Bookshots: 'Bats of the Republic' by Zachary Thomas Dodson
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel
Who wrote it:
Book designer and Helsinki-based author, Zachary Thomas Dodson.
Plot in a Box:
After "the Collapse," society has slowly rebuilt itself into an alternate reality where blood and heredity reign.
Invent a new title for this book:
Read this if you liked:
A rather odd assortment: The Giver, S. by J.J. Abrams, and a number titles by Jeff VanderMeer. I was also reminded of the Arclight series by Image Comics.
Meet the book's lead(s):
The young Zeke Thomas, who is being unwillingly coerced into a family seat in the government, and his failed naturalist ancestor.
Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:
So much about this book reminded me of the 1997 film Gattaca that I can't help but picture most of those actors playing various characters. Zeke would be Jude Law, I think.
Setting: Would you want to live there?
In an even more dystopian, warped United States? No, that doesn't sound wonderful.
What was your favorite sentence?
He slept in the same room as the insect collection, on a cot underneath a ceiling hung with the skeleton specimens of many bird species.
In Bats of the Republic, the history of a dystopian, alternate United States is pieced together through carefully preserved letters and brief conversations from the present day. This occasionally makes it difficult to determine precisely what is happening. Such a complex world, accompanied by its own history, laws, and system of government might have been better explained to readers in a less disjointed fashion. What readers do learn early on is that the world progressed as normal up until shortly after the presidency of John Tyler, and then it went to hell in a hand basket (everything's always your fault, John Tyler).
Where Dodson does succeed is in creating a potent and unique aesthetic through his artwork and writing. Apparently, it's customary to bleed into your tea before drinking it, because why not? There's this weird lifephase system where everyone is sent to live in various city states depending on their age and/or sexual orientation. To be honest, I would have liked a little more meat on the dynamics behind why this particular system arose out of the ashes of social collapse. Yes, I know that's the focus of the narrative, but I never could quite buy the answers provided. It's an interesting take on the dystopian tale; a civilization drawn from the meticulous, tweedy hand of naturalists and historians, absolutely everything cataloged and preserved and measured in stages.
The trouble is that the trappings are ornate and fun to look at, but the man behind the curtain is always just out of sight. Carrying a few vials and notebooks doesn't make a scientist in real life any more than it does in fiction, and a bit more research could have gone a long way here. No need to swamp the reader with details on phyletic gradualism or anything, but Zadock could have just as easily been a traveling troubadour as a naturalist for the most part. Also, there are a lot of words thrown in like 'rotovator' and 'phonotube.' Is that just a phone with the name changed, or are there real technological differences based on the divergent path of progress? I wanted to know.
It should also be noted that I don't think a digital advance reader copy of Bats of the Republic adequately presents all that this book has to offer as an illuminated novel. There are maps and diagrams for the reader to explore, rendered in the style of a retro-futuristic natural history museum exhibit. It’s honestly difficult to tell from the digital file, but it seems like a book planned specifically by the author for someone to hold in their hands so that they can fold out maps and trace fingers over textured paper. If it sounds like your cup of genetic blood tea, I would make a definite effort to pick up a physical copy instead of downloading it to an eBook reader. Having the tactile, more interactive experience of turning through Dodson’s beautiful illustrations could very well leave a reader with an entirely different impression of Bats of the Republic than what this reviewer gathered by thumbing through pages on a cold, white screen.
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