Novella Review: Feed Them Silence by Lee Mandelo
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Feed Them Silence by Lee Mandelo
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tordotcom (March 14, 2023)
Length: 112 pages
Author Information: Website
In the near future, the planet has been ravaged by environmental degradation and climate change, leading to food shortages and mass extinctions. At the center of this story is one of the world’s last wild wolf packs, on the verge of perishing following a particularly harsh winter. Having just received a large grant to test out a new and potentially groundbreaking technology, neuroscientist Dr. Sean Kell-Luddon seizes upon this opportunity to test out a neurological interface which would allow the translation of an animal subject’s perception into the mind of a human. Her team has captured a female wolf, dubbed Kate, surgically inserting implants into her brain which would send signals back to the scientists. Sean, who has volunteered to be the human subject, would then be able to connect to Kate’s mind directly, experiencing everything that the wolf sees, thinks, and feels. Using this information, it might be possible to gain a better understanding of the creatures, and perhaps to even save them from dying out.
At first, the results are everything the researchers could hope for. Kate’s implants begin providing valuable data right away, as Sean experiences a connection with the wolf that is stronger and more intimate than any bond she’s ever had—stronger than even the relationship she has with her wife Riya. In fact, their marriage has been strained as of late. Riya complains of the long hours Sean spends at the lab, an issue which has not been helped by the new wolf project. The longer Sean spends interfacing with Kate, the more she also feels detached from her real life, losing objectivity with her job and her colleagues. Those around her are noticing the way the work is affecting her, but all that’s on Sean’s mind are her precious wolves and thinking about the next time she can be inside Kate’s head again.
Feed them Silence was my first book by Lee Mandelo, and for a tiny novella it packed quite a punch. Now, while it’s not uncommon for me to feel conflicted about a book after reading it, especially if it tackles controversial themes, I was honestly left with no idea how to feel about this one.
In the end though, I decided I enjoyed it. Yes, the characters are terrible people, and story itself is BLEAK BLEAK BLEAK, but I think it’s also important to acknowledge the positive along with the negative. For one, there’s no question that it’s well written, and it was clear Mandelo was out to challenge readers’ preconceptions even if it made them feel uncomfortable.
Most importantly, the writing captured my attention and I was hooked. While I see that Feed Them Silence often gets tagged as Horror, at its core I don’t feel it fits as neatly into the genre, even though its premise reminded me immediately of David Cronenberg’s The Fly. Perhaps because they both play out like a warning against scientific hubris, or the fact that they’re both stories about brilliant scientists completely losing control of themselves, feeling their humanity slip away inch by inch. Of course, in Sean’s case, it was her mind falling apart, but it’s interesting to note that, like Seth Brundle, her motivation also came initially from a place of good intentions before her eventual obsession led to destroying her life with that same kind of unbridled energy.
But boy, how impossible it is to ignore just what awful human beings the characters are. No doubt this is by design, but forget being able to sympathize with either Sean or Riya, who are both self-righteous pieces of shit with their heads far up their own asses. Theirs is a marriage based on guilt and manipulation, there’s infidelity involved (“only” three times), and nobody seems to care enough to actually communicate beyond jumping straight to unreasonable ultimatums. If we were supposed to despise Sean, then good job, Lee Mandelo, mission accomplished. But as a result, we were left with nothing to inspire us to root for Sean, and with nothing in her marriage with Riya worth fighting for, it also meant free reign for this egoist to completely cave to her obsession.
Like I said, it’s a bleak book. And while I love science-y books, it was ultimately heartbreaking to see Sean’s passion for the science and her work become twisted by darker motives. Granted, there was a glimmer of hope left in the ending, but on the whole, I have a feeling animal lovers will probably dislike how things play out.
All this is to say, Feed Them Silence will not be for everyone, but on some level, it did work for me. Despite the unlikeable characters and some plot elements that didn’t quite sit right, I found the story fascinating and utterly engaging. Overall, I found this novella deftly written, and I appreciate its unique perspective.
I can accept a bleak book now and then, but your comparison with Cronenberg’s The Fly – even though there is no body horror here – might be a little too much for my tastes…
So… it’s super bleak, all the characters were terrible people, AND it’s a novella. Yet somehow you still liked it? Weird.
Yes… there are times when you read a book and know that you’re glad you’ve read it – but would be happy never to read it again. Superb review, btw, Mogsy. The fact that all the characters are obnoxious so you ultimately didn’t care about them would be a dealbreaker for me – especially given that the scientist is clearly in peril. But the author is clearly talented, given he managed to pack all that into a novella:).
Wow- this sounds like something I’d like. Whether it’s the winds of Altair by Bova or GRRM’s warging into wolves, this kinda thing always fascinates me. I’m soglad you reviewed this- I need to get it. I have a suspicion too how it maybe ends, based on your hint- and that fascinates me too if I’m right lol.
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These kinds of stories can be a challenge, where we’re left unsure how to feel about them. I’m glad you found enough to make it feel worth your while reading it.
Glad it worked, though dunno about those unlikable characters