Bookshots: "Mort(e)" by Robert Repino
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Who Wrote It?
Robert Repino, a previous Pushcart Prize nominee for his short fiction. Mort(e) is his debut novel. More info here.
Plot in a Box:
It's hard to really fit this novel's plot into a box, as it is sprawling, but basically it's about a cat named Mort(e) who gets mutated —along with all his four-legged friends—into a more human-like form by Hymenoptera Unus, an ancient queen ant hell-bent on vengeance against humanity. He joins a ragtag army of cats and fights alongside the giant Colony ants in the War Without A Name, becoming one of the most ruthless and recognizable soldiers out there, all the while hoping to find his pre-war friend Sheba, a dog who lived next door. But when he leaves service, the remaining human resistance selects Mort(e) as their messiah of sorts. And that happens only about halfway through the book...
Invent a new title for this book:
Cats and Dogs Living Together: Mass Hysteria!
Read this if you liked:
Planet of the Apes (movie or book), Animal Farm (the book) and Under The Skin (haven't seen the movie yet, so the book).
Meet the book's lead:
We met him already. He's Mort(e), an orange and white neutered male house cat turned two-legged warrior from hell. He's surly, he's no-nonsense, and he has only enough love for his friend Sheba (at least that's what he tells himself). And yes, there's a reason the 'e' is parenthesized.
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:
Mort(e): The Movie would no doubt be a CGI affair, and I think the team behind the latest Apes films would be up for the task.
As for the voice, it took me a while to figure out who I heard in my head while reading the book, but I finally landed on Leonardo DiCaprio.
Setting: Would you want to live there?
What was your favorite sentence?
The bodies had piled up at the base of the Queen's abdomen. She was submerged in them, like the hull of a ship riding a sea of the dead.
There are so many contradictory elements to Mort(e) (and I mean that as a complement). Repino's writing is terse and to-the-point, much like his protagonist, which makes for a quick read. Despite this, we still feel the long timespan of the novel, as well as the devastation and pointlessness of the War Without A Name, as though we've just waded through an 800-page opus.
There are plenty of bleak, deadly serious moments throughout the novel, but it's also deeply funny in many places. Just look at the basic premise: we're dealing with war here, with humanity's duality as both a species of peace and of destruction, of benevolence and cruelty. And yet the catalyst that spurs these topics on is an unabashed throwback to 50s B-Movie kitsch—ants the size of SUVs decimating entire cities, lead by a Queen carrying the weight of infinite knowledge on her shoulders. She's able to spike the world's water supply with a hormone that mutates land animals, causing Rovers and Friskys to rise up against their "masters," walk around on two legs, tote guns and speak with human voices. The only thing missing here are lizard people. Is it plausible? No. But does it get the point across while also providing entertainment and escapism? Absolutely. Mort(e) feels like a light read, but it most certainly isn't one.
This is science fiction at its best. Repino gives us a wild, imaginative and wholly original tale without any trace of sugar-coating. He takes our current war-addled, religion-dominated, decidedly divided society to task, raising hard questions about our own species, without providing any easy answers. Definitely pick this one up.
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