March 24, 2011

Review: Human.4

I had a terrible start to the day. A bird got into my house, which led to a giant hassle, a freaked out dog, and having to move a nest full of eggs.

By Mike A. Lancaster
Available now from Egmont USA
Review copy

Book Cover

I thought HUMAN.4 was dystopian lit when I began. I think I had it confused with I AM NUMBER FOUR. (I may have also been misled by the current dystopian fad.) I'll cop to not being the biggest fan of dystopias. What is HUMAN.4? I suspect you'll hear many different answers. I'd call it a classic SF/horror story, in the vein of The Twilight Zone. (At times I got a distinct "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" vibe. YouTube video for those unfamiliar with the classic episode.) Mike A. Lancaster does make some interesting framing decisions that help make HUMAN.4 unique.

HUMAN.4 is told by Kyle Straker, who is recording himself on a set of cassette tapes three months after the events of the story. The events are transcribed by the future humans who find the tapes. The transcription is filled with notes about academic analysis of the tapes - what do certain terms mean? What do Kyle's pauses mean? I found the notes about the pauses and about the changes in Kyle's narrative direction to be interesting. They both shaped the way I viewed the story and gave good insight into how people think in the future of HUMAN.4. The notes about terms were sometimes clever, but more often distracting.

I thought the cassette tape format reinforced the themes of the novel both overtly and subtly. Kyle is unfamiliar with recording on cassettes, so the last words of each part are forgotten. The action occurs in our present. I'm only 22, but Kyle is enough younger than me that a technology I grew up with is obsolete for him. I'm not pretending I was born before CDs; just before CD-Rs. My sister and I would go about the house, using our cheap red and white plastic tape recorder to tape songs we improvised. (My most popular tune was one involving the lines, "You better snap/that weight off!" Unsurprising, I have not grown up to be a lyricist.) In HUMAN.4, Kyle and three of his neighbors become obsolete through an ill-timed hypnosis act. But our everyday lives will become obsolete without help from any outlandish occurances.  It's that grounding in reality that really sells the more horrific bits of HUMAN.4.

There's a small romance in the novel.  It shouldn't put any male readers off, but it's nicely nuanced and unobtrusive.  I rather liked Lisa, who seemed like a good girl.  The other two 0.4 don't have much to do, but they're amiable enough characters.  Mr. Peterson gets one amazing scene.  HUMAN.4 covers a short amount of time - less than a day - so there is not much focus on character development.  But there is enough character to carry the story.  You want Kyle, Lisa, Mrs. O'Donnell, and Mr. Peterson to survive.  (After all, you're only guaranteed that Kyle survives for three months.)

I read HUMAN.4 in about an hour.  I intended to start it during the commercials of ABC's comedy block.  I finished it before the second episode of The Middle finished. (Admittedly, the second episode was a re-run, but the book would've held my attention without that push.)  In less than 250 pages, Lancaster reminded me how much I love a suspenseful story with a SF twist.  (You'll notice I haven't said much about the plot.  That's because I'm afraid to give anything away.  I enjoy experiencing books cold and I worry about spoiling an experience this fun.)

I don't have a seal of approval, but let's ignore that so that I can say this.  HUMAN.4 gets the In Bed With Books Seal of Approval.  (Complimentary gift basket not included.)


  1. color me jealous! i want to read this one. and your review only made it THAT much more suspenseful for me! seriously, pounding through a book in a sitting is the best selling pitch you can make.

    thanks for the review!

  2. You should have a Seal of Approval. Like this:

  3. @Lisa: You're welcome! I hope you get ahold of a copy.

    @Leigh: Oh, good suggestion! I'll look on DevArt for a free version of something similar.


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