From the moment I saw the blurb for Jackie Hatton’s Flesh and Wires I knew I wanted to read it. It just sounded so intriguingly different. Jackie’s novel is a post-alien invasion tale set in the not-so-distant future right here in the state of Connecticut where I live. I’ve driven the highways mentioned, seen the towns where the story is set. And that, I think, made the novel so appealing to me. The idea of these gentle New England locations twisted into a story of survival was a great hook.
Flesh and Wires (Aqueduct Press, 2015) takes us to the world left behind after a failed alien invasion, where the conquering Ruurdaans have died from disease leaving behind a sparse population of survivors. Most of these are technologically enhanced women, wired by the aliens to serve as slave labor for their colonization. Thirty years on, the enhanced women, along with the few remaining ‘naturals’ (both male and female), have gathered in small enclaves with dwindling fuel and energy resources. Society is at the same time sophisticated, with the scavenged remains of all the abandoned homes and mansions in the area, and frugally simplified, almost to pre-industrial levels, with scant long-distance communications abilities and trade as the only currency. Community is the key to endurance.
Contact has been made by yet another alien race, the Orbitals, who claim to want to settle in peace on Earth. Lo, leader of the small yet sturdy Saugatuck community, must decide whether or not she is willing to trust the Orbital ambassadors, and how to lead her town through the upcoming changes.
Jackie Hatton chooses an interesting direction to take her tale. Although there are plenty of plot twists and action sequences, ultimately this is a book about the consequences of war and the relationships born from a desperate need to survive. Most – if not all – the women in the story bear deep psychological scars and PTSD is a running theme all throughout. New forms of partnerships have emerged, and in the thirty years since the invading Ruurdaans died out society has transformed into something completely new. Many of the characters, such as Lo, acquired extraordinary powers and strength from their alien enhancements, but this has brought its own brand of hardship and grief. And when faced with a new ultimatum to break out of their self-imposed isolation and evolve once again as a society, Lo realizes her people are less united than she thought.
Flesh and Wires is at the same time a gently written soft-paced affair and an explosive, volatile story of survival. It’s the looming threat of a thunderstorm on a summer’s day, the danger lurking in a seemingly quiet pool of water. This is not a loud novel, but a chilling one in many ways, and it tackles big ideas and leaves a lot of noise in its wake. It’s the sort of story that leaves a mark, and keeps you thinking long after you’ve put it down.