September 22, 2009

"Emergence" by David R. Palmer

Emergence, written by David R. Palmer (ISBN 0-553-24501-5) isn't a particularly new book; it was published in 1984. My wife has been encouraging me to read it for several years. Now that I have, I'm trying to figure out what I ever did to her to deserve this.

In concept, the book is fair enough. It's a post-apocalyptic story about an 11-year-old girl, Candy Smith-Foster, who survives a nuclear-biological war that eliminates humanity. The only survivors are those who are a more-highly-evolved species that will succeed Homo sapiens. The book is presented as her journal, telling the story as she records it for posterity.

It is this format that presents the first problem for me: If she's writing the journal, I already know that she's survived the dramatic situations she faces. The emotions are already processed, to an extent. Although Palmer, through Candy, tries to present her journal as if it was simply first-person narration, the fact that it's written after the fact is inescapable.

If he was trying to escape this, though, he makes two major mistakes: (1) Candy's narration is extremely informal, often including such notes as "Good morning, Posterity!" that remind you that this is not simply a narration, it's a journal, and (2) Candy writes in shorthand. This writing style is addressed early in the book, when Candy records, "Sentence structure will have English teachers spinning in graves" and goes on to explain why she's too intelligent to use English properly.

The thing is, I'm rather a fan of the English language. I consider this book's butchery of it to be a major distraction from the story. Even if its narrator would conclude from this that I'm inferior, I hold to my point.

In any case, the misuse of language makes it impossible to forget that this is Candy's journal, and that therefore she can't have been killed in any of the situations that she encounters.

As for those situations ... As she travels the US searching for other survivors, she spends close to half the book talking about sex, being propositioned in one way or another. These conversations are so romantic as to include the comment by one character that a catheter is not conducive to romance, and one conversation that is no more than a business deal -- which she nearly accepts.

At the end, roughly the last third of the book, it suddenly turns into largely an adventure story. At that point, the book becomes more bearable ... but right before the end we are treated to another discussion of how the villain wishes Candy were older so that they could be involved romantically. She's 11 years old! I find this disturbing, and wonder somewhat if Palmer has issues that warrant professional help if he's this obsessed with sexual activity between 11 year old girls and full-grown men.

The great moral conflict of the book is, as far as I'm concerned, resolved incorrectly. Candy murders a man by failing to halt her use of deadly force (she's a Sixth Degree black belt), and every conversation about this includes neat rationalizations.

Good points? I think that the concept was great. I can't, though, think of anything particularly good to say about the book, except that I no longer have to read it.

1 star is generous.


  1. Wow. The whole 11yo/sex thing (even if it's just talk) is disturbing. I wonder what the point of that is, since having a 11yo protagonist usually means that it's a book geared for kids. Sounds like it was a neat concept, but very poorly executed.

  2. I really didn't get it. When it first started, and she was discussing being willing to (her words) "do her duty" to repopulate the earth, it was one thing ... but then it went on and on, and only got more disturbing.

  3. I recall this as being a book I thought was fantastic at the time I read it, and just spent the past day trying to track it down, couldn't remember the title or the author, just the book itself... finding it, and finding this review, and the comments.. just tells me this is a blog I guess I should avoid...


Thanks for joining our discussion of this book!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...