A Different Alchemy

 A Different Alchemy



Devolution, de-evolution or backward evolution: when species can change into more primitive forms over time. Evolution means progress to more advanced organisms. Each organism becomes more complex in structure and function over time. Evolution is thought or supposed to make species more advanced not primitive. But, some modern species have lost some of their more complex functions that were indicative of their ancestors or forebears and have or might be degenerated forms.  The term  “devolution according to dictionary.com is defined as going from an advanced state to a less advanced state or an inexplicable or mysterious transmuting would define the term alchemy or any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance usually of little value into a substance of great value. But, what happens when the opposite occurs? What happens when something strikes normal, healthy infants, children and turns them into non-responsive humans incapable of showing emotions, movement or any type of communication? What happens when the world refers to these children as Blocks and parents throughout the world find themselves caring for children that are not disabled in the normal sense but are not there but have no idea why. In a world that is diminishing, where fires have destroyed much of the landscape and structures,

When mankind gives up and shows no sign of up what happens will be revealed within the pages of this novel. From the author of The Man Who Watched the World End comes a novel that will make you wonder: Can this really happen? What happens to people when things go wrong? When panic strikes why do we often get violent, give up home and forget whom we are? When the world becoming devoid of people and those that are left begin to travel south what you will see as the author describes the devastation, despair, ruin and abandoned cities is a graphic depiction of a world that had decayed. Close your eyes: Can you small the fresh air? Do you see the beautiful flowers in a garden? Can you see the children playing the schoolyard or having fun shooting hoops? Can you see the beautiful highways lit up with the lights that help drivers see? Do you see the amazing houses, villages, stores and towns with their wares in the window? Open your eyes to reality: It’s all gone. Cities hunger for people, cars are left abandon on highways, and people are violent and will kill for just a tank of gas of a new tire. Mankind has become wanton, unfeeling, desperate, deceitful, and violent: of have they always been that way and we have not taken the time to notice?

This is the story of Jeffrey, Katherine and Galen. A story filed with hope, love, despair, frustration and anger. Nothing could be more powerful or painful than losing a child. What happens when your child receives so much love and care but cannot respond to the world around him? Within the pages of this novel you will hear the word Block. Blocks are children born after a certain time period unable to cry, scream, yell, walk, eat, talk, walk or do anything that would show that they are part of this world other than being able to breathe. Some feel that it was a great illness that caused children to be born this way. Others have no idea what the reason and found using them as scapegoats a fun pastime, blaming them for the shortages of food and other important life sustaining supplies their out. Others felt that would be a burden on the state. But, when cities were evacuated and homes left vacant why did their former owners burn them? The loss of a son that might have been avoided had his wife not fallen prey to false promises and dreams that their son would be okay if she left him with others at a stadium and somehow he might be okay. But, when the harsh reality of what she had done comes out and the fact that not only did the stadium burn but those within it too, Jeffrey finds it hard to ever face Katherine again and decides to leave his old life behind and instead of heading south like everyone else, he goes north. A Block Son but Jeffrey’s love is unconditional and at times we the author brilliantly shares conversations within this character’s mind with his son. Treating him as if he understands make him feel whole. Letting him know that he will always protect him despite the fact that he does not understand the mark of a dedicated parent. So, how can he forgive Katherine? The volatile nature of the public, the many newscasts, the flashbacks to where it all began as he reminds himself of why Galen might have become a Block blaming it on the timing of when they decided to have a child. But, is that the real reason? Scientists did not even fathom a solid guess and thought it was a strange illness that caused it and never worked on a vaccine or cure. It was easier to eliminate these children or adults by setting them on fire, leaving them in a shelter, leaving them behind so that they could justify fleeing to another town. As the author allows us to hear Jeffrey’s thinking, logic and sometimes rants we meet other survivors whose only goal is to find a way to the south, north or anywhere not caring for others or willing to help anyone along the way. Mankind became hard, unfeeling, distant and selfish as some had the implements needed to travel why others went in directions that would cause their deaths.

The author cleverly flashes back to discussions between Jeffrey and Katherine including arguments they had, the blame each one puts the other for Galen and the end result that caused his death. Author Chris Dietzel’s vivid descriptions of the decayed landscape, the fallen cities, the broken fences, the brown grass, the dead bodies strewn all over the streets, highways and cities and the smell of death all around brings to story to life for readers. Each chapter fosters memories of things that happened within this small family, things that he wished could have happened and the hopes and dreams he had for his son that he knew would never come to pass. The baseball games he would never play. The girls he would never meet or date and the fun getting drunk for the first time as a teen. How can Jeffrey forgive Katherine when he cannot forgive himself? In the military at Fort Dix the soldiers and those in charge do not report. Many of the officers just left and have not returned. Security has been eliminated and the airwaves had all of the spies from different countries divulge their hidden secrets. Wouldn’t that be interesting if that happened today and everyone worked together?


There are many major issues or themes revealed within this novel. Many feel that because of their inability to communicate or take care of themselves that block children or people have no value. Blocks cannot have children. The population might never grow unless something happens. The Great De-Evolution: Will this really happen if we are not careful?

The setting takes place in Philadelphia as those living there have abandoned their city and his wife caused him what he thinks is his son’s death. Putting thousands of these children in danger in a stadium and allowing it to burn was just where the chain of horrific events began with the justification that you might say but was left unsaid was for the greater good.

Meeting a man on the road enrages him as she realizes that he had something to do with the death of his son and the other Blocks. The rafe is real, the fire lingers in his mind and as his knuckles crack after hitting the side of the man’s skull you would think he would stop, rethink what he’s doing but he does not. Hoping that the man would take his last breath he leaves to wallow in his own blood and finds a grocery store to stop up on supplies as if nothing major happened and the fact that the man might be dead did not affect him in the least. What if he had left years ago? What if they had tried to have a child when they first married? What if the tank he us traveling in gives out? Imagine this as a movie more powerful than others depicting the decline of the world and its population. Reading the Road and seeing the movie this book presents many of the same issues of survival, greed, anger, violence and revenge but the powerful hope of forgiveness makes this one stand out even more. Taking books from bookstores or libraries, providing himself with sustenance and the what he needs to survive the pictures that the author relate4s as he thinks of Katherine driving their son to the stadium, flesh burning, the screams that would never be heard and the despair of a parent who would never see his son again. A man, bloody broke and dead in front of his tank did not bring any emotional response form Jeffrey. His swollen eye and purples did not matter to him. The man was a thief who wanted to steal his tank and prayed and begged for his own death. What did the world look like before the Blocks and the decline of the human race? What would have happened if people just accepted them and did not panic? What would have happened if they had stayed put? Imagine this world where food processors can do anything and generators never give out. Traveling from Philadelphia to cities across the country and stopping to find food, and using what others left behind, running water, the internet working and gangs trying to kidnap the blocks, what kind of world do we live in and would the same thing happen if this were reality today?

Bombed out cities that looked like they had never been rebuilt, stores City Hall and the Statue of Liberty falling apart, the smell of dead animals, the burning flesh of the Blocks and the forgotten homes and people he meets along the way will haunt Jeffrey and readers as the author brings the story to a dramatic close. People that traveled to Washington and were turned away. Using his food processor preparing meals for himself and strangers he met. The final chapters bring back the last days when he was on his military base, saying goodbye to friends, convincing others that their block children would be okay as the author flashes back to when some had hope before the siren blared and reality set it. Then he replays the beginning in his mind hoping that the end result will not be the same as Katherine states that the man on the TV said to bring all of the blocks to the stadium. An ending that will keep you wondering what is next for Jeffrey and where will he wind up. Will he continue until he runs out of land or will he finally find peace and settle somewhere? Will the author continue the story until we learn what the end result is for everyone? This is a powerful story that will keep you thinking about how we treat others, why people do the things they do, their actions and the fact that forgiveness is powerful but can he forgive himself first?
Fran Lewis: Reviewer


Five Golden Hugs For Galen




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