The power-hungry computer HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey seems like a harmless teddy bear compared to the truly horrific technological threat in Catherine Jinks’ latest novel, Living Hell. But as the novel begins, life aboard the space station Plexus is predictable and routine, even dull, and life on Earth is just a distant memory. For 17-year-old Cheney and his friends, born aboard the ship, Plexus is the only world they’ve ever known.

Soon the ship’s trajectory needs to be adjusted to avoid a dangerous band of radiation. But what starts as a fairly routine course adjustment turns into everyone’s worst nightmare, as Plexus gradually morphs from a self-contained, protective ecosystem into something resembling a living, breathing organism, a creature that sees the humans that occupy it as dangerous invaders to be annihilated. Not experienced enough to be a seasoned problem-solving specialist like his parents and their friends, yet not young enough to simply cower in a corner, Cheney must protect the younger kids while trying to figure out how—and why—Plexus seems so fixated on destroying them all.

With cinematic descriptions and nearly nonstop action, Living Hell begs to be adapted for the big screen. In the meantime, the large cast of characters—including the ominous Plexus itself—will play out their parts in readers’ imaginations, even as their adventures illustrate both biological concepts and philosophical concerns. “Life is a force that cannot be tamed,” observes Cheney, and readers will likely spend a long time—after their heart rates have gone back to normal—reflecting on just how true that is.

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