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Fleen Book Corner: Last Pick

Oh, what a title we have here. What a cutting, straight-to-the-quick, revisited childhood trauma Jason Walz has packed into two little words: Last Pick (a review copy of which was supplied by the fine folks at :01 Books). You’ve been there, when the teams are picked and every kid is carefully scrutinized for what they’ll bring to the team and somebody gets left until last, the sting of uselessness hanging over them.

What happens when you’ve got a whole society — a whole world — of last picks?

The aliens¹ (oh, spoilers ahead, but pretty broad strokes and not much more than you’d get from the cover summary) that descended on Earth three years ago took everybody that they deemed useful — all able-bodied adults between 16 and 65 — and took them who knows where for who knows what purpose. They’re a utilitarian bunch, the aliens, almost Randian in their fetishistic approach to value and uselessness.

The old, the infirm, the very young are useless for their purposes and are left behind to try to fend for themselves. They can’t, of course, a whole planet of elderly and children, so more aliens come down to manage their new resources. They go native, with the installed “sheriff” of Elizabethtown, Kentucky adopting a bad attitude, a bolo tie, and a drawl that almost has him declaring that What we’ve got hyeeahh is failyuhh to communicate². They have nothing but contempt for the useless.

Which, as is hinted throughout the book, they are in danger of being judged themselves. They get sick after being on Earth for too long, and those who get sickest get denied the medicine that might make them well, because why waste it on the useless? And where better for the aliens to leave their useless than on a planet of those they deem useless.

That’s the situation facing twins Sam and Wyatt; they’ve just turned 16, the cutoff age for being useful, but nobody’s been collected since they aliens first arrived. Neglected, punished, probably killed, but not taken away. When the collection ships come, they’ll not bother with Wyatt because they don’t want him — flashbacks hint at a life on the autism spectrum without ever applying a label. So it’s his sister that has to try to keep a low profile, but she’s too stubborn for that.

Sam’s defined by her emotions in the way that Wyatt’s defined by his trouble processing emotions. She’s angry. Angry at the aliens, angry at being abandoned, angry enough to steal supplies and redistribute them, angry at being thanked for doing so, and especially angry at her obligation to protect Wyatt (at the same time that she loves him more than anything). She got handed a burden as a tweenager that plenty of full-grown adults struggle with, and she’s been dealing with it in a world where there’s literally nobody she can rely on to help with her brother and she feels the weight of that every day.

And that’s why she has to leave him, to let herself be taken so that he can find a way to stand on his own. Knowing inside, maybe, that when Wyatt loses himself to hyperfocus — whether it’s studying alien comm devices, cataloging the alien types, or detailing the flaws of season two of Ultraman — there’s nothing he can’t accomplish. If that hyperfocus is directed at finding Sam, he might just liberate the whole damn world and help all those abducted to come back home. The angry and the uncertain are about to shake this corner of the galaxy.

But to test that theory, to take her angry, troublemaking self away from Sam and not give the aliens reason to pay attention to one more useless human? She’s going to have to leave him alone, and that’s going to cut both of them deeper than anything. He’s going to have to face the unknown of having nobody that understands him or has the patience for him; she’s going to have to face the literal unknown of a life beyond the stars, where the aliens take the kidnapped humans.

And it really is a pair of unknowns that they’ll be facing, because we won’t know what Sam and Wyatt are up against until the sequel, Born To Run, releases. And given that Last Pick is set to be a three book series, it’ll be longer still before we see how it all shakes out.

Last Pick, by Jason Marz, releases on 9 October 2018; find it wherever books are sold.

Spam of the day:


So the Wall Street Journal is offering subscriptions via [checks email address] I … am unconvinced.

¹ A variety of species, or perhaps castes, they don’t name themselves as a people.

² I hate the sheriff more than any fictional character this side of … let’s say General Xinchub, or Agent 146.

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