Drop by Drop: A boring small-town soap opera

Drop by Drop by Morgan Llywelyn science fiction book reviewsDrop by Drop by Morgan Llywelyn science fiction book reviewsDrop by Drop by Morgan Llywelyn

I’m going to make this short. There was nothing — absolutely nothing — that I liked about Drop by Drop (2018), the first book in Morgan Llywelyn’s new STEP BY STEP trilogy.

The story is about a small town where everybody seems to know everybody else. Suddenly one day, the plastic gradually starts to melt. Everything that is made of plastic eventually fails (they call it “The Change”) and the society has to learn to live without plastic. This means reverting to more primitive technologies since cars, computers, the internet, and so many other things all rely on plastic parts. As The Change is happening, we follow personal developments (marriages, divorces, deaths, etc.) of the town’s citizens.

Why did I dislike Drop by Drop? It’s a small-town soap opera which is boring, has few likeable characters, and offers no challenges or insight. The melting plastic premise is kind of cool but instead of doing something really interesting with it, it seems to be used as a platform for (1) the male characters to mansplain to the female characters how plastic is used in so much of our technology and (2) Llywelyn to express nostalgia for the good ol’ days when people had no internet and actually had to talk to each other.

Despite the modern setting, the story feels confusingly old-fashioned. The town feels like it only has about 25 citizens in it. There’s a patriarchal structure where gender roles are dated (the men run the town and are always explaining things to the women) and there’s little diversity. The few children and teens are whiny and immature, not treated like they might know or contribute anything. The dialogue sounds like these people are living in 1950.

I think that Morgan Llywelyn, who is now around 80 years old and widely and deservedly lauded for her beautiful historical fiction, has not successfully made the jump to science fiction. For a better treatment of the technology-regression plot, see Island in the Sea of Time by S.M. Stirling (though I don’t recommend its sequels).

The audiobook version of Drop by Drop (Blackstone Audio) is narrated by Hilary Huber. She has a lovely voice and gives a nice performance.

In the next STEP BY STEP novel, Inch by Inch, metal will fail. That sounds disastrous and interesting, but I probably will not be there to see it happen.

Publication date: September 25, 2018. In this first book in the Step By Step trilogy, global catastrophe occurs as all plastic mysteriously liquefies. All the small components making many technologies possible ― Navigation systems, communications, medical equipment ― fail. In Sycamore River, citizens find their lives disrupted as everything they’ve depended on melts around them, with sometimes fatal results. All they can rely upon is themselves. And this is only the beginning . . ..

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. I’m indulging my novelist-mind here, and imagining that this was a book she wrote years/decades ago and could not sell at the time. She (or someone) waited, updated it a little, and got it out there.

    “Metal failure” would be interesting and could be action-packed if it didn’t turn into REAL HOUSEWIVES OF PLYWOOD TOWN.

    • But then…the termites come, and eat all the wood, everywhere!! So it would become REAL HOUSEWIVES OF SITTING AROUND ON THE GROUND, LOOKING AT THE SKY, HOPING WATER DOESN’T VANISH NEXT.

  2. Kat – have you read SM Stirling’s ‘Dies the Fire’? It is the same event/change as Island in the Sea of Time but located in Oregon. The first few are excellent and then it gets too far down the family tree for the characters to be as interesting as the first generation were.

  3. It’s disappointing to hear about the ‘soap opera’ tendency.

    The technological implications are tickling my archaeological background. Leaping ahead in the progression (regression?) can I anticipate a version of Dart’s “osteodontokeratic” culture? It’d veer into horror territory if hide/skin were ultimately to fail.

    You’ll forgive my morning coffee speculations. Part of my enjoyment of such books is where my mind goes with it. Sometimes it takes it in its teeth and runs off into odd and darker places. ;)

    • Becky, it’s a series, so I wonder if each book has something different failing? I agree that it’s an intriguing premise. Just not done well, unfortunately.

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