For some years, Matt Bell (Scrapper and Cataclysm Baby) has had climate and apocalypse on his mind, and his excellent new novel continues and deepens his investment ... Bell wisely resists going overboard with connective and structural conceits, and so prevents Appleseed, with its tripart design of tightly woven threads, from turning into a giant puzzle ... Bell is clearly not out in this formally ambitious but still deeply humane work to score points for making nifty formal moves. An appealing earnestness undergirded by deeply felt optimism infuses Appleseed ... Appleseed, a highly welcome addition to the growing canon of first-rate contemporary climate fiction, feels timely, prescient and true.
Appleseed achieves a...breadth of vision, taking in America’s wilderness genesis as well as looming nightmares of environmental collapse. Events range across centuries and continents, shifting points of view, upending ancient myth, and busting through genre conventions, in particular sci-fi. Yet it’s all laid out clearly, in strata that bookmark every turning point, and one way or another, the central setting remains the woods of Ohio ... just as Bell keeps Ohio as narrative landmark, he follows chronology. Readers can sort matters out even when changes snap the head back, often in terrifying ways ... Plot matters for Appleseed as it does in few other novels of such subtlety or imagination ... what sets the new novel apart—sets it above, as his greatest accomplishment—is how effectively it brings together all his gifts ... The drama’s elemental, in short, and so my few misgivings had to do with those times when the scaffolding of cause and effect got in the way. One or two of the near-future episodes felt overcareful, connecting the dots between Earthtrust’s science and the rebels’ sabotage. But then again, that plotline may offer the greatest thrills ... Matt Bell has brought off a novel as exciting as any in recent years.
... plays on the dystopian climate disaster genre, deftly weaving threads from Greek mythology, magical realism, and America’s settler-colonial folklore to create the parallel universe its characters inhabit ... Unpredictable to the last page, Appleseed ties these disparate narratives together with a rich network of symbolism and sharp prose. While there are tensely written action scenes befitting a sci-fi thriller, at the book’s core is a burning ethical question that wavers on the knife-edge of climate optimism and fatalism: Faced with the end of the world, would you bet on humanity to finally come together and avert disaster? Or one woman, one company, with a vision and the means to guarantee the outcome? ... propelled by the strength of its ideas rather than its specific characters or exotic worldbuilding. There are nods to Iain M. Banks and Ursula K. Le Guin, which might make the reader feel as though they’re watching an elaborate thought experiment untangle itself. The characters have lives of their own insomuch as they are tools to solve that greater puzzle. As such, the book occasionally breaks the fourth wall, veering away from the temporal plots into passages such as the one quoted above where the narrator speaks directly to the reader about their current and future complicity in the events about to occur. In this way, Bell pulls readers back and forth between seeing Eury and Earth Trust’s enormous power as a villainous force to be fought, and the only means of survival in a world where governments are ineffectual and unsustainable resource consumption continues unabated. Moments such as these, and more ethereal scenes where Chapman is chased by three time-bending spirits in the Ohio woods, pull em>Appleseed out of the sci-fi genre and into something more — a cerebral folktale all its own ... Because the novel’s present-day timeline is so close to our own, the alternate world Bell creates feels jarringly prescient ... not your typical sci-fi novel in the same way the 2016 film Arrival is less about an alien invasion and more about theories of linguistics-driven perception. So, while readers expecting a gritty climate dystopia, or a one-world-order, might be disoriented by Appleseed’s bucolic opening chapter about an apple-obsessed 18th-century faun, they’re in for something incredibly unique and equally gripping.
The phrase that comes to mind, after finishing Bell’s stylish, genre-bending opus of mythmaking, political intrigue, and philosophical heft is, more or less, 'You bastard' ... seeing what Bell has done is humbling and delightful, galling and admirable in equal turns. Though he hasn’t written a perfect book—really, though, who could write such a thing—Appleseed is shockingly good. Yes, even great ... this is climate fiction at its core—a sci-fi sub-genre that seems to be everywhere at this moment—but there’s an unabashed earnestness to Appleseed, a love even, for the natural world, that combines with Bell’s lush prose to make this book much more than simple cli-fi, to turn it into a sort of love song for our dying world ... If I had to talk about Appleseed’s flaws, I’d point to the fact that its opening is a bit slow ... For readers who have the same trouble, I’d say, stick with it, because by the end of Part I, I was sure I was reading something special ... There’s so much success here: from finely drawn characters to a voice at once epic and intensely humane. Honestly, I’d call this book a career achievement for a lot of writers, but Bell’s still young enough that he may surpass it.
... strikes an interesting balance between the bleakness of the characters’ situations and the hopefulness of their actions, finding ways to celebrate indomitability of spirit in the face of odds that become ever more overwhelming. That balance cuts to the core of the human condition, with each story offering a glimpse at that core from a slightly different angle ... The craft and construction here is particularly impressive. Each one of these stories could easily stand alone on its own merits with nary an edit – Bell has built three very real, very distinct worlds, each with their own characters and conflicts – and yet they are all very much thematically intertwined. To create three compelling stories – three compelling realities – and bind them together seamlessly? That’s some first-rate writing, no doubt about it ... not an optimistic book – it casts far too many shadows for that – but it is definitely a hopeful one. That might seem like a semantic difference, but to my mind, it is a very real one. Finding reason to hope in the face of seeming hopelessness is a key component of the human condition – a condition that Matt Bell deftly and thoroughly explores here.
This book is long, but more than earns its length. It’s rich and complex. Bell is able to swing, seemingly effortlessly, from sections that are thought experiments, to sections that are wrenchingly emotional. He weaves mythic figures and fantastical elements into realism absolutely seamlessly. Having said this, this might not be a book for everyone. It took me a while to read; I had to keep putting it down to mull ... this is a terrifying, beautiful book.
Appleseed starts slowly, its triune structure requiring patience and faith on the reader’s part that Chapman, John, and C-443 will prove equally interesting. Once the narrative gathers momentum, much of the fun of the novel comes from watching the connections accumulate between the various threads ... In a novel suffused in loss, Chapman's story of Western expansion by foot is especially moving ... The parts set in the near future have a welcome cyberthriller edge to them ... Bell makes clear that climate catastrophe has drastically altered the world, while his characters struggle to contend with their new realities.
As is the case with many eco novels and in the world today, humanity’s failure to combat climate change is layered across every inch of this novel. However, Appleseed is so much more than similar stories of the past ... deftly structured across three distinct timelines ... The narratives are told in a fantastical way, a modern way, and a science fiction way. Appleseed’s publicity materials tout it as part speculative epic, part tech thriller, and part reinvented fairy tale. This genre bender’s three tales feel distinct, yet tie together fittingly in the end, and not overly so ... no fast-paced read, with the three different timelines spread over such a vast time period, and with Bell throwing the reader into the deep end, expect to sit and ruminate with the novel. Some reader’s mileage may vary in terms of their patience, but seasoned genre readers will enjoy the pace if they stick with it ... Bell’s ability to bridge the connections between three distinct timelines and three separate genres in a way that is extremely readable and thought provoking is quite a feat. It would not be inaccurate to call this book a career achievement for many writers, but Bell is still early enough in his career, he just might surpass it. When adventurous readers wish to fulfill their Kim Stanley Robinson needs, perhaps they turn to Matt Bell.
Offering little more than misery and despair, [Bell's] latest novel, Appleseed, concludes that humans are incapable of change, headed toward the extinction we deserve ... '[T]his wasn’t the world anyone wanted. A sullen midwestern dystopia…' Bell writes of America’s blighted breadbasket where about a third of his book takes place. The observation also describes this dense, depressing novel. While Bell occasionally embraces the pacing of a techno-thriller, most of the more than 450 pages are devoted to sullen characters brooding about how the world has been diminished and moving slowly toward a single significant choice they think might improve it. There’s something to be said for grappling with agency in the face of momentous forces, but Bell doesn’t provide enough depth to the characters or a sense that their actions matter, making it difficult to follow them on their long journey ... doesn’t lack ambition ... there’s no explanation for why the fantasy aspects exist or how they work, and it feels like a way to avoid going too deep into science fiction ... Bell doesn’t believe that consensus can be reached on how to stop climate change in time to make a difference and that we will be doomed by our inaction. His dismissal of heroism on any scale is both bold and dispiriting ... Bell has a propensity for using repetition to emphasize his points, resulting in some plodding prose ... Bell does not think the problems he explores can be solved at all, and by his own logic, there is no redemption to be found in resistance.
Appleseed is wildly ambitious by the standards of climate fiction and most novels, period; Bell applies some spectacular world-building ... Bell’s story is audacious beyond just its plot—he’s attempting to shift our focus from mankind to nature, or at least suggest that we keep them in balance ... The novel is imperfect. Its three-part structure makes it seem even longer than its 400-plus pages, giving us the feeling of reading three books at once. The plot can creak ... And Bell’s style, which privileges repetition to create forward motion, sometimes drags ... Appleseed offers a glimpse of what a hybrid existence might feel like—no small feat and better than a lecture.
... a heady, metaphor-rich mash-up of fairy tale–fantasy, cli-fi, and postapocalyptic fiction ... While Bell’s writing remains rich and surprising, too much feels derivative of similar works, and the twined threads are unequally successful and fail to pull together with much punch ... Loaded with ideas and often poignant in its ruminations, but also languorous and merely expository; there’s certainly no denying Bell’s ambition, but this work simply fails to take root.
Appleseed is a work of cli-fi that explores myth and technology and asks what progress is good for humanity. Fans of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014) or David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2012) will enjoy this, as will admirers of such speculative environmental fiction as Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy.
[A] stirring take on climate change, complicity, and human connection ... While each character’s situation appears bleak, the voices in this powerful tale continually seek something beyond the imperfection of human stewardship ... This is an excellent addition to the climate apocalypse subgenre, and the way it grapples with humanity’s dramatic influence on the planet feels fresh and bracing.
Bell cleverly combines the novel’s plot threads in the book's late stages, and despite the elliptical structure, his central message hits home: The world as we know it is past saving if we need a monopolist to save it ... A flawed but admirably big-thinking attempt to make readers rethink climate and climate fiction.