Ariel S. Winter has been a finalist for several prestigious book awards, and IMHO it’s just a matter of time until he takes one of those awards home. When I saw Barren Cove, I was immediately drawn to the quirky graphic book cover. It made me curious to learn what Barren Cove was about. I have to admit that I took a leap of faith on this novel, pretty much based on that odd cover, and I’m glad I did…and once I began to read it, the cover suddenly made sense.
Barren Cove is science fiction set in an almost gothic post-apocalyptic world in which robots are the dominant “species” and humans are almost extinct. It reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s work, which is wonderful in and of itself. This is a world turned upside down and one that sucked me in immediately, thanks to Ariel S. Winter’s excellent writing. And, just as a tease, this genre-bending novel is making all of the must-read speculative and sci-fi lists for Spring…can we pick ‘em or what? Let’s see what you think…
Sapien has become discouraged with his city life and longs to escape it. He has begun to feel like some kind of throw-back to a by-gone age and like he doesn’t fit in anywhere. He believes he might be able to restore some equilibrium in his life if he can just find a place to rest and regroup. And the perfect place to do that looks like a Barren Cove beach house.
So Sapien is leaving the hustle and bustle of modern life to spend time in reflection at this quiet cove tucked away in the bucolic countryside. Surely being near the ocean in such a secluded setting will help him regain the perspective he needs to know how to move forward with his life. Surely it’s where he needs to be to get back in touch with who he is and who he wants to be, going forward. After all, isn’t the beach where beings have gone for ages untold to rest, relax, and become re-energized?
“The setup could have been seen as solitary, but since I had left the city to leave behind the pitying looks of my friends and family, and the growing sensation that strangers thought it selfish of me to not be gracefully deactivated, I was satisfied with the rented accommodations.”
“Wasn’t this why I had really come, because I wondered if the strangers in the city were right? Many younger than me had deactivated…I was an old robot.”
He finds that the beach house is much more rustic than he had bargained for, more of a cabana than a house; however, it meets his basic needs so he can’t complain. Even more interesting is the Victorian house on the hillside above it, with its eccentric family – the family who own the beach house…and the human they care for, Beachstone.
“’I wanted to invite you up to the house to give you a proper welcome,’ she said.
‘Yes, invite him up,’ a man’s voice interrupted, close. I was startled by its malice; it was frightening.
‘Or perhaps it’s too late,’ the woman said, unsure of herself now.
I was torn between my earlier curiosity and the new fear that my solitary vacation was at jeopardy.
‘Hello?’ the woman called.
‘Leave him be,’ the man yelled, his voice distant now.
‘Perhaps it is too late,’ I said. It was dark outside. This would establish my independence but leave future visits open. ‘Perhaps tomorrow, Mrs. Beachstone,’ I ventured, and my only knowledge of my landlord was the odd name Beachstone.
‘Oh, no,’ the woman said. ‘No, Asimov 3000. Mary.’
A good old robot name. ‘Well, Miss Asimov 3000, tomorrow. Thank you.’”
At first, Sapien admonishes himself to stay away from them and to keep his relationship with them purely a tenant/landlord one…but he can’t help but be fascinated by them. They are so dysfunctional and yet so intriguing. There’s Mary, who is almost ethereal in her fragility yet amazing in her strength and beauty. Sapien is drawn to her like a fly to honey. There’s Kent, who gives a whole new meaning to flamboyance. Kent is the original drama queen of all time who bullies everyone around him in fits of pique. And then there’s Clark. Clark is angry at the entire universe, a powder keg always just waiting for any spark as an excuse to explode violently.
Yes, the smart thing to do would be to give these odd quasi-siblings a very wide berth, but Sapien finds he can’t. He is insatiably curious about who they are and how they became this way – a flaw, he knows, but one he can’t help. And last, but certainly not least, is Beachstone, a young physically fragile human man around whom their lives revolve. The family’s mandate is to care for him, and to do their best to ensure he survives, whether he wants them to or not. And since Beachstone has never really known other humans, he is fixated on them as his family even though he longs to escape their care – much like any teenager would long to differentiate himself from his family.
Slowly, Sapien is drawn farther and farther into the web of their dysfunction and his plan to relax and regroup is subsumed in their constant over-the-top drama. He can’t help but think that Beachstone and his relationship with his family of caregivers may hold the key to Sapien’s quest.
The only problem is that the more Sapien is drawn into their family patterns and delves into their history, the more their shadow side begins to emerge. He knew they were dysfunctional but he had no idea just how dysfunctional. He soon learns that Barren Cove has dangers he could not have fathomed.
Will Sapien be drowned in the undertow of their lives or can he emerge from this unusual retreat as the being he longed to become? How will his research into their existence change who he becomes…and will it improve him or damage him for all time? And last but not least, what does it really mean to be human?
Sapien may be an outdated robot; however, he is instantly sympathetic. His life has not gone as planned and he is not who he thought he would be. He feels like the world around him has left him behind and he is trying valiantly to find a place in it for himself. Mary, Clark, and Kent form an extremely dysfunctional unit, partially based on well-meaning but eccentric mandates laid down by the long-gone human who originally built them to become his robotic children. Beachstone is a young human man who has never known other humans. Talk about a fish out of water. He loves and resents his robotic family, all at the same time. The dynamics among all of these characters let us look at human relationships in a whole new light…especially the shadow side of those relationships and how they affect us. The good, the bad, and the ugly – it’s all there. Villains – of course there are villains, but I won’t say who they are.
Ariel S. Winter has created a masterful work in Barren Cove. His writing style flows beautifully and ensnared me before I quite comprehended where he was taking me. Although this is a world of robots, I just didn’t realize how much robots ruled the world at first…that was an eye-opener. And it’s a story that stayed with me for days after I finished it. Bottom Line: If you like speculative science fiction or post-apocalyptic reads, I recommend this novel. Mr. Winter, I see award wins in your near future because Barren Cove is definitely an award-winning read!
Upcoming Author Appearances & Book Signings:
April 26, 2016 at The Corner Bookstore in New York City, NY
April 27, 2016 at Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr, PA
April 28, 2016 at Atomic Books in Baltimore, MD
Can’t wait to read it? Barren Cove will be published on April 26, 2016; however, it’s available for pre-order in all formats from your favorite online bookseller. Just click on the link below and you can have it the moment it’s published!
I’d love to get your comments on Barren Cove, Ariel S. Winter and/or his other work, and/or this review.