Expiration Day: Give it a pass

Expiration Day by William Campbell PowellExpiration Day by William Campbell Powell

Expiration Day, by William Campbell Powell, was a book I almost didn’t bother finishing and only ended up doing so because of that added sense of obligation of having received it for free to review. Had I picked it up on my own, I almost certainly would have dropped it somewhere about halfway in. As usual, in these cases, this will be a relatively short review so as not to belabor the issue.

In 2049, humanity has all but died out and is racing to find a cure to this plague of infertility that has been around for some while now. Meanwhile, to give the race hope and meet the parenting instinct, “teknoids” (sophisticated androids) can be rented by couples to be brought up as their own child, with regularly scheduled “revisions” to mirror the physical development due to aging. Everyone knows this happens, but it’s considered ill manners to speak of it too bluntly, so nobody is ever quite sure who is a true human and who is not. Young Tania Deely (the novel is told via the form of her diary) is about to enter a new school, a new stage of life (young teen), and a new lack of certainty about her world: is her best friend Sian a robot? Is that cute young boy she just met on vacation? Is she?

There is no doubt Expiration Day is YA, and it’s quite possible that it is the sort of YA that I can’t really fairly review thanks to my being far, far (far) more A than Y at this point in my life. What I can say definitively is that it is not the sort of YA that crosses over into adult territory. The plot was almost wholly predictable step by step; I can’t say any revelation was a surprise and some were so clearly omened that I wasn’t sure they were meant to be or not. Pacing was off, with the book lagging in many spots and having a sense of imbalance in terms of urgency/active versus quiet moments, and so forth. A hearing at the end felt tacked on, not fitting organically into the storyline and feeling wholly artificial, coming across more as a simple plot device to have characters speechify or explain certain things than as a true legal proceeding.

The basic premise is interesting enough, but never felt fully or clearly explained; I was left with a lot of the “but why would . . . “ or “but wouldn’t . . . “ sort of questions. Characterization, beyond Tania, were shallow, and while she was more fully formed, her voice was too teenager banal for me as was the requisite love triangle (this may be where my years work against me in enjoying this aspect). And there were several times where things just didn’t feel real.

As one small example, Tania agonizes over a boy finding something out about her but never once wonders if her friend (who hangs out quite a lot with said boy) might divulge the secret. Finally, Tania joins a band and there were just too many “music moments” for me — descriptions of practices, of gigs, of picking out the right instrument, etc. Music I think is extremely difficult to capture the spirit of via language even in the best of stylistic hands and here it just slowed the story down too much too often.

And now I’ll shut my window and stop yelling at those damn kids to stop playing their loud music and get off my lawn. Even accepting that I’m not the target audience for Expiration Day, I think I’m on safe ground pointing out its storytelling flaws, whether they be based in style or craft, and so regardless of whether the story might capture a teen’s interest more than it did mine, I recommend giving it a pass.

Publication Date: April 22, 2014. It is the year 2049, and humanity is on the brink of extinction…. Tania Deeley has always been told that she’s a rarity: a human child in a world where most children are sophisticated androids manufactured by Oxted Corporation. When a decline in global fertility ensued, it was the creation of these near-perfect human copies called teknoids that helped to prevent the utter collapse of society. Though she has always been aware of the existence of teknoids, it is not until her first day at The Lady Maud High School for Girls that Tania realizes that her best friend, Siân, may be one. Returning home from the summer holiday, she is shocked by how much Siân has changed. Is it possible that these changes were engineered by Oxted? And if Siân could be a teknoid, how many others in Tania’s life are not real? Driven by the need to understand what sets teknoids apart from their human counterparts, Tania begins to seek answers. But time is running out. For everyone knows that on their eighteenth “birthdays,” teknoids must be returned to Oxted—never to be heard from again. Told in diary format, Expiration Day is the powerful and poignant story of a young girl coming of age and discovering what it means to be truly human by a talented debut novelist.

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BILL CAPOSSERE lives in Rochester NY, where he is lately spending much of his time trying to finish a book-length collection of essays and a full-length play. His prior work has appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other journals and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of several Best American Essay anthologies. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, co-writing the Malazan Empire re-read at Tor.com, or working as an English adjunct, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course, the ultimate frisbee field, or trying to keep up with his wife's flute and his son's trumpet on the clarinet he just picked up this month.

View all posts by Bill Capossere

One comment

  1. It also sounds derivative, although with YA, there probably aren’t that many kids who saw the AI movie and/or read THE CHILDREN OF MEN. Thanks for the review, Bill. You really weren’t all that grouchy.

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