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Life on the Preservation
Jack Skillingstead
Solaris, 407 pages

Life on the Preservation
Jack Skillingstead
Jack Skillingstead is the Sturgeon Award nominated writer of two novels and one collection. Since 2003, he has published more than thirty short stories in various magazines, Year's Best volumes and original anthologies. His work has been translated into Polish, Russian, Spanish, French and Czech. He lives in Seattle with his wife, writer Nancy Kress.

Jack Skillingstead Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Maddox

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It's late 2013 and the world has ended. The cities are in ruin, the sky rains poison, and the few that have survived the onslaught are slowly dying. In the remains of a tiny suburb, a young girl named Kylie does her best to be a rebellious teenager amid the end of humanity and wonders what is truly inside the giant bubble that surrounds the city of Seattle.

This sets up the post-apocalyptic world in Jack Skillingstead's ambitious Life on the Preservation. The story takes place in two worlds. Inside the strange dome that covers Seattle, a young rebellious graffiti artist loser named Ian Palmer lives October 5th, 2012 over and over again. Like a despondent Groundhog's Day, every morning he wakes up, seems to recall that he might have tried to commit suicide the night before, and goes through a typical day with vague memories that he's done these, more or less the same.

The dual storytelling creates two very different worlds that are slightly confusing at first, but quite vivid. The hopelessness of the survivors of the apocalypse is gut-wrenchingly brutal. All the men are impotent, the poison rain is slowly killing everyone, and what's left of Kylie's town is following the rules of Father Jim, a mad preacher, whom, before that end of the world, was Kylie's statutory rapist.

Inside the dome, Ian and his dork of a friend struggle to break the sequence, exploring mysterious sections of the city and running into a strange Curator that doesn't particularly seem in control of this "museum" as he calls it. Things come to a head when Kylie finds her way inside the dome and so much is going on than what they originally thought.

It's the "so much more" that pulls the book down. While Skillingstead's unapologetic writing is engrossing, the revelation of not just one, but two alien life forms, and a convoluted reason for why the dome exists is more of a headache than a plot twist. Ian himself is so nihilistic it's really hard to connect with him as a person because, despite all the evidence that keeps being presented to him, he consistently makes the wrong choices. And for a girl who was repeatedly molested during her formative years (in some creepily masochistic ways), Kylie seems a tad too stable and balanced, even for someone who survived the apocalypse.

Skillingstead REALLY knows his Seattle. In fact, he gives so many specific details about streets, bridges, and businesses that are completely accurate, they begin to detract from the actual story and start to read like a "best of" travel guide to the city. Plus there seem to be an awful lot of suicides on a regular basis in the city…

Despite this, Life on the Preservation is a good read. As many novels these days, the ending will leave one slightly unsatisfied with unanswered questions, but that's obviously to set up for a sequel.

Copyright © 2013 David Maddox

David Maddox
Science fiction enthusiast David Maddox has been Star Trek characters, the Riddler in a Batman stunt show and holds a degree in Cinema from San Francisco State University. He has written several articles for various SF sites as well as the Star Wars Insider and the Star Trek Communicator. He spends his time working on screenplays and stories while acting on stage, screen and television. He can sometimes be seen giving tours at Universal Studios Hollywood and playing Norman Bates.


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