Reviews > Published on June 10th, 2014

Bookshots: 'Pills and Starships' by Lydia Millet

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Pills and Starships

Who wrote it?

I know there’s a lot of good publicity for this book already, but I’m not going to recommend you run out and buy it.

This is the first YA novel by Lydia Millet, an American novelist who won the PEN Center USA Award for Fiction for her third novel, My Happy Life, and her novel Love in Infant Monkeys was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Plot in a Box:

It’s the end of the world as we know it. No, really. Global warming has raised the sea levels, whole species have vanished, and everyone’s afraid of bugs. Government seems to have been replaced by the corporations and assisted dying is the norm. Enter Nat and Sam, 17 and 14, respectively, whose parents have decided to take the final voyage and take the whole family to Hawaii (or what’s left of it) to say goodbye and end it all. Thus begins an adventure that doesn’t reflect well on the corporations or us as a species.

Invent a new title for this book:

I would call it: Going to Hell in a Handbasket.

Read this if you liked:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

Meet the book’s lead(s):

Nat is 17 years old, eldest daughter of much older parents — really old, in their nineties — and big sister to Sam, a 14 year old hacker. Nat is a collector: she collects things from nature, family mementos, and, near the end of the book, moments. But she doesn’t really know where her life is going. Her parent’s decision to kill themselves has blown what little she was sure of out of the water.

Nat grows a lot as the story progresses and “finds” herself, her perceptions changing as she learns more about the world she lives in — and how it’s been guided by outside forces.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

A young Lisa Bonet, you know, the one from The Cosby Show (okay, showing my age again).

Setting: would you want to live there?

Hell no, but if we carry on the way we’re going, it’s not exactly fiction.

What was your favorite sentence?

Killer first lines are like gold dust and this is a doozy:

There was a time, not long ago, when it was illegal to kill people.

I think it sums up the book very well, as a statement of intent, and the darkness of the world Nat lives in.

The Verdict:

I didn’t love this book. The book is told as a journal, with the audience some unknown spacefarer on a ship somewhere out in the solar system. And for me, that’s where it doesn’t work. Okay, I understand the point of a journal, but I think Millet sticks a little too strictly to the format, telling us far more than she shows us. If anything, the beginning drags as she explains and explains the world where Nat and Sam live.

I did care about the characters, but it would have been more enjoyable for me to see things as they unfolded. Millet even describes the dialog in places, rather than recounting it — or trying to recount it — which comes across as a rookie mistake. Just when the plot was getting good, the book ended, too, which left me feeling like I’d missed something.

I know there’s a lot of good publicity for this book already (it’s hard to miss if you search on the title and/or Millet’s name — I didn’t read much of it) which is good for the author, but I’m not going to recommend you run out and buy it. The characters were well formed, the scenario a good extrapolation of the current state of the planet, and I did want to know what happened to Nat and Sam; I guess I just wanted a bit more.

About the author

Dean Fetzer is originally from a small town in eastern Colorado, but has lived in London, England, for 21 years now. On reaching London, he worked as a graphic designer and web consultant before starting a pub review website in the late 90’s.

His current book series, The Jaared Sen Quartet is set in near-future London, but also encompasses historical elements, reflecting his fascination with missing artifacts and conspiracy theories.

Dean left pub reviews behind in 2011 to concentrate on his writing and to set up a new company offering publishing services to authors, poets and artists as well as blogging and writing book reviews on his website at He lives in east London with his wife and two cats and dreams (often) of a house in France.

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