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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

This week’s review will be a little like standing in the kitchen, making that new recipe work for you. A little of this and a little of that, and voila! you have a masterpiece. This week’s novel requires a recipe that is one part "Animal Farm," one part "Crusades," one part "Apocalypse," and one part love story. Mix it all together and you get Robert Repino’s "Mort(e)."

At the beginning of the story, Sebastian is an ordinary house cat in a house with a husband, wife, and two children. What starts out as a loving family, slowly turns into an unhappy house. When the husband is away at work, Sebastian watches as the handsome young neighbor woos his master’s wife. The neighbor brings his female dog, Sheba, with him on his visits. Sebastian finds a warm friend with whom he loves spending time.

Sheba delivers puppies while the neighbor is visiting the wife. It is through these little balls of fur that the husband discovers his wife’s infidelity. He kills the puppies and attacks his wife. The household becomes a tension-filled house of horrors. Sebastian observes all this.  At the same time, a change overcomes the house cat.

Unbeknownst to the human population and animal kingdom, a super colony of super-intelligent ants has spent the last thousand years building and army and game plan to overthrow the oppressive human race. The Colony has developed a way to transform the animals of the earth into higher thinking beings in order to rise up against their human masters. Sebastian changes into a two-legged, thinking cat. His first act is to kill the husband after he has threatened his wife and children, and after he has killed Sheba’s puppies in a fit of rage. His second act is to send the rest of his family out into the world rather than destroy them as the other former pets have done.

Sebastian joins a special military unit led by other cats and renames himself Mort(e) after a book he had once seen. As Mort(e), he focuses on his dual mission of eradicating the human presence while searching for his long-lost friend, Sheba. He is ruthless and son moves up the ranks to second in command.

While all this is going on, there is a human-engineered bio-weapon aimed at regaining supremacy through attrition. Known as EMSAH in the legions of intelligent animals, it must be eradicated as quickly as possible. The first signs are a craziness of not wanting to follow the simple rules laid down by the Colony followed by uncontrolled speach that is out of line with what is expected. When an area is discovered to be infected with EMSAH, it must be quarantined and sterilized. The animals suffering from this malaise must be put down immediately before it gets spread to others.

Mort(e) retires from his military unit, believing he’s done he can to ensure the future of the animals and the Colony. It is now his time to focus solely on the search for Sheba. Questions about the veracity of EMSAH begin to echo throughout the masses, and eyes turn toward Mort(e). Even though he doesn’t understand why, he seems to be the focal point behind the source of the disease. He’s drawn back into the military despite his initial reluctance.

Spies from the other side fill Mort(e)’s head with doubt. Is Sheba still alive? What is the Colony trying to hide with regard to EMSAH? Why are so many animals disappearing? Mort(e) begins to question his very existence, and gets assistance from the most unlikely of places.

Robert Repino has taken Animal Farm by George Orwell and created an even more dystopian future for mankind. The Colony attempts a complete takeover of the world in order to crush the oppressive nature of humans. In the end, they become even more oppressive than the former masters. In their world, it is tow the line or be destroyed. The transformed pets are mere pawns in the Colony’s grab for power.

This whole novel is abound with symbolism. From race war, to genocide, and to religious freedom and persecution, Repino touches upon it all. By using ants, animals and humans, he deftly hides this social commentary behind an absurdist virtual world. Imagine a world where apparent saviors have taken over the world governments then dropped the hammer on freedoms. Religion is outlawed. Independent thought is considered to be treasonous.

Sebastian, in his transformation into Mort(e), is a very interesting character with a unique point of view. He starts out as a simple house cat who loves his family, even as the family grows and less attention is lavished upon him. When he becomes an intelligent worker for the Colony, he faces a new mountain of struggles. He struggles with new, human emotions as he tries to find the path that will bring meaning to all he’s done.

The other characters are not nearly as defined as Mort(e). They seem to be simple shadows flashing in his life as he attempts to overcome his frustrations in his search for the elusive Sheba. The story is about this cat and his struggles. The others are mere players in the game. This can be a bit disconcerting to some, especially when some of the minor characters make decisions that seem to be inconsistent over the course of the book.

I definitely liked Mort(e) by Robert Repino. It’s allusions to Animal Farm  interested me from the moment I read the back cover.  The absurdist nature of the narrative may not be for everyone, but it’s worth a shot for those willing to take a chance.  There is some disjointedness in the timeline that throws the reader off just a little, but overall, this is a well-written novel. It is highly original in its delivery of social commentary. With this book, you just have to read between the lines.

+Craig Bacon loves his rabbit, Midnight. That bunny is the best bunny ever…..Just in case. You can follow Craig on Twitter at @hippieboy73.

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