Zachary Thomas Dodson’s Bats of the Republic is a difficult novel to classify. One of the two interweaving stories it tells is a dystopian science-fiction tale of walled cities in which people live according to a rigidly regimented “life-phase” system. The other takes place in the 1840s, and seems at first to be historical fiction. But as the main character, a naturalist charged with bringing an important message to a general in Texas, continues his journey, more and more odd things begin to happen. The stories, told in alternating chapters, become more closely interconnected as both progress.
I do most of my reading on my Kindle, but I’m glad I bought a hard copy of this book, as it’s absolutely beautiful. The naturalist, Zadock Thomas, sketches some of the more notable animals he observes during his travels, and the book includes a few pages of his sketches. The message he’s carrying is also included—but not just as text on a page. At the end of the book is an actual sealed envelope containing the message. The layout and text font (and even text color) is different for the two storylines of the novel, and a ribbon bookmark is included. All in all, the production values of Bats are stunning.
One of the main themes of the book is the idea of history repeating itself. From the reader’s perspective, one storyline is set in the past and the other in the future. Some of the future-storyline characters are descendants of those from the past-storyline, and there are character relationships and plot elements that both storylines have in common. Whether this is just because human behavior tends to follow certain patterns, or because one storyline is influencing the other—and if so, which is influencing which—is an open question.
Bats of the Republic truly deserves to be called wildly inventive. It may be a bit too “weird” for some readers, but if you’re a veteran reader of sci-fi and fantasy wishing that there was something new under the sun, this is exactly what you’re looking for.