Here’s how I know Dan Wells accomplished something terrific
with Partials: Instead of feeling
like I was pushing through the hundredth post-apocalyptic thriller in the last
six months, I couldn’t put the damned thing down.
There’s certainly a whiff of familiarity to the basic premise: Some 50 years in the future, most of humanity has been wiped out by a virus, believed to have been released by the genetically engineered soldiers—called Partials—who had rebelled against their human creators. Every child born since the plague 11 years earlier has similarly died of the disease, leaving the future of the human race looking bleak. But a 16-year-old medic named Kira, living in a human enclave on Long Island, has a radical idea: Since the Partials themselves appear to be immune from the virus, perhaps capturing one of them could hold the key to the cure.
Wells builds potent War on Terror allegorical material into his vision of this future, with the human government instituting extreme measures, and radical factions opposing the idea that liberty has to be sacrificed for security. Yet it’s still a ripping adventure built on tense set pieces, a page turner full of solid characters in extraordinary circumstances. It works largely because this world feels so well thought-out -- rich in detail, like the scavenged designer clothes that allow the teenagers to dress to kill even in a society in turmoil. The cliffhangers and plot twists never feel like cheap theatrics because everything is grounded in the reality Wells establishes, from decaying suburban mansions to the Manhattan streets that have become the stuff of legend to the young people who rarely venture far from their city’s walls.
Partials ends on one of those cliffhangers setting up a next installment, one of the ongoing frustrations of a literary world built on series rather than stand-alone tales. Yet there's still a satisfying-enough resolution to Kira’s initial mission to make it more than an elaborate prologue. Folding elements from works as diverse as The Handmaid’s Tale, Blade Runner and Children of Men into his narrative, Wells crafts a story that accomplishes what most classic science-fiction accomplishes: It uses another world to tell us something about our own.
Dan Wells reads from and signs Partials at Weller Book Works, 665 E. 600 South, on the book’s official release date, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 7 p.m.