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Sci Fi Romance Review: Cottonwood by R. Lee Smith

Cottonwood by R. Lee Smith


bought

Synopsis from Goodreads
They never meant to come to Earth. They were never allowed to leave...

Welcome to Cottonwood.

 Amazon kindle US/UK

10/10

* * *

I feel compelled to explain my rating system to you, my dear ladies and gents, before we go any further.

 You see, I used to rate everything I enjoyed as 9 or 10 out of 10, but in the last couple of years I got picky (discerning) and re-evaluated the whole thing. Now the most common rating you find on this blog is 8.5/10 which is an equivalent of 4 ish stars. Anything above that deserves such adjectives as extraordinary, mind-blowing and searingly beautiful.

Cottonwood is my second 10/10 book this year. First one was Beauty and The Mustache by Penny Reid. Both didn't deserve anything less.


*SPOILER FREE*

Like Last Hour of Gann, Cottonwood shows the ugly face of humanity, the eager exploitation of anyone "other" we manage so well thanks to our sense of self-entitlement, racial prejudice, unreasonable fear and my favorite, - wilful blindness. And yet, R.Lee Smith creates characters whose force of will and hope manage to balance the scales and make reading her bleak, harsh stories worthwhile.

If Last Hour of Gann took a group of humans and dropped them into an unknown universe among a hostile alien race, Cottonwood flipped this scenario on its head. It took a ship of alien settlers malfunctioning and making an emergency landing on Earth in need of assistance. Twenty five years later the aliens are scattered across the globe, separated from their families, prohibited to multiply and exploited with hard labour under the guise of assimilation, while human scientists keep trying to crack the secrets of their technology and weaponry.

I read on R.Lee Smith's blog, that while the book was written before the movie District 9, when the movie came out unexpectedly there were so many similarities in the general concept that she had to re-write it.  Nevertheless, Cottonwood is a powerful, moving and incredibly satisfying sci fi romance.

Sarah Fowler, the main heroine, is a young unemployed  woman in her mid twenties desperate for some well paid work. So when she sees a recruitment ad for the new camp, she signs up as one of the human liaisons for aliens, whom humans call "bugs".

Fresh, wide eyed and ready to make a change, Sarah gets through her training and starts working only to find herself shell shocked with the inhuman conditions of the camps, the children living in squalor and playing with bits of rubbish, with human guards abusing their power... The whole lot.

The insectoid like aliens are bitter, afraid and bone weary, and at the same time so very human in their suffering. Sarah befriends one of the yang'ti, Sanford (humans assign everyone a name) and his little son and both of them slowly try to make a change. I am simplifying everything here, of course. There is so much complexity to Sarah and Sanford's interactions, so many nuances to their friendship and Sarah's desperate attempts to help.

When they start caring about each other more, RLS doesn't shy away from their otherness to each other. I love how there is no lust which is born from visual desires (they actually find each other ugly and extremely unappealing), instead there is a need to get close to your loved one. It's sincere and believable and very tender.

The majority of this book is simple horror, sometimes almost unbearable in its cruelty, but there are so many beautiful moments that they take your breath away. RLS is a master of that.

She doesn't spare her characters, but what doesn't kill them make them so much stronger and more formidable. Sarah is not like Amber from Last Hour of Gann. She doesn't oppose to the big bad guys openly and she says what they want to hear, but because she understands the consequences of her decisions I can admire her way of solving things so much more.

I LOVED that book and I worship at altar of R. Lee Smith. She is amazing, and I recommend her to anyone who doesn't shy away from strong topics. I swear, it's worth it in the end.

* * *
Я не знаю как объяснить феномен Р.Ли Смит. Я открыла её для себя в прошлом году, и с тех пор каждая из её книг стала одной из моих самых любимых. Она не чуждается тяжёлых, противоречивых тем и заставляет нас задуматься над прекрасными и уродливыми сторонами человеческой натуры.

Если в Последнем Часе Ганна группа людей оказалась заброшена на далёкую планету враждебной, чуждой нам цивилизации, то Хлопок переворачивает этот сценарий с ног на голову. Корабль янг'ти - насекомообразных переселенцев терпит крушение на Земле, и двадцать пять лет спустя "жуки" разброшены по земному шару в концентрационных лагерях под предлогом ассимиляции, где на самом деле их труд эксплуатируется местными правительствами и корпорациями, пока наши учёные пытаются выжать все возможные секреты из их технологий.

"Жуки" работают  в невыносимых условиях, им запрещено размножаться(и нелегальные дети уничтожаются), человеческие охранники могут делать с ними, всё что им хочется... и вот в такую атмосферу попадает Сара Фоулер - главная героиня Хлопка, двадцати пятилетняя социальная работница, один из новых рекрутов "лиазонов" с "жуками". Наивная, полная оптимизма, она быстро теряет свою жизнерадостность, смотря в потухшие глаза переселенцев и слушая их безнадёжные ремарки на её опросы и просьбы.

Сара медленно завоёвывет доверие и уважение своих клиентов и становится другом одного из янг'ти - Санфорда и его юного сына. В отличие от Амбер из Последнего Часа, Сара не вступает в открытое противостояние со сввоими боссами, а пытается надурить саму систему, лавируя между параноидальными охранниками и произнося речи, кторые нравятся её начальнику... однако долго её обман продолжаться не может и её помощь "жукам" выходит наружу. Саре и Санфорду приходится бежать под угрозой смерти.

Дружба в какой-то момент превращается в любовь, несмотря на то, что в начале оба относятся друг к другу с физическим отвращением. Однако Смит опять удаётся убедить читателя в искренности чувств этой пары.

Большая часть Хлопка - это кошмар, и вам нужен стальной желудок, чтобы его пережить. Но в нём также очень много волшебных, эмоционально сильных моментов, и конечно эпичная концовка, так что читать очень стоит. Настоятельно рекомендую, безумно прекрасная книга!

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