Review: Transmutation Texas by R.H. Snow
Transmutation Texas is a stunning post-apocalyptic western featuring mutated humans, monsters, cultists, and loving descriptions of Texas. Watcher of the Damned Vol. 1 delivers something uniquely beautiful in the dystopian genre.
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Transmutation Texas. I encourage you to check it out!
Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)
This review contains minor spoilers.
Transmutation Texas Publisher Description:
In a World gone Viral, a Hero shall Arise – join the Revolution with WATCHER of the DAMNED!
The Happening wreaked havoc as Humanity got a hard reset from a deadly gender-cidal Virus – and for TransMutated Survivors like The Watcher, life in Post-Apocalyptic Texas just got a whole lot bloodier and a whole lot lonelier. In a cyberpunk Wild West gone awry, The Watcher was a Rebel without a clue under the System: a brutal, high-tech Social Construct engineered to serve the Enlightened and oppress the Damned. But that’s all about to change, thanks to a cheeky chaos agent named Rose…
Now The Watcher must lead a Revolution to save Rose from the System He helped create, or Rose will die – and Humanity will die with her.
Fight the System – Join the Revolution – with WATCHER of the DAMNED!
Follow R.H. Snow:
Tranxmutation Texas is full of tension from the first page. Even as the main character is simply sitting and watching (his title is “the Watcher”), he is steeped in conflict. There is frustration with his own weaknesses, anger with the people who chained him, agitation about the people he sacrificed his freedom to protect, and the stress of ever-present danger in the environment. And now he is also seeing things.
This multi-layered struggle gives the story a slow and consistent burn that explodes into violence against both monsters and bad buys alike. But its true payoff is that the less explosive parts never feel like a drag. The excitement continues through exposition, descriptions of this truly remarkable setting, and the push and pull of romantic interest.
(You can read about our approach to intimacy in fiction on our Content Concerns page.)
The story is post-apocalyptic and dystopian, but the Texas that remains after the Happening is anything but a wasteland. The remains of human civilization are abandoned, derelict, and dangerous. Shattered futuristic vehicles, unhallowed dead, scavengers, and monsters make collecting supplies from the ruins a risky endeavor. But the wildlife has flourished in humanity’s regression.
Along with the more fantastic chupacabras, bears, cougars, hogs, and alligators threaten the protagonists, each as much of a threat as any monster. These certainly give the world a sense of increased potential for danger, which I always say brings along with it an increased potential for adventure.
But this transmutated Texas also holds many other natural wonders, such as wild horses and native flowers. Snow’s clear fondness for the natural treasures of her state come through in the detailed descriptions and infuse a sense of the goodness of Providence behind the dystopian socio-political landscape.
I found the worldbuilding in this futuristic setting to be intriguing, particularly for something out of the dystopian genre. The usual trope of an oppressive, authoritarian regime is present, of course, but it lacks the common militaristic angle (at least in this book). Instead, the settlement façade makes the Judge who wields control seem more like a petty tyrant than the representative of a long-armed shadow government.
I appreciate that Snow does not give the reader too much information about how the System works. The Watcher Saul is an outcast, and although he remembers the Happening, he does not know how or why it occurred. Rose grew up in a cult that she still desires to belong to. They both provide pieces of the puzzle as the story progresses, but at the conclusion of this first book, there are still many questions to prompt the reader to grab the next part of the series. In particular, without any military motivation apparent at this time, what is the purpose behind controlling both the Survivors and the Afterlings?
Transmutation Texas is post-apocalyptic fantasy, dystopian western, and futuristic biopunk. It is also a romance. The main characters are Saul (the Watcher) and Rose (the Afterling). These two are well-realized protagonists. Their isolation allows a really close development of each, making them feel authentic and believable.
A particular stroke of genius is Saul’s inability to speak. So often in romance, the tension is reliant on characters not telling one another the truth, and this can begin to feel contrived. Here, Saul cannot speak, it serves both as a source of tension and a means of maintaining it—particularly the interpersonal tension that is so important to romance fiction.
It also places an emphasis on body language. Many of the scenes have sensual undertone due to the descriptive references to their forms and movements. This is purposeful and leads to the climax of the book and the character’s union (fade to black). This is important to both plot, character, and theme and is treated with a solemn tone that checks any titillation. It is clear that Snow is doing more than fan service.
Humanity and Gender
In a world where people have been physically altered, the question of what makes us human always raises its head. In Transmutation Texas, the answer is tied to gender. The Happening changed men and women, introducing a spectrum of genders reflecting how much or little hormones impacted their bodies. But the interchangeability of sexual partners is a lie of the System and a method of control, for it is clear that women are still women and men are still men and sex is still more than a physical act.
Saul is a “Macho,” the most extreme testosterone boosted end of the male spectrum. Rose is an Afterling—not merely a woman untouched by the bio-event, but iconically voluptuous with long hair. Their interactions explore what it means to be male and female: roles, attractions, priorities, etc.
There is also a sense in which “family” is part of the answer to the same question. There are no children among the Survivors and there is a distinct lack of purpose to their behavior. They go through the motions of each day as dictated by the System, but there is no future and no deeper connections to prompt resistance to acts of horror. Saul, of course, is an exception; his care for Abuela is his biggest motivation in the first half of the book.
SPOILER: Rose is slowly revealed as being similarly cut off from the family unit. Her role as a mother is a defining characteristic for her. Furthermore, even though Saul and Rose are alone, the presence of children, both in Rose’s diary addressed to her child and in Saul’s vision of a spectral child, is tangible by their absence.
Altogether, the story paints a picture of sex and family as being inseparable parts of what makes us human. This is a unique take; biology instead of reason or revolution, but as a wholesome and reassuring answer instead of a nihilistic one.
Check Out Transmutation Texas!
Transmutation Texas is an exciting dystopian western and love story in a setting that captures all the rugged beauty of Texas. I look forward to seeing where Watcher of the Damned takes me next!
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