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These Prisoning Hills

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Deallocate all implications, Fortran harrows all the nations. In a long-ago war, the all-powerful A.I. ruler of the Voluntary State of Tennessee—Athena Parthenus, Queen of Reason—invaded and decimated the American Southeast. Possessing the ability to infect and corrupt the surrounding environment with nanotechnology, she transformed flora, fauna, and the very ground itself i Deallocate all implications, Fortran harrows all the nations. In a long-ago war, the all-powerful A.I. ruler of the Voluntary State of Tennessee—Athena Parthenus, Queen of Reason—invaded and decimated the American Southeast. Possessing the ability to infect and corrupt the surrounding environment with nanotechnology, she transformed flora, fauna, and the very ground itself into bio-mechanical weapons of war. Marcia, a former captain from Kentucky, experienced first-hand the terrifying, mind-twisting capabilities of Athena’s creatures. Now back in the Commonwealth, her retirement is cut short by the arrival of federal troops in her tiny, isolated town. One of Athena’s most powerful weapons may still be buried nearby. And they need Marcia’s help to find it. A standalone novella set in the same Kentuckian post-apocalyptic setting as the author's previous stories “The Voluntary State” and “The Border State.”


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Deallocate all implications, Fortran harrows all the nations. In a long-ago war, the all-powerful A.I. ruler of the Voluntary State of Tennessee—Athena Parthenus, Queen of Reason—invaded and decimated the American Southeast. Possessing the ability to infect and corrupt the surrounding environment with nanotechnology, she transformed flora, fauna, and the very ground itself i Deallocate all implications, Fortran harrows all the nations. In a long-ago war, the all-powerful A.I. ruler of the Voluntary State of Tennessee—Athena Parthenus, Queen of Reason—invaded and decimated the American Southeast. Possessing the ability to infect and corrupt the surrounding environment with nanotechnology, she transformed flora, fauna, and the very ground itself into bio-mechanical weapons of war. Marcia, a former captain from Kentucky, experienced first-hand the terrifying, mind-twisting capabilities of Athena’s creatures. Now back in the Commonwealth, her retirement is cut short by the arrival of federal troops in her tiny, isolated town. One of Athena’s most powerful weapons may still be buried nearby. And they need Marcia’s help to find it. A standalone novella set in the same Kentuckian post-apocalyptic setting as the author's previous stories “The Voluntary State” and “The Border State.”

30 review for These Prisoning Hills

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alix Harrow

    rowe's writing is so clean and his worlds are so expansively, wonderfully weird. it's honestly wonderful to see that scope and talent applied to the bluegrass state, to geographies i know so well. it's a glimpse of a strange future built from a familiar past, and it made me homesick as all hell. rowe's writing is so clean and his worlds are so expansively, wonderfully weird. it's honestly wonderful to see that scope and talent applied to the bluegrass state, to geographies i know so well. it's a glimpse of a strange future built from a familiar past, and it made me homesick as all hell.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

    "The trees, then the minerals, then the mountains themselves in search of more minerals. These hills are a place people come to take things away." "And I suppose there's a lesson in that about what we're doing?" Marcia shook her head. "Nobody else has ever learned any lessons from it. I don't know why we should be any different." Tell me you have an Appalachian novella, something post-apocalyptic and Weird, and I'm in. Those hills have a Weird all their own, let alone when novelists come to play wi "The trees, then the minerals, then the mountains themselves in search of more minerals. These hills are a place people come to take things away." "And I suppose there's a lesson in that about what we're doing?" Marcia shook her head. "Nobody else has ever learned any lessons from it. I don't know why we should be any different." Tell me you have an Appalachian novella, something post-apocalyptic and Weird, and I'm in. Those hills have a Weird all their own, let alone when novelists come to play with it. But unfortunately These Prisoning Hills wasn't the one for me. I'm used to orienting myself from the clues in the worldbuilding, but that never came together for me - I have a vague picture of this future world, and I just don't think there was enough there to sharpen up the image. The focus is on the military engagements, past and present, which left almost no focus for the development of any of the characters or the plot; in short it just left me with a jumble of a story and a wish for so much more. The seeds of something I would really have enjoyed were definitely there, but the way it came out was frustrating.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Perez

    As someone from Kentucky, it's so nice to see more sci-fi stories set in the Bluegrass state. I don't know what this novella will exactly entail, but I long to see horses running across the Kentucky hills with giant mechs walking in the distance behind them. As someone from Kentucky, it's so nice to see more sci-fi stories set in the Bluegrass state. I don't know what this novella will exactly entail, but I long to see horses running across the Kentucky hills with giant mechs walking in the distance behind them.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rachel (TheShadesofOrange)

    3.5 Stars This is a slower paced science fiction novella exploring a future where the United States survived a war against artificial intelligence being.  This book is quite different than I expected, which ended up affecting my overall experience. I thought this book would be more focused on the AI, but the perspective of the story was basically limited to a human perspective. The US setting was also a major part of the book and I acknowledge that, as a Canadian reader, I did not connect to the w 3.5 Stars This is a slower paced science fiction novella exploring a future where the United States survived a war against artificial intelligence being.  This book is quite different than I expected, which ended up affecting my overall experience. I thought this book would be more focused on the AI, but the perspective of the story was basically limited to a human perspective. The US setting was also a major part of the book and I acknowledge that, as a Canadian reader, I did not connect to the worldbuilding as much as a US reader may.  Otherwise, I would recommend this story to readers looking to explore a futuristic world through this character driven narrative.  Disclaimer I received a copy of this book from the publisher. 

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dylan

    These Prisoning Hills is set in a future where a rogue AI created an army to take on the Federals and caused a ton of collateral damage in the process. Marcia, the main character, was a small player in the war with the AI and is once again relevant decades on as she is asked to help a Federal rescue team locate a squad of federal soldiers in the mountains of Tennessee. This was, unfortunately, quite a disappointing read. I found the setting of the book (both geographical and technological) very These Prisoning Hills is set in a future where a rogue AI created an army to take on the Federals and caused a ton of collateral damage in the process. Marcia, the main character, was a small player in the war with the AI and is once again relevant decades on as she is asked to help a Federal rescue team locate a squad of federal soldiers in the mountains of Tennessee. This was, unfortunately, quite a disappointing read. I found the setting of the book (both geographical and technological) very appealing but just about everything else was fairly weak. The characters were fairly uninteresting and two dimensional, the plot ranged from mundane to entirely incomprehensible at times, and the writing wasn't great either. Some sentences were so long and filled with so many clauses I genuinely couldn't understand what was trying to be said. And while I did like the setting, the world-building was extremely confusing, especially in regards to the rogue AI's army. Various types of units were referred to without being explained, such as something referred to as a bear which is described as flying and dropping bombs (doesn't sound like any species of bear I'm familiar with). I also couldn't make heads nor tails of the ending and it almost felt like there was a missing chapter. Sadly, I wouldn't really recommend this one. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Boston

    As far as novellas go, sci-fi and fantasy don’t seem to be my favorites. Being thrown into this world was confusing and I felt like I was reading the second book in a series. If you like that then I’d highly recommend this book, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. * thank you to the publisher for sending me an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gwenda Bond

    Brilliant. Reader, I married him.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    You may recall a couple of stories reprinted, in Dozois anthols, about the Voluntary State of Tennessee ruled by Athena Parthenus, Queen of Reason, a very scary AI. OK, "The Voluntary State," a 2004 novelette, received a batch of award noms in 2005 and many reprints, http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cg... "The Nebula Awards," declared Dave Iztkoff back in 2006 "don't have a special prize for the speculative work possessing the year's most striking literary imagery. So I hereby invent the catego You may recall a couple of stories reprinted, in Dozois anthols, about the Voluntary State of Tennessee ruled by Athena Parthenus, Queen of Reason, a very scary AI. OK, "The Voluntary State," a 2004 novelette, received a batch of award noms in 2005 and many reprints, http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cg... "The Nebula Awards," declared Dave Iztkoff back in 2006 "don't have a special prize for the speculative work possessing the year's most striking literary imagery. So I hereby invent the category myself, and declare its first winner to be Christopher Rowe for his story "The Voluntary State," a surreal work collected in the Nebula Awards Showcase 2006 (ROC, paper, $15.95) anthology. Rowe's vision of an American South, hauntingly different from the one we know, begins with an artist sketching what appear to be children floating in a body of water. But as the inhabitants of this alternate reality know, the convincing cherubs that kick and struggle in the surf are not really children at all, but highly sophisticated decoys used by submerged predators. They are "nothing but extremities, nothing but lures growing from the snouts of alligators crouching on the sandy bottoms." .... The rest of the review is a bit spoilery, but here it is: https://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/11/bo... --and if his new novel is anywhere in this quality range, I am so IN! Here's a semi-crummy online copy of that story, archived online: https://www.lexal.net/scifi/scifictio... If you actually want to read it, make a text-only copy and paste into a new file. Well worth the bother, if you don't have a copy 0f Dozois #22 handy.* But thanks to the late lamented Sci Fiction for buying the story! They paid good rates, as I recall. ---- * a Hot Tip! Thriftbooks has many of the earlier Dozois anthols FS used for around $5 -- & they ship FREE for a $10 order ≅ 2 books! Service is good, & people are friendly if you need help. Good outfit. I spend way too much $$$ there!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Sledge

    My cover lust was strong with this one! Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. These Prisoning Hills deals with the aftermath of war. A powerful AI once overtook the United States, transforming flora and fauna into soldiers in her war against humanity. This tale deals with the affects of the war and weapons long thought lost. What will become of the remaining population, and is the threat posed by the AI truly over? Let me begin by saying, I did not My cover lust was strong with this one! Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. These Prisoning Hills deals with the aftermath of war. A powerful AI once overtook the United States, transforming flora and fauna into soldiers in her war against humanity. This tale deals with the affects of the war and weapons long thought lost. What will become of the remaining population, and is the threat posed by the AI truly over? Let me begin by saying, I did not realize this was a follow up to another short story. Some of the aspects were a but confusing at the beginning and it didn't give much of a frame work. I found myself wondering why world building wasn't established, but finding out that Athena's war was detailed in another short story makes perfect sense. That being said, even not having read the story of the original war, thus story was OUTRAGEOUS! I loved every page, past and present; and will be seeking out the former story. The writing was GORGEOUS and pulled you in immediately. The characters were written in such a way that you really believed that those who lived in the time of the war were truly changed by it, while those born post war have just never known any different. It's alot like I imagine those of us who remember 9/11 happening and how the world changed vs. those who were born after haven't experienced the impact it all made, it was just common place to them. I recommend this story for anyone who loves good science fiction, even those who have not read the original short story. Just be prepared if you haven't to feel a little lost in the beginning, but that feeling will pass very quickly. I look forward to reading the prequel and to see what comes next for this world of the author should bless us with more.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I short and to the point sci fi read. A bit confusing because of the way it is written ( major breaks on dialogue and monologue with these thoughts that took away from the story) The story has some creative elements, but they are never explained. It kind of goes from scene to scene without giving any real world building and leaving much to the imagination of the reader.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tina

    I received this novella as an e-ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review! An interesting novella with complex world-building, These Prisoning Hills, is less action than introspection, and while conceptually fascinating, it suffers from wordy prose and disjointed structure. First of all, though, that COVER. Gorgeous. Normally, I enjoy a novel where I have to piece things today, but maybe my mindset was just off or the style didn’t work for me, but I had a lot of trouble ramping up the ent I received this novella as an e-ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review! An interesting novella with complex world-building, These Prisoning Hills, is less action than introspection, and while conceptually fascinating, it suffers from wordy prose and disjointed structure. First of all, though, that COVER. Gorgeous. Normally, I enjoy a novel where I have to piece things today, but maybe my mindset was just off or the style didn’t work for me, but I had a lot of trouble ramping up the enthusiasm to read this novella once I started. The storyline jumps around in time, but because there is so much backstory to fill us in on (the AI, how the AI and other tech works, the odd designations of the nanotech, the way Tennesse/Kentucky has been reordered, the different bands and what they mean, and Marcia’s story) I had trouble keeping it all lined up in my head. Most of the backstory comes from the blurb. Now, there were some things I really liked. I loved that Marcia was an older woman in her sixties. We don’t often get this as a main character in this genre, so that was great. I also loved how this was not an integral part of the plot but did have some bearing on it - it was not just a random decision. In fact, it felt like nothing in this book was a random decision - it’s one of those novellas that I really think could have been blown out into a novel because there is so much going on. As a result of this lack of space, Marcia was a bit bland, and her history with Carter didn’t feel integral to the plot or served to explain anything further. There were also a few side characters that kind of blended together. I really enjoyed the metaphors and certain turns of the phrase that the author used. I can’t really quote anything, because it’s an ARC, but if you enjoy prose on the more flowery or perhaps more ethereal side, this would work for you. Overall, if you have the time to devote to really digging into this novella, in taking your time to read it, I think it has a lot of merit!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Beauregard

    I was lost for much of this novella, but I still enjoyed it. A lush and fantastical snippet of a post-apocalyptic America. I was fascinated by the glimpses of the Crows and the Owls, and would gladly pick up a book all about them. Thanks to Tor and NetGalley for the free eARC in exchange for my honest review.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Holly (The GrimDragon)

    Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy! This didn't quite work for me, however. ONWARD!! Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy! This didn't quite work for me, however. ONWARD!!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Sledge

    My cover lust was strong with this one! Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. These Prisoning Hills deals with the aftermath of war. A powerful AI once overtook the United States, transforming flora and fauna into soldiers in her war against humanity. This tale deals with the affects of the war and weapons long thought lost. What will become of the remaining population, and is the threat posed by the AI truly over? Let me begin by saying, I did not My cover lust was strong with this one! Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. These Prisoning Hills deals with the aftermath of war. A powerful AI once overtook the United States, transforming flora and fauna into soldiers in her war against humanity. This tale deals with the affects of the war and weapons long thought lost. What will become of the remaining population, and is the threat posed by the AI truly over? Let me begin by saying, I did not realize this was a follow up to another short story. Some of the aspects were a but confusing at the beginning and it didn't give much of a frame work. I found myself wondering why world building wasn't established, but finding out that Athena's war was detailed in another short story makes perfect sense. That being said, even not having read the story of the original war, thus story was OUTRAGEOUS! I loved every page, past and present; and will be seeking out the former story. The writing was GORGEOUS and pulled you in immediately. The characters were written in such a way that you really believed that those who lived in the time of the war were truly changed by it, while those born post war have just never known any different. It's alot like I imagine those of us who remember 9/11 happening and how the world changed vs. those who were born after haven't experienced the impact it all made, it was just common place to them. I recommend this story for anyone who loves good science fiction, even those who have not read the original short story. Just be prepared if you haven't to feel a little lost in the beginning, but that feeling will pass very quickly. I look forward to reading the prequel and to see what comes next for this world of the author should bless us with more.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Karissa

    Series Info/Source: This is a stand alone novella. I got an eGalley of this from NetGalley to review. Thoughts: This had potential but was a bit confusing. I read more and this is part of a world that Rowe has written about in another novella “The Voluntary State”. I did not know that and did not read that before reading this book. The book follows an older woman named Marcia and alternates between the current time and the past. I had some issues with this because the storylines for both were so Series Info/Source: This is a stand alone novella. I got an eGalley of this from NetGalley to review. Thoughts: This had potential but was a bit confusing. I read more and this is part of a world that Rowe has written about in another novella “The Voluntary State”. I did not know that and did not read that before reading this book. The book follows an older woman named Marcia and alternates between the current time and the past. I had some issues with this because the storylines for both were so similar, I had to keep looking back to see if I was reading about the current time or the past. This made the story confusing and hard to follow. I did enjoy the ideas in here but the world seems a bit half-baked and confusing. There is a lot of terminology thrown at you and the history of this world is very hard to splice together. The author does try to give some of the world history in little blurbs before each section but they don’t help much. It would have been better to have a prologue or history section at the beginning of the book explaining things. I also had some trouble engaging with the characters, they are all very similar and pretty 2D. In the end I just felt very “eh” about it all. It doesn’t take long to read and I did enjoy the concept here. It would be great to see this as a more complete novel or maybe combined with the previous novelette “The Voluntary State”. The way this is presented feels more like loosely connected notes than a story. My Summary (3/5): Overall the premise here is unique but it just isn’t executed very well. Maybe if I read “The Voluntary State” first I would be less confused. However, the world-building, characters, and plot were all a bit lackluster. The story is confusing and the characters are so similar, that in the end I just didn’t care much…I just finished it and moved on. Rowe has amazingly cool ideas but needs to work on making those a into a more cohesive world and story.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Shannon (It Starts At Midnight)

    I liked what I understood of These Prisoning Hills, and found the story to be really atmospheric and intriguing. I will also fully admit that I was lost for a not insignificant portion of the book. Both things said, I would still venture back into this world, especially now that I have a little clearer picture of what is happening.  As the synopsis tells us, we're in post-apocalyptic America, specifically, Tennessee. An AI has pretty much made a mess of things, but pockets of humanity remain stro I liked what I understood of These Prisoning Hills, and found the story to be really atmospheric and intriguing. I will also fully admit that I was lost for a not insignificant portion of the book. Both things said, I would still venture back into this world, especially now that I have a little clearer picture of what is happening.  As the synopsis tells us, we're in post-apocalyptic America, specifically, Tennessee. An AI has pretty much made a mess of things, but pockets of humanity remain strong and fighting. Our main character, Marcia, fought in the original war with the AI, but finds herself back in the fight. I liked what I got to know of Marcia. She was older, which was refreshing to see, plus it gave her a ton of experience for the task at hand. Obviously since it was a novella we didn't get to delve too deep into her character, but I enjoyed what we did get. The world itself was quite fascinating, and I definitely would be eager to learn more about it. The atmosphere was on point and definitely forbidding, and I absolutely felt the fear and desolation of the area. That said, I really had a hard time wrapping my head around what exactly happened during the war- the last one, and even the current one- and what the AI endgame was. But again, I'd definitely be up for more of the world and characters! Bottom Line: While I was a bit lost on certain points, I also really enjoyed what I did understand. You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight

  17. 4 out of 5

    Whimsy Dearest

    Long ago, a rouge AI named Athena Parthenus invaded the American Southeast and transformed the landscape using nanotechnology. Everything from flora to fauna to the ground itself she turned into her own biomechanical weapons. Marcia, a former captain in the war, remembers the horror of Athena’s creations firsthand, so when one of Athena’s most deadly weapons is believed to be buried near the Commonwealth, federal troops enlist her aid in finding it. These Prisoning Hills by Christopher Rowe prese Long ago, a rouge AI named Athena Parthenus invaded the American Southeast and transformed the landscape using nanotechnology. Everything from flora to fauna to the ground itself she turned into her own biomechanical weapons. Marcia, a former captain in the war, remembers the horror of Athena’s creations firsthand, so when one of Athena’s most deadly weapons is believed to be buried near the Commonwealth, federal troops enlist her aid in finding it. These Prisoning Hills by Christopher Rowe presents an intriguing post-apocalyptic novella with some really cool concepts. There’s an omnipotent AI, rock monkeys, and flying bears. In fact, the story is so caught up in its own ideas that it buries its plot and character writing with them. The first half of the novella is spent mainly establishing the world's history and worldbuilding. Nothing eventful happens until much later on, and once we do finally get to the climax, I found it underwhelming. This was a major disappointment because I adore its central premise of an expedition team going into unknown, dangerous territory (i.e. Annihilation or At the Mountains of Madness), and I just wish we got gotten more of that adventuring aspect. Overall, I think this might boil down to an issue of length. It feels more like we’re getting more of a fragment of a story and it might have worked better if it had been fleshed out into a full novel. Thank you, NetGalley and Tordotcom, for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Ward

    **Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing a galley in exchange for an honest review and feedback** An innovative novella about the aftermath of environmental and societal destruction, set in a uniquely mystifying Appalachian setting. The cast of diverse characters are portrayed with a refreshing honesty, and the prose is tightly bound and elegant in Rowe's personal, imaginative style. My favorite thing about this novella was the world it was set in. Who wouldn't want to read a story a **Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing a galley in exchange for an honest review and feedback** An innovative novella about the aftermath of environmental and societal destruction, set in a uniquely mystifying Appalachian setting. The cast of diverse characters are portrayed with a refreshing honesty, and the prose is tightly bound and elegant in Rowe's personal, imaginative style. My favorite thing about this novella was the world it was set in. Who wouldn't want to read a story about towering mecha creations hell-bent on serving their AI god-queen while razing society to the ground? The science, technology, and military terminology was well-researched for this novel. Also, the cover alone is stunning! I can't quit looking at it! As a native of eastern Kentucky, it was wonderful to see representation of the Appalachian hills in this story, especially in its speculative context. I couldn't get enough of the world and how important of a role the environment played in this eco-dystopian story. Only after finishing this novella did I learn it was inspired by two previous short stories written by Rowe, but having gone into this book without that knowledge, I had no problems with falling into the state of the world and the lives of these characters. A short, satisfying read, with a breathless ending that will leave you thinking about this novella's world long after the last page. For readers who might feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the world-building in this novel, I highly suggest buying a copy of Rowe's short story collection, "Telling the Map," which features this novella's origin story, but otherwise go into this book without trying to understand all the nitty-gritty details of this world--let Rowe show you his world, and experience it as you read it. If Jeff VanderMeer's "Annihilation" ever crossed paths with the film "The Iron Giant," then you would be left with "These Prisoning Hills."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jo Ladzinski

    Read a NetGalley eARC Content warning: PTSD, self-administered eye surgery, bombing, subjugation, kidnapping It’s another post-apocalypse in Appalachia, but this one has to do with a war long thought over against an AI named Athena Parthenus. Decades go by, and the main character, Marcia, is about to retire until she’s reinstated for one more mission to investigate an automaton that’s reawakened. The world-building is really cool in this one. There’s a band of Owl and Crow resistance groups who cos Read a NetGalley eARC Content warning: PTSD, self-administered eye surgery, bombing, subjugation, kidnapping It’s another post-apocalypse in Appalachia, but this one has to do with a war long thought over against an AI named Athena Parthenus. Decades go by, and the main character, Marcia, is about to retire until she’s reinstated for one more mission to investigate an automaton that’s reawakened. The world-building is really cool in this one. There’s a band of Owl and Crow resistance groups who cosplay as their respective birds, and it’s interesting to see the different community dynamics of the few remaining human enclaves. There several different types of robots, and it’s not entirely clear if all the people aren’t some kind of cyborg as well. The writing is clear and crisp, and it’s easy to keep all the different factions clear. It’s a bit on the nose in its exploration of the collapse of an empire and the cycles of violence that come with it, citing examples of Greek and Roman history in casual dialogue. But for a small vignette of a greater world, it simply deepens the worldbuilding. Due to the brevity of the work, the character development loses a bit of its depth. That being said, it’s rad to have a genre work about a reckoning with past and present while AI have different agendas with regards to where the world goes next.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Teddy

    I received an e-ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 4.5 stars This novella was WEIRD, and I loved every second of it -- the only reason I didn't devour it in one sitting is because I got sleepy and it was late. Rowe's world-building is immersive and fascinating, and I could read an entire book set in this world. This is strange spec-fic at its best, and tbh I will probably end up rereading this in the future. SO much fun, & I highly, highly recommend. I received an e-ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 4.5 stars This novella was WEIRD, and I loved every second of it -- the only reason I didn't devour it in one sitting is because I got sleepy and it was late. Rowe's world-building is immersive and fascinating, and I could read an entire book set in this world. This is strange spec-fic at its best, and tbh I will probably end up rereading this in the future. SO much fun, & I highly, highly recommend.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Allan

    I wish this was novel length. I could see it as a series.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rachael

    This review was originally published on my blog: Tea Rex Reads I was given and Advanced Reader’s Copy of These Prisoning Hills by Christopher Rowe via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Tordotcom Publishing! If I had to describe These Prisoning Hills in a few words, those words would be strange, interesting, and fever-dream. This short little story had a lot packed into it, and not much of it was explained or explored thoroughly. The most detailed descriptions were saved for the This review was originally published on my blog: Tea Rex Reads I was given and Advanced Reader’s Copy of These Prisoning Hills by Christopher Rowe via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Tordotcom Publishing! If I had to describe These Prisoning Hills in a few words, those words would be strange, interesting, and fever-dream. This short little story had a lot packed into it, and not much of it was explained or explored thoroughly. The most detailed descriptions were saved for the people, their interactions, and the actions of those in power. On the surface, These Prisoning Hills is about the future. A group of 36 scientists finally managed to create true Artificial Intelligence. Unfortunately for them, that intelligence immediately became hostile. It named itself Athena Parthenus, and through the use of nanotechnology and other methods humans never understood, Athena Parthenus assimilated all 36 scientists. It fashioned them into weapons called Commodores and set about engaging in a war against humanity that would last decades. Any territory taken over by Athena Parthenus and her Commodores were immediately corrupted by her nanotechnology. They created monsters of local flora and fauna, and in later years once the war had dragged on for decades, humans walled off these areas to protect themselves. Squads of soldiers were often dispatched to watch over these walls to make sure nothing encroached on the human side and to stop any invasive attempts by Athena Parthenus’s remaining forces. Marcia was one of these soldiers. The story is told primarily through flashbacks. Marcia was drafted to help in the war against the hostile AI forces, and she encountered more peculiarities unique to the AI than most soldiers did. It’s these experiences that have federal troops seeking her out in her 60’s to help them find a lost weapon of the war. Marcia is reluctant to help. She knows if they find certain things in those hills that they may not come back alive. The war may have ended, but they don’t know exactly how that happened. There could still be dangerous AI and nanotechnology in the areas humans have not been able to repopulate yet. If all of this sounds very strange and confusing so far, that’s because it is. Much of the focus of the story was on Marcia, her experiences, and her relationships with others. It was about where she fit in this strange world and the things she experienced to lead her there. However, the world itself is only explained through info dumps at the beginning of each chapter. Some of it is explored through Marcia’s memories and actions, but in my opinion, there was a lot more that could have been explained. I feel like the first third of the story was just trying to rush the reader through background information. This information was necessary context to understand some of the characters’ actions. If this novella had been 100 pages longer, I feel the author would have had more time to ease the reader into the world instead of blasting us with information. There were a few situations in which the characters found themselves, particularly during the climax of the story, that I would have liked to see more of or at least seen more of an explanation for. For example, at one point Marcia has some sort of psychological encounter with a remnant AI from the war. It literally speaks to her mind through her government issued artificial enhancements. It’s able to control the minds of others without those enhancements as well. This entire sequence of the story reminded me strongly of Jeff Vandermeer‘s Annihilation, and it made me question how nanotechnology was able to act almost like magic or a virus in this world. The entire situation read like a fever-dream, and it made me wonder what the war that took place might have actually been like. Overall, I feel this story could have definitely been expanded to include more context. It would be interesting to read more about the AI, its nanotechnology, and how humans adapted it. I feel like this could be the start of an interesting trilogy of full-length novels, but instead it was crammed into a slim 112 pages. The characters didn’t really have time to be fully developed, and the ending was quite anticlimactic considering the difficult decisions that were being made and the odds against Marcia. I gave These Prisoning Hills by Christopher Rowe three out of five stars. It was still an intriguing read even if it was very strange and too short for the amount of information contained within it. I feel the story could be fleshed out more and the world expanded upon to improve my feelings towards the book. I would still read more by this author and in this story setting, though.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Tas

    Read this review and other Science Fiction/Fantasy book reviews at The Quill to Live It’s not often that Appalachia becomes the focus of a science fiction story, despite the unending talk of turning coal miners into coders. So when I first noticed the ominous cover of These Prisoning Hills and learned that it takes place within that fabled range, I had to get my hands on the novella. Christopher Rowe’s book is haunting, vague and an incredible work of imagination that left me questioning its deep Read this review and other Science Fiction/Fantasy book reviews at The Quill to Live It’s not often that Appalachia becomes the focus of a science fiction story, despite the unending talk of turning coal miners into coders. So when I first noticed the ominous cover of These Prisoning Hills and learned that it takes place within that fabled range, I had to get my hands on the novella. Christopher Rowe’s book is haunting, vague and an incredible work of imagination that left me questioning its deeper ideas. These Prisoning Hills follows Marcia, a former captain who fought in a long ago war against the rogue artificial intelligence known as Athena Parthenus. This all powerful A.I. ran the Voluntary State and declared war on the southeastern United States. Marcia has been pulled out of her long retirement as the federals have discovered that one of Athena’s dreaded Commodores, has been unearthed and may threaten the land once again. It’s up to her to lead a new generation of soldiers through the shifting landscape of Appalachia to find the hulking weapon of mass destruction. While I did not read the other short stories that are a part of this world Rowe has created, I had no issue understanding the time and place These Prisoning Hills existed within. If Rowe accomplishes one thing with this novella, it’s Atmosphere, and boy is it thick. It’s been a while since I felt transported to another time and place in the way this novella imagines the weirdness of Appalachia. From the vague descriptions of the geography, to the volunteer warbands that dress like birds to hide from Athena’s eyes, I was engrossed. There was an ominous and foreboding tinge to both the present and past timelines within the book, as if each perspective informed the other. Time does not matter, and it does not heal within this place. Marcia was a particularly likable protagonist for such a short story. She felt like a woman who has lived a life full of sorrow, pain and has accepted her fate. Her voice rolls out clearly and strongly. I especially loved her little asides about her on again, off again husband Carter. She had a dry wit that was fashioned from a lifetime of knowing the people around her. The characters around her too all felt like big personalities, even in their short page count. Alma, a side character from Marcia’s past, is easily the most memorable for me. Her curiosity about history ending once she realizes it involves “fucking empires.” Everyone had their bit to play, but they felt alive because of Marcia’s little flavor she adds to their interactions. One of the more fascinating aspects of These Prisoning Hills is how Rowe engages with the world within the novella. Word choice and language have a particular meaning, especially when it comes to the periphery and the people and objects that act within it. It feels like there is so much happening beyond Marcia’s perception, and Rowe only gives hints of it here. Not only does it make me want to read the other stories set within this world, but it opens up so many questions about how the society is set up. It forces the reader to ask questions and draws connective lines between the varying factions. There may be sides, but how we view their different systems is all defined by the words we use to describe them. It isn’t a matter of “good vs bad,” so much as who gets to be deemed active or passive, and how that assigns a particular righteousness. It’s even blatantly called attention to with a single line in a conversation. I am enthralled by this small work. It may not be some folks’ cup of tea as it’s a piece of fiction that raises more questions than it answers, but I found it particularly delicious. I read it twice just to feel the atmosphere, and slip beyond the walls of my own imagination. These Prisoning Hills is something special and I hope more people have the ability to check it out. Rating: These Prisoning Hills 8.5/10 -Alex An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Macmillan-Tor/Forge for an advanced copy of this new science fiction novella. In this science fiction novella These Prisoning HIlls Christopher Rowe writes of a long war involving rogue A. I. the Queen of Reason for the Voluntary State of Tennessee, that decimates the Southeast of the United States. The war was fought by corrupting the flora, fauna and the earth itself creating weapons, traps and more of itself with nanotechnology. Years later a vete My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Macmillan-Tor/Forge for an advanced copy of this new science fiction novella. In this science fiction novella These Prisoning HIlls Christopher Rowe writes of a long war involving rogue A. I. the Queen of Reason for the Voluntary State of Tennessee, that decimates the Southeast of the United States. The war was fought by corrupting the flora, fauna and the earth itself creating weapons, traps and more of itself with nanotechnology. Years later a veteran of the war, Marcia, is tasked by federal authorities to go back to the Appalachian hills where he was born and help a military unit look for a lost weapon, and the first team that disappeared also looking for it. Strange things are happening in the hills, something the search team never expected to find. The novella is part of a bigger story, which does make it hard to get into. A lot is thrown at the reader, and even a summary or something at the beginning might have helped, but I blame the publisher more than the writer. Unfortunately I fear that a lot of readers won't make the attempt, and give up early on what is actually a really well written, different kind of story. I like the fact that there are more questions left than answered. Is this an alternate world, around the corner, or farther in the future? Crows and Owls are important, but I am not sure how, but again am interested enough to find out. There were I believe two more novellas involving this story, and I hope they are released as one story. The writing is stark, which fits the dreaminess, well nightmare to some of what is going on. I liked the writing, but still felt that I was missing something. However as I said I am interested in knowing more.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Audrey

    Thanks to the publisher via Netgalley for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review. I'm a huge fan of this world that Rowe has created. This is definitely not a novella to read on its own, though; grab a copy of Telling the Map so that you can read "The Border State" and "The Voluntary State." Those two stories help to provide a good background for this one; so too does my own familiarity with the history and geography of both Kentucky and Tennessee. That familiarity, I th Thanks to the publisher via Netgalley for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review. I'm a huge fan of this world that Rowe has created. This is definitely not a novella to read on its own, though; grab a copy of Telling the Map so that you can read "The Border State" and "The Voluntary State." Those two stories help to provide a good background for this one; so too does my own familiarity with the history and geography of both Kentucky and Tennessee. That familiarity, I think, is what helped Rowe's version of KY/TN cohere for me, and what may be lacking in other readers as they struggle to make sense of Rowe's world-building. What's lacking here for me is a better understanding of what's at stake for the main character in this story, which is something that "The Border State" does EXCEPTIONALLY well. The writing is clean and the time-alternating POV works, for the most part. I'm still patiently waiting for a longer, more immersive foray into this world.

  26. 5 out of 5

    fleshy

    Interesting novella. I kept feeling that I was missing out on backstory. There was a lack of description, particularly for things like bombardment bears, ratboys, rock monkeys, coal moles. It's not clear if they actually look like those animals, or mimic the behavior. I have no idea, because they weren't described. The names are a little childish too, given the setting. Some of the sentences were clunkers. For example: “The milk, like the walrus mustache that was immediately dripping white, was, Interesting novella. I kept feeling that I was missing out on backstory. There was a lack of description, particularly for things like bombardment bears, ratboys, rock monkeys, coal moles. It's not clear if they actually look like those animals, or mimic the behavior. I have no idea, because they weren't described. The names are a little childish too, given the setting. Some of the sentences were clunkers. For example: “The milk, like the walrus mustache that was immediately dripping white, was, like the magazines, like the notion that he held any real authority over Marcia, his supposed second, an affectation.” I mean, I understand it, but it sounds awkward to me. It alternates between the present and flashbacks, and it isn't obvious if the flashbacks are in chronological order. You gets little hints of the larger world, but I wish there were more. It makes it frustratingly surreal at times.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    In a future devastated by war and suffering the effects of climate change, Marcia is asked to join a rescue effort for a missing recovery team. As the story moves through an environment, even foreign to Marcia, a native of the area, she thinks back on her time in the war and the terrible creatures she fought. Though the AI, Queen of Reason, Athena Parthenus, has been "killed," something strange is happening in the hills of Kentucky. Raw with emotion, Rowe depicts a world besieged by mystery and In a future devastated by war and suffering the effects of climate change, Marcia is asked to join a rescue effort for a missing recovery team. As the story moves through an environment, even foreign to Marcia, a native of the area, she thinks back on her time in the war and the terrible creatures she fought. Though the AI, Queen of Reason, Athena Parthenus, has been "killed," something strange is happening in the hills of Kentucky. Raw with emotion, Rowe depicts a world besieged by mystery and foreboding. These Prisoning Hills is a great novella for those who enjoy a grim post-apocalyptic story.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Simms

    Fascinating and compelling. It seems I'm a little out of the loop on the world Rowe has created here, and definitely need to go search out the previous writing he's done in this setting. But that's not a dealbreaker; the background is hinted at in a way that leaves you intrigued rather than adrift (ok, maybe a little adrift). The story itself is short, and almost inconsequential. I confess it didn't really make much of an impression on me. But the setting is eerie and luminescent, kind of a Jeff Fascinating and compelling. It seems I'm a little out of the loop on the world Rowe has created here, and definitely need to go search out the previous writing he's done in this setting. But that's not a dealbreaker; the background is hinted at in a way that leaves you intrigued rather than adrift (ok, maybe a little adrift). The story itself is short, and almost inconsequential. I confess it didn't really make much of an impression on me. But the setting is eerie and luminescent, kind of a Jeff-Vandermeer-does-Terminator vibe, and that kept me glued to the page. Also, that cover is brilliant. Thanks to NetGalley and Tor for the ARC.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    I'm going to be honest, I had a rather difficult time following this book. It felt like it could've used another edit to clarify things. It almost felt like I was missing another book to give more context. But I've looked up the authors work and couldn't find anything else in the same "world". I'm kinda sad that this was the case because the story itself was intriguing. I kept turning the page hoping to find out more about our main characters past and what she was currently dealing with. But the I'm going to be honest, I had a rather difficult time following this book. It felt like it could've used another edit to clarify things. It almost felt like I was missing another book to give more context. But I've looked up the authors work and couldn't find anything else in the same "world". I'm kinda sad that this was the case because the story itself was intriguing. I kept turning the page hoping to find out more about our main characters past and what she was currently dealing with. But the confusion of the creatures and science would pull me out of the story. This was difficult to rate since I felt like the story was good but the clunkiness brought it down.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    2.8/5 stars I'm going to be honest, I had a rather difficult time following this book. It felt like it could've used another edit to clarify things. It almost felt like I was missing another book to give more context. But I've looked up the authors work and couldn't find anything else in the same "world". I'm kinda sad that this was the case because the story itself was intriguing. I kept turning the page hoping to find out more about our main characters past and what she was currently dealing wi 2.8/5 stars I'm going to be honest, I had a rather difficult time following this book. It felt like it could've used another edit to clarify things. It almost felt like I was missing another book to give more context. But I've looked up the authors work and couldn't find anything else in the same "world". I'm kinda sad that this was the case because the story itself was intriguing. I kept turning the page hoping to find out more about our main characters past and what she was currently dealing with. But the confusion of the creatures and science would pull me out of the story. This was difficult to rate since I felt like the story was good but the clunkiness brought it down.

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