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It's present-day San Francisco, and ’The Waning Age’ is 10 years old. This means that at that age, it's expected that you will lose your ability to feel emotions. You will lose not only lose the ability to feel sadness, but also joy and everything in between.
Natalia Peña is the main character in this engaging novel, written as dated entries in a journal, and she has already waned. But her younger brother Calvino, who she calls Cal, has not, and he doesn't seem to show any signs that he will. Since their mother died tragically they have been living with foster parents, and while they show close bonds, it's only Cal who shows what would be recognizable as normal human responses to events around him, so much so that a company called RealCorp takes Cal to do tests on him to find out why he isn't waning.
They are also a major manufacturer of ’synaffs’ which are synthetic drops that basically only the wealthy can now afford in order to feel whatever emotion you choose. Ones that are bought on the street could be made of any unknown dangerous harmful chemicals causing the wrong emotional reactions. Most people instead choose to go through their lives feeling nothing, having forgotten what it felt like to have an emotion.
At the center of this illuminating book, beyond the fight that Natalia goes through to get her brother back from RealCorp, is a look at what humans are without their ability to feel. The absolute best sci-fi writing can feel so frighteningly real and believable, and this conversation about what humans are without - most importantly - being empathetic towards each other, touches on a nerve.
As someone who has always been emotional, having dealt with depression and anxiety and being the sort of person who has even lamented about how much easier life would be if I wasn't so empathetic (in contrast to others around me), this was eye-opening.
What has supposedly separated us from other beings is our ability to have emotions, to be ’sentient’, so what are we when we can't feel?
This is at the core of the characters in the book called Fish: they make me think of those who can commit baseless crimes without remorse or motive, they're basically psychopaths.
Questions came up in my head about how is this different from the thinking of someone who shows no emotion toward the victim and can commit serial murders.
What's the difference between thinking and feeling? How do we express emotion without feeling it? How do we have relationships without showing emotions? Is our own society going in the direction of where people aren't able to show or feel emotions? How have technology and social media contributed to this?
All of these questions come up and it really had me thinking!
I personally feel like one of the most essential problems today is that most people lack the ability to be empathetic towards each other. ’The Waning Age’ really made me sad (*emotion!) at the prospect of emotions disappearing altogether, good and bad, and how that would obliterate compassion completely.
Author S.E. Grove has managed to write a YA sci-fi novel that not only recognizes the bond between brother and sister, but she has also done some brilliant world-building, with just the right amount of action, and has brought some big ideas to the table. I will be thinking about this one for a long time, and I have already told a few other sci-fi authors about it.
'The Waning Age' is more profound than initial impressions would let on. And I have to say, this would make an excellent movie!
RELEASE DATE: February 5th, 2019 (add it to your TBR now!!)