Saturday, February 3, 2018

Women in Horror: Final Girls by Mira Grant

Dr. Jennifer Webb has created a revolutionary method of virtual reality therapy. Incomplete information about the program is available to the public in order to protect the information. Her company offers a controlled horrific scenario that use fear to deeply encode emotional responses. The situations are intentionally over the top so they won't be mistaken as something that really happened as a memory. The method is supposed to offer an experience that feels completely real with neurochemistry affected as if the situation were real life. It's essentially viewing and manipulating dreams as they happen. The experience puts the patients in a virtual reality pod with drugs to enter a hypersuggestible state and control the effects of the fear so it doesn't harm them. Afterwards, people have nightmares but no other lasting side effects.

Enter Esther, a journalist for Science Digest who regularly debunks pseudoscience as a passion project and a job. Her father was irreparably harmed by regression therapy, a method proved to be bunk, so she takes frauds very seriously. Her crusade is admirable and her emotions drive her in stark contrast to Dr. Webb's controlled and perfect veneer. Esther goes to the lab to report on the therapy as an observer and sees adult sisters who have been through it with shockingly effective results. It effectively healed years of damage, but she didn't get to see them beforehand to compare. Esther can't refuse when offered to try the experience without even consulting with her therapist before agreeing to something that could deeply effect her. Already she has deemed it as fraudulent, so she goes in with no concern after signing a mountain of paperwork.

The scenario starts with Esther 13 years old, living with her father in a new home and city after her mother died, a reversal of reality and also a very typical start to a horror film. Dr. Webb joins her and becomes her best friend. Jennifer is the more outgoing one that rails against expectations and gender roles especially in science and math. Esther is in her shadow, but acts as the power behind her friend with journalism as her main interest. They grow close through their false lives together. Unfortunately, while the women are in the virtual reality, an assassin comes in to steal the technology software and design and kill Dr. Webb. It could be used to brainwash and make She changes the scenario to years later while they are 16, an age deemed to volatile for the therapy, and amps up the horrific scenarios, bypassing safeguards in place to protect them. It starts out as bullying classmates and ends up with a graveyard full of zombies attacking their whole town.

While the ending is a bit abrupt, it's so heartwarming and touching. The friendship developed between the two women is profound and closer to sisterhood. Before, they were two women content to be alone in their careers and passion projects. What started out as Webb's manipulation for a good article became a true sisterhood although they didn't escape some damage from the assassin's uneducated and uncaring exploitation of the program.. The whole story is unlike anything I've read, but having women on each side of the story was amazing to read. They are all different kinds of women, exceptional at their chosen job, and convinced of their side. Be warned that this book is a novella, so it's only about 150 pages. However, Final Girls is an amazing and compact story that tells so much in such a small amount of time.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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