By Caroline Hardaker
- Composite Creatures
Author: Caroline Hardaker
- ISBN: 9780857669025
- Published: April 2021
- Pages: 267
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 26/04/2021
- Language: English
Almost everything that we see daily would feel strange and alien to someone out of time. Show an Ancient Roman a modern carrot and they would ask why it was so large and orange. In Caroline Hardaker’s Composite Creatures the world has changed a lot. The sky is constantly covered with thick clouds and plants only grow with copious amounts of dangerous fertilisers. The days of owning a household pet are over. Therefore, try describing a cat to these near-future folk. It’s a strange hairy creature that stands on four paws. You can see what they look like in the history vids, so why does yours have a face that looks a little like your husbands?
Norah lives an everyday existence. She goes to work, comes home to make dinner and watches some television. Life in the future for most folk is pretty much the same as it is now, expect when it is not. Pollution has killed most life apart from humans and rather than becoming extinct we cling onto some semblance of life using science to cultivate food. Many people are catching the Greying and dying young, but the lucky few like Norah have become members of Easton Grove, the private healthcare provider who will keep you living decades longer than most. The price? A life partner who is compatible with your biology and a new pet that looks like a cat, but also something else.
Science Fiction is a fantastic genre as it can handle so many different types of tone from bombastic space operas, to the eerie, yet familiar. Composite falls into this second camp and in many ways, it is the story of a standard relationship that just happens to be taking place in an exceptional time. The book has a strange unerring feel to it reminiscent of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone. Tonally this is the life of everyday people, and it is up to the reader to glean the strange world around them.
It is the poetic world building that is a highlight. Hardaker has a wonderful sense of place, and they paint this near future in asides and everyday actions. Norah and her chosen partner Arthur have a normal life, for the time, and it is only because we live in a world of blue skies and fields of crops that it seems odd to us. Even so, there are some oddities afoot with the mysterious Easton Grove and their health program. Why have they provided the pair with a creature that has to live in the attic?
As the book progresses and Norah’s world starts to unravel the earlier tempo and tone of the book comes to fruition with a vibrant and compelling final act. Hardaker uses the strange sense of place to lull the reader into a false sense of security. Hidden within the poetry and broken future are real instances of shocking Science Fiction and Horror. By the time the mystery begins to reveal itself, the reader should be fully immersed.
With its florid language and slightly out of step feel, Composite Creatures is not a book you can pick up as an easy read. To get the most from the book the reader should try and concentrate on the half- truths and hidden agendas that lie behind the central relationship. What is the mysterious Easton Grove and why have they provided Norah and Arthur with this small cat they are required to nurture? All will be explained in Hardaker’s own style that is not quite like anything else you are likely to have read.
Written on 26th April 2021 by Sam Tyler .