Book Review: Wilders, by Brenda Cooper
Wilders, by Brenda Cooper
By Brenda Cooper
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

To be fair, the premise behind Brenda Cooper’s new series-starting science-fiction novel Wilders is legitimately pretty great; namely, in a post-ecological-crisis future, the power of nations has fallen apart to be replaced by a return to autonomous city-states, leading to a series of domed socialist paradises comprising former metropolitan areas (our story takes place in “Seacouver,” which stretches from Seattle to Vancouver and has scooped up all the smaller cities that laid between), where crime and poverty have been conquered through an army of robots and a pervasive surveillance state.

Now these autonomous regions have started venturing back out into rural areas in order to “rewild” them (that is, to remove all the former manmade structures like highways and small towns, leading to a new continental utopia of unspoiled nature dotted here and there by billion-person cities), just to discover that there are way more Tea Party climate-deniers still living out in those areas than they had ever thought, and that they’re mighty pissed about the city-slicker libtards abandoning them when everything first went to hell.

Unfortunately, though, the problems with the actual novel itself start early and don’t let up. For example, although not a direct ripoff of The Hunger Games, the book’s details and overall tone are “Hunger-Gamesish” enough that it will make some readers uncomfortable; the pacing leaves a lot to be desired, with the too-few interesting developments surrounded by literally dozens of pages of filler conversations and meandering rides across the countryside, forgivable if they had led to a deeper understanding of the characters but increasingly intolerable as simple page-count-filling cotton candy (the closer to the end of the book you get, the more you’ll find yourself skimming through entire chapters); and the book suffers from “Franchise Building Syndrome” too much as well, very nakedly inserting entire subplots and groups of characters that are quite obviously not going to play a serious role until book 2 or 3, making the book often feel like one of those minor superhero movies that exists only to introduce situations that will eventually play out in the “cinematic universe” team-up blockbuster four years from now.

The most serious crime this book commits, though, is of being a Young Adult novel being marketed as a book for grown-ups; and as regular readers know, CCLaP has sort of taken this on as a political cause in the last couple of years, the fight against the continual infantilization of the American arts that’s been happening more and more since the original rise of Harry Potter, including our new policy of no longer accepting books for review at all when the main character is under 18 and the storyline deals mostly with coming-of-age issues. I went ahead and accepted Wilders because it skates just above that cutoff line — our hero Coryn is officially college-aged in the book, and the marketing material promised that the story would go in dark, adults-only directions as it continued, which combined with publisher Pyr’s good reputation made me optimistic.

The most serious crime of #BrendaCooper's #Wilders is being a #YoungAdult novel being sold to adults Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, though, Cooper sabotages herself by often characterizing the non-minor Coryn not just in Young Adult terms but sometimes even younger than that; the author literally describes the character as someone who “giggles at dogs,” thinks she shares a mystical connection with the horse that’s been assigned to her out in the wild, and who has a running habit of responding every time her “nanny robot” is being overprotective with a childish pout while muttering, “Silly robot!” These kinds of narrative details may pass by a 12-year-old girl without her making particular note of it; but as a 48-year-old male who’s exclusively interested in grown-up science-fiction designed deliberately for adults, such flourishes stuck out like a sore thumb, driving me more and more crazy the more I encountered them, and I have to admit that it’s because of this issue alone that I won’t be reading any of the other books in this series.

Although its heart is in the right place, I found Wilders only fair to middling, the kind of SF book that only hardcore convention-goers will be able to love. For those people it comes recommended today with reservations; for those looking for only the best in this genre, though, you should skip this entire series altogether.

Out of 10: 7.1

Read more about Wilders | Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Wikipedia |

Jason Pettus is the owner of CCLaP, and a former novelist, slam poet and travel writer. During the day he is a front-end software developer within the Chicago tech startup community. Goodreads | LibraryThing | Twitter | Instagram | Letterboxd