25 Perfect Days is a collection of 25 short stories interconnected by a cast of characters as we travel from 2036 to 2076, on the journey through the rise of the religious state in the USA, with it’s (maybe) eventual downfall. A dystopian, near-future story, author Mark Tullius attempts to examine issues such as population control, food shortages, radical religion, taxing, and health care.
It should be stated that although this book is listed as being published by Vincere Press, a search shows up only Tulluis’ books published through this label, which leads me to believe it is Tullius’ own personal publishing outfit used to produce his books, hence my inclusion in the “self-published” category. If this is found to be incorrect in the future, I will change this little blurb.
Okay, onto the review, but with a little pre-amble at first.
As we all know, reading self-published works can be problematic, for reasons that I’m sure I don’t have to go over again (I did briefly in this post), but for the most part, the self-published works I’ve encountered have either been wonderful, or in the very least, have had some redeeming quality to them even if I haven’t particularly enjoyed them. I’ve been able to see where the author is going, or perhaps they just needed some stronger editing. But, in the very least, there’s been some positive aspect on the book I can see, even if it’s not my cup of tea.
While reading, and then as I finished, 25 Perfect Days, I struggled to come up with that redeeming quality. Even as I sat and pondered what I was going to say about this particular book after finishing it, I’m at a loss.
Let me elaborate, and let’s start with the world.
The important thing to do with creating a world for the purpose of any speculative fiction work is to give us the rules and boundaries of this world so the readers aren’t flailing around, with no idea for motivation.
Tullius plops us right into the very beginning of the uprise of the religious state in the USA. From there we see The Way (which is said crazy religion which takes over the political system) as it integrates with the government and somehow controls everything, and then the country sucks after that. Because, you know, religion sucks (or something). In this work, right off the bat, there is absolutely no context given to the reader as to why this has started to occur, and there’s no context given why all of a sudden, the vast majority of the population fall in with The Way. Is there a worldwide famine going on? Massive earthquakes? Alien invasion? Have butterflies mutated become the overlords of all things (you know, with sharp pointy teeth and everything)? No idea, because Tullius explains none of it. In fact, there isn’t even mention of anything outside the USA until approximately two-thirds through the book, and up until that point, I thought that the plight of the people of the United States was limited to their country. We’re told in the book (and this is one of the biggest problems with this work, more on that in a bit), that almost everybody has blind faith with The Way, but we are not shown at all as to why that would happen. According to this book, The Way is responsible, and quite openly even at the beginning, of some pretty awful atrocities, and yet everybody just follows them blindly. That is expecting the reader to make far to much of a leap of faith, you have to give us a reason to believe something like that.
In fact, what this book mostly reads as, is as though Tullius was raised in a perhaps, fundamentalist or evangelical Christian household, and has now come to hate the Church and is reacting against it in his adulthood.
One of the other major problems with this book were the characters. In theory, each of these stories are to be told through a separate character, but all the characters sound exactly the same. There are no distinct voices to any of them. The 14 year old teenager sounds exactly the same as the middle age freedom fighter, who in turn sounds exactly the same as the evil government agent, etc. I could not connect with a single character because none of them read as true people with actual emotions and motivations. There is absolutely no subtext to any of these characters at all – what you see is what you get. One of the biggest problems with characters I had as well, was the inherent misogyny in this book.
I am not a person who goes looking for things that are sexist or misogynistic in current culture. I mean, some people really want to find it everywhere and that pisses me off to no end. But this book is actually one of those times when it exists, like, for realz. All the men in this story are fighters, warriors, or some sort of heroic figure. With all the women however, their entire motivations lay with either a romantic interest, or having a baby, and usually have to be rescued in the end. Even the fourteen year old girl was concerned with being a mother! I’m dead serious. Because in the end of the world, when you can’t even manage the bare necessities of life for yourself, what you’re going to be most concerned about is whether or not you can have a boyfriend or a baby. Give me a fucking break.
Now, I’m a believer that if somebody has a great writing style, perhaps the story gets a little leeway with things like suspension of disbelief or plot. There are several writers that I like that have simple plotting, or perhaps not the deepest characters, but that’s okay because their prose is beautiful. Tullius does not fall into that camp. The political allegories are clunky at best, sentences are elementary and simplistic, and much like the characters, there is zero subtext to the story at all. There’s unnecessary repetition, and there’s no discovery in the book at all. Tullius, instead of allowing the reader to discover anything about the world, he just tells us whatever it is.
For example, in one of the last stories, all of a sudden there are mutated animals. Just that, all of a sudden they’re there, and I guess they’re being controlled by the evil government/religious military arm, but then maybe they’re not because there are rabbits all of a sudden running around that have been crossed with brown recluses, and therefore if they bite you you get flesh-eating necrotic fasciitis. Ya, seriously.
The reader is discovering something long after the characters have discovered it, and that is not a fun way to read anything, and usually these explanations read like something thought up by Tullius at the last moment to cover a plot hole which there really aren’t any of, because there’s not really a plot. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens.
Conversely, Tullius is at the same time, attempting to write each of his stories in a fashion to give the reader just enough information so that they’re confused up to the first last third of the story, and then he slams with with something in order to make you have that “ah-ha!” moment. Except it’s completely ineffectual – that moment never comes because the world and the characters haven’t been established enough in order for the reader to care. Not to mention that after reading the same format 25 times, it becomes tedious. So you spends the first two-thirds not entirely in on it, and then there’s a smash ending that is supposed to make you shiver, but instead had me rolling my eyes.
And, lastly, the science. I’m not a hard sci-fi reader generally, so I don’t mind writers being a little loosey goosey with their science as long as makes sense in even the vaguest sense. But the science, when we’re bothered to be introduced to it, is dubious at best. We have proton guns (sure, I’ll buy into that, whatever) that disintegrate flesh but for some reason not clothes the people were wearing when they were disintegrated. There’s the aforementioned silly mutated animals that are just thrown at us. And for some reason bleach has been made illegal because if you use it to purify your water it gives you cancer (fact: this is not only a military trick that has been used for ages, but the CDC even recommends using bleach in the event of a natural disaster to purify your water). At one point, a character is describing how the tunnels they live in will be “pumped with enough gas to create a small moon.” I don’t even know what the fuck that means. In the end, all vestiges of science come off as thoughtless and ill-planned.
The best part about this book was that when I realized the last third of the page count on my ePub was the preview for another of his books, because I knew I was finally done and could move on to something else.
I don’t think I’ve ever actually given a book 0 stars before, but I couldn’t find one damned thing I liked about this book. Unfortunately the problems with it are just far too large to be overcome with the abilities I think Tullius has as a writer. I even remarked to B that when I made the regrettable choice to read Twilight, at least I had more fun because there were parts that I was just killing myself laughing at. 25 Perfect Days didn’t even give me that tiny joy.