Nathan Karl, Exogeny. Self-published, 2022. Pp. 101. ISBN 978-1-0880-5771-1. $6.99.
Reviewed by Jason Kahler
I’ve been reading DC’s current Poison Ivy mini-series, which is excellent. The main thrust of the story is that Ivy, to one degree or another, is becoming a plant monster and is making other people into plant monsters or moss or mulch or trees or what have you. I also read a lot of Jeff VanderMeer; his stories often have strange new hybrids of plants and animals folded into people. The bottom line is—I’m not sure if we’re in a particular stage of sci-fi/horror that’s focused on this vegetable type of body transformation, or if it’s just my current reading predilections. An argument could be made that we’re seeing a response to both the pandemic and the climate crisis; nature is taking things back. That’s not new, but the stories I’m seeing are just much gooier than their predecessors. Microscopic becomes macro in a bulge of puss and spittle. Good stuff.
Nathan Karl’s novella Exogeny feels to me like it fits within this tradition nicely. Coupled with the mechanisms of uncaring capitalism, and you’ve got a story that moves forward at a frantic pace as its characters grow more and more desperate. In the far-flung future, corporations are making their business terraforming and strip-mining distant planets with little to no consideration of whatever life may have been there beforehand. On the tiny planet Beth, we meet Neta, a colonist trying to build a life for herself from the very bottom of the social and economic ladder. Like all colonists, Neta lives on the edge of where the corporation can or can’t make money. She’s washed up in the process of multinational, multisystem business, and barely appears on the balance sheet.
And she’s got The Bark. The Bark is a disease that slowly turns a person into a tree. It’s a little ridiculous to phrase it that way—people aren’t actually becoming an Ent or Groot—but it’s a progression that eventually leads to death as The Bark infiltrates vital organs. Neta could be cured by a simple injection, but of course, it’s not like her intergalactic insurance covers such a thing, and the corporate powers-that-be aren’t inclined to care much about a lowly colonist on an unprofitable world, anyway. Neta needs to save herself, the planet, and the native creatures, some of whom are sentient. The story is quick, and I think it uses familiarity with similar stories as shortcuts, which doesn’t hurt the story at all. We’ve seen cold, intergalactic companies before, and the nobodies who have to put them in their place. That shorthand just lets Karl cut the fat from his story and keep it moving.
Because of its length, saying too much more would spoil significant pieces of the story. Exogeny is a nice little book that rewards your time with plenty of adventure and a protagonist that needs to stick it to the man in order to save the day. I’m all in for that. Let the rich people become trees, for once.