4.5 Stars - Highly Recommended
Leapfrog Press continues to bring it! They are very quickly rising to the top of my indie/small press list of favorites, and it's all based on the consistent, quality literature they have been releasing.
When they created this mission statement - "... to search out, publish, and aggressively market books that tell a strong story. What we promise is writing that expands our webs of connection with other humans and the natural world; books that illuminate our complexities; tough, unsentimental books about our difficult and sometimes insanely funny choices in life and how we make them." - they were not joking around.
But I don't want to get all wrapped up in the publisher, just yet. Let's save that gooey, gushy, mushy stuff for another post. I want to redirect the focus of this post to the discussion of their 2010 release The Facility which, sadly, is severely under reviewed. How haven't more people found out about this strange and tormented novel?
Scratch that - I know how. And I could go on and on about the differences between gigantic powerhouse publishers and indie, small press arenas when it comes to marketing and publicity, but I won't. For obvious reasons. And I could also go on and on about the reviewers who chase after those gigantic powerhouse publishers for those gigantic powerhouse novels rather than seeking out the unknown, undiscovered gems of the indie, small press businesses. Or the fact that adding one more review to the already swelling ocean of reviews on a best selling novel does about as much for that book/author/publisher as adding one more grain of sand to a sandbox would. Whereas, reviewing a lesser known novel by a lesser known author listed under a lesser known publisher could potentially influence readers to purchase said book, thus generating income for the publisher which enables them to continue publishing while also putting them, their book, and their author on the map. But I won't do that either.
What I will do, though, is share with you my thoughts on Michael Mirolla's The Facility. And why I would place Leapfrog Press up against any large, corporate publishing house when it comes to literary content.
The book deals with the end of mankind. Or, more specifically, an end to mankind as we currently know it. The world had been dying a slow death, almost all of it's plant and animal life had become extinct, and a group of scientist constructed a building in which they were conducting cloning experiments.
Within the walls of this Facility, these scientists have recreated every animal that ever existed. Here, when the animals climbed out of the cloning tanks, they were blank slates. They had no natural extinct, no need to hunt for food, no need for violence, and they were placed into habitats that were created in near-likeness of their original, natural homes.
An ad went out into the public, seeking human test subjects. Our main character's grandfather answered the ad. But rather than allow the scientists to conduct tests on his genetic matter, he convinced them to use someone historically famous, someone people would recognize, and was quickly put to work.
Fausto, our protagonist, used to accompany his grandfather to the Facility, where he played in the Petting Zoo - the animal habitats - petting and cuddling the wild animals, while his grandfather went to "work". One day, the grandfather invited Fausto into the center of the Facility and introduced him to Benito Mussolini, who he then promptly shot through the head.
Many years later, upon his grandfather's final plea, Fausto finds himself back in the Facility seeking answers to the questions that have always haunted him. Upon entering the compound, which at first glance appears to have been abandoned, Fausto soon discovers he is not alone, and he cannot escape.
Imagine a building that can spontaneously create or regenerate life based on supply and demand. When something dies, the Facility replaces it with another, forever. When you shoot Mussolini in through the head, and he dies, another Mussolini begins crawling out of the cloning tanks. The first few clones require programming, as they, like the animals, are born blank slates. The Facility has a room where information can be projected at the clone that, over time, act as memories. As a person is cloned again and again, the memories begin to stick, and programing is no longer needed. But the Facility follows strict orders - only one clone can exist at a time.
Now imagine that you are trapped in this building. Every attempt at finding a door or window by which to escape through has resulted in failure. Every attempt at blowing something up or destroying something has resulted in the Facility neatly and efficiently putting it back together. Imagine that no one on the outside knows where you are, and if they did, they would have no way of entering to rescue you.
Now imagine that the one and only option of escape left was to die? Would you be able to do it? How would you do it? What if the Facility had somehow gotten hold of your DNA, your genetic matter? What if the Facility wouldn't let you die? What if, once you've managed to kill yourself, the Facility simply released a new you from the cloning tanks? And you were born back into the very place you were trying so desperately to leave?
What if, when you finally come to terms with the new "way" of things, the Facility gave you control over what, and when, and how to clone? What would you do? Who or what would you create? Would that make you a God?
This novel can be a tough read. It's a strange, outside-the-box, conceptual novel. It requires an extreme amount of mental commitment and a semi-suspension of belief. It's a brooder, a slow-to-start thinker. What I call a "sleeper"... it starts off like any old book does, with the set up and a few flashbacks to help you understand how Fausto got to where he is now. Once I put the book down, I didn't really think about too much until I was ready to pick it back up again.
But then, somewhere around the middle of the novel, it began to take hold. It crawled it's way into my brain and would replay itself over and over each time I stop reading. I mean, if we are not careful, this could very well be what our future has in store for us, don't you think? The jump from cloning rats with human ears on their backs, and cloning sheep just to see if we can do it, to cloning humans without their knowledge or consent is not really that great. It's certainly feasible.. isn't it? And let's not get me started on the whole secret government experiments and cloning being man's way of cheating God... this review is already long enough without me getting sidetracked on the whole science aspect of things.
My whole point here, and yes, I do have one, is that Mirolla's novel takes the whole human vs. god, human vs. death, human vs. nature, human vs. fear thing and attacks it from a very significant angle. He messes with things that we, as a society, may actually, frighteningly, already be doing... and tries to show us how his character, or anyone for that matter, can take a somewhat bad situation and attempt to turn it into something good. Something that starts out being selfishly good, but may eventually be for the greater good... good for humanity, good for the world. If there is a world left......