of the kind of blind ignorance that is proud of itself, which refuses even to consider an alternative to the illiterate narrow-mindedness that many wear like a badge of honor.

I was deeply distressed while reading about the children’s treatment in the Home, where constant abuse, filthy living conditions and abominable food were everyday occurrences, to the point that when one of them is incarcerated on a false accusation, he considers the jail cell – with its bare-bones cot and waste disposal facility – like an unhoped-for luxury: that simple thought, one that does not even touch upon the fact that the boy is being unjustly held, was both chilling and heartbreaking, moving me to unexpected tears. That’s why I felt even more profoundly the anger that possessed me once the false premise of wrongdoing by one of the plague children drives the oh-so-good, law-abiding citizens of Huntsville toward a hate-fueled pogrom. By that point, all concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ fly out of the window, with acts of cruelty (and a few exceptions of mercy) being performed by citizens and children alike.

The reason this story can hit so close to home comes from the realization that humankind can be cruel toward those it perceives as ‘different’, and it becomes even more so when its own well-being is threatened in some way, be it physical or economical: that’s the moment when the need for a scapegoat becomes undeniable, when the compulsion to heap the mounting frustration on the nearest available target reduces our better angels to silence. The fact that this novel is set in our past – or an alternative version of it – does not make it any less actual, or help us dismiss the story as simple fiction, because we only need to turn to any news channel to see a version of it play out under our eyes.

As I said, One of Us is a dark, brutal read that might not be for everyone, but still I would recommend it, if nothing else because of its ability to make us think, to take a good look at ourselves and wonder if we can do better, or if we want to. My only complaint with the book comes from the ending that seems to be fizzling out somewhat after the huge, well-crafted buildup: but it’s a minor complaint indeed, considering that this story will remain with me for a long, long time….

Originally posted at SPACE and SORCERY BLOG ( )
  SpaceandSorcery | Dec 25, 2018 |
In an alternate 1980s America, a sexually transmitted teratogenic plague has created a generation of children with various inhuman characteristics, from treelike limbs to reversed faces to animal hybrid appearances. America decided the best thing to do was put all such “monsters” into Homes (and to make abortion a sacrament for infected people). The Homes are pretty much as bad as you’d expect they’d be, while many “normal” people resent the free food and education the residents are supposedly getting. In a small southern town, the budding morality and sexuality of a group of non-plague (or are they?) kids intersects with the increasing maturity and powers of a few plague kids, with results made tragic by the misbehavior of adults. On the one hand, the book moved at a good clip and had a complex view of how individually bad choices, or even good choices, created terrible structures and how hard it was to fight that with individual good choices. On the other, even though a number of POV characters were female (just not the real heroes: only the commentators and helpmeets, not to mention a girl with what is practically a vagina dentata), I realized how tired I am of books like this by dudes. Setting the book in 1984 made it easier to rationalize just how deferential the girls were to the boys and how much they defined themselves by male reaction to them (see also: a ton of overt racism, expressed mostly by unsympathetic characters), but it’s not what I want to be reading and not even what I expect most girls’ interior lives were like then. I was a weird kid, but I know mine definitely wasn’t, and I’d have been within a couple of years of these characters. ( )
  rivkat | Sep 28, 2018 |
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review.

This book was a difficult read for me. It is about hate and intolerance and fear and using god as an excuse to perpetuate and justify everything that is vile in human nature. Unfortunately, it is a grim reminder of the ills the U.S. is suffering under the current regime. ( )
  seitherin | Aug 23, 2018 |
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