Humanity Lost by Meghan Douglass

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

It’s been a long time, weeks probably, since I had this much fun reading about cannibalism. Oh, don’t look at me like that. It’s an early twist, and I won’t spoil the insane bits at the end. Humanity Lost by Meghan Douglass is a sci-fi horror novella about a desperate crew on an ill-fated mission to save the Earth.

“As he walked past the Captain who was busy slaying any small flames with a fire extinguisher, he said ‘We’ll be eating tonight sir, and it comes pre-roasted.'”

The future of the human race depends on the cargo vessel Not-stromo recovering fuel from another solar system to power generation ships that will take the human population far from the dying Earth. The ship is on its way back, full to the bulkheads with precious cargo, when our story begins. It’s never clear what exactly this “fuel” is, since its exact nature is unimportant and Douglass’ plot is trimmed to the bone as it is, so I’m just going to assume there’s some planet out there made of human hair soaked in Everclear. I also wondered when I started this book how a single fuel run is supposed to power so many massive generation ships, but that just goes to show how unprepared I was back then.

Naturally, on a mission of critical importance you send the B-team: scrappy, wise-cracking misanthropes like in that hit film, Prometheus. I know I promised not to spoil too much, but I will let you in on one last secret. Not everyone on this crew gets their bonus. In most group settings we follow the staid and sturdy Cpt. Captain. Then there is Cassidy, who has sexy-messy hair, “mysterious, alluring eyes,” genius-level intelligence, and is historically young for her achievements, and… this was the first shocker of the book—the Mary Sue is not the main perspective character. There’s Jax, the ship’s engineer played in your mind’s eye by your choice of either Michelle Roderiguez or Colby Smolders. For some reason they also thought to send dweeb Maddon and smart-ass Simmons, who between them have a life expectancy measured in Planck lengths. Then there’s Ramirez, the perfectly ordinary doctor, with access to all the crew’s plump, succulent bodies. Totally normal. Nothing to see here.

“Jax was so young and pretty. Cassidy was sure she would taste the sweetest of all of them.”

And then, oh no! Things that were supposed to go right go wrong instead! For starters, their suspended animation pods malfunction and they don’t have enough food to make it back to Earth alive. I wonder what’s going to happen next? The danger in Humanity Lost plays out like a panto, with characters willfully ignoring their own imminent doom while the reader shouts “behind you!” None of this creeping horror faff, just straight to the good stuff. And by good stuff I mean cartoon violence and mayhem. The twists get increasingly insane, to the point that I started giggling. I choose to believe that tells you something about the book and not my own mind, shut up.

Eventually the story almost settles into a routine, like that episode of The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror where the faculty and staff of Springfield Elementary start to enjoy eating the children. It’s as fun and tongue-in-cheek as an 80s zombie movie, and nearly half as tasteful. At only around a hundred pages, the novella whams and bams its way through the plot so fast it made an audible whoosing sound every time I tapped the edge of the page. I’ve seen at least one person suggest that Humanity Lost should be the first draft of an expanded full-length novel, where the action could get the proper pacing it needs. Meghan, listen to me. I know you’re reading this; put down the meth and listen for a second. Don’t you change a thing. Never stop not stopping, Meghan, you hear me? You beautiful unicorn with a chainsaw on its forehead, don’t you ever change.

Of course, it’s not perfect. No one drinks from a skull, and I did not notice a single bottle of Chianti. More seriously, the prose is pretty slap-dash. We’re often told that something is very spooky, rather than shown it. And the language can be repetitive, including multiple title drops. If you played a drinking game where you took a shot of human hair soaked in Everclear every time the author reminds us that the characters have “lost their humanity,” you would probably be asked to leave Applebee’s. Using the same method to describe something over and over is a common problem when you’re writing in a hurry. Personally, I often use when I can’t think of a word. To date it has not revealed the word I want a single time, but having something to do with my hands helps me think.

I’ve spoiled more of this one than I like to, but it’s only because I need to share what happened to me. This was a short but wild ride, and I can’t recommend it enough. Buy Humanity Lost by Meghan Douglass. It’s literally a dollar. Just buy it and come join me on this side of the rest of your life.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you do too.

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