In eighteenth-century Ohio, two brothers travel into the wooded frontier, planting apple orchards from which they plan to profit in the years to come. As they remake the wilderness in their own image, planning for a future of settlement and civilization, the long-held bonds and secrets between the two will be tested. Fifty years from now, in the second half of the twenty-first century, climate change has ravaged the Earth. One company owns all the world's resources. A thousand years in the future, North America is covered by a massive sheet of ice. One lonely sentient being inhabits a tech station on top of the glacier.
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.