Barren Cove Review (Soft Sci-Fi)

Title: Barren Cove | Author: Ariel S. Winter | Publisher: Atria | Pub. Date: 2017-3-16 | ISBN13: 9781476797861 | Pages: 211 | Genre: Science Fiction Drama | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 3 out of 5 | Source: I received a copy free from the publisher for review consideration

Barren Cove

In Los Angeles Times Book Prize nominee Ariel S. Winter’s Barren Cove, humans are nearly extinct and robots are now the dominant life-form on Earth.

The aged robot Sapien is the recent victim of a debilitating accident. The socially acceptable thing to do in robot culture is deactivate, but Sapien is not ready to end his life. Instead he orders spare parts for himself and rents a remote beach house in order to repair and ponder why he wants to go on. While there, he becomes obsessed with his landlords, the peculiar robot family living on the rambling estate perched at the top of the cliff. He is convinced that the elusive and enigmatic Beachstone, the head of the family, holds the answers to his existential quandary. Invoking the works of the great supernatural and science fiction writers Mary Shelley, Isaac Asimov, and Philip K. Dick, Barren Cove is a gothic tale in an unusual future.

Book cover for Barren Cove

Barren Cove Review

Barren Cove was a book I received unexpectedly from Atria books. While I am always grateful for books, I was somewhat dismayed at receiving this one because it is not my type of sci-fi. When it comes to sci-fi, I like shoot-em-ups, ships, hard sci-fi, and such. Basically, stuff that requires me to think all left brain or not think at all. So, when I read the back, I winced but figured I’d give it a shot. And, as expected, Barren Cove is the exact opposite of the types of books that I usually like. Its slow-paced, explores the future robot psyche, and goes in depth into the drama of one particular family in Barren Cove.

But… that’s not to say I didn’t like it. Because some part of me did. Barren Cove is filled with interesting ideas about robotic’s future. The likening of drugs for humans to sims for robots was something that I had never encountered before. Nor had I seen Winter’s idea for robot procreation. Barren Cove makes you think. About basic things, but also about the circle of artificial life. If humans create robots, then robots develop their own versions of human feelings, eventually what could have been good circles back around to the mess that humanity is.

It took me a while to get into the rhythm of the novel. There were several times when I had to flip back to earlier pieces of the story just to make sure I was clear on what I was reading. Barren Cove is a short novel, but it is filled with all the drama of a much longer one. And, unless you’re one of those people that enjoys seeing ‘tortured soul’ characters and all that, it’s hard to find a character in this novel to like. And being unable to like them makes it hard to actually care about any of them.

Barren Cove is a book that you need to read a few times. I think that by the second or third read through, you’d have a much greater understanding of the characters and their relationships and interactions. I feel like I missed things in the novel. I didn’t understand, for example, how one robot could feel hatred, but another one couldn’t feel love. There are also other layers within the story, like that of robots wanting to ‘pass; versus the robots that display their mechanics openly.

This book left me feeling vaguely depressed. The end of Sapien’s story in Barren Cove is a non-ending. Its incredibly realistic in that aspect, but still makes a person feel glum. I read somewhere that this was Wuthering Heights for robots? Re-imagined with robots or something like that. If so, it reinforces my desire to never approach that type of classic literature.

I don’t regret reading Barren Cove, and I’m glad Atria sent it to me because it meant I forced myself to read it. And in forcing myself to read it, I pushed my boundaries a bit further than I generally push them. This is a well-written science fiction drama that lovers of softer sci-fi will enjoy. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go read about giant monsters smashing things to smithereens to regain my reading equilibrium.

4 thoughts on “Barren Cove Review (Soft Sci-Fi)

  1. I enjoyed your honest and thorough review. I wouldn’t have chose this either. But I’ve forced myself to read outside the box and found some interesting stories, even if they didn’t exactly wow me.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if you really like it, Olga. You definitely prefer books with a little more thinking involved than I do.

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