Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Dystopian Fiction”

Mrs Smith Reads The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, #CBR4, Review #24

“There is more than one kind of freedom. In the days of anarchy, it was ‘freedom to.’ Now, you’re being given ‘freedom from.’ Don’t underrate it.”
—The Handmaid’s Tale

The first time I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, it was just after it was published in the mid-1980s. Thinking back, I remember the book being a quick read, with an interesting take on a dystopian future scenario which depicted a fundamentalist Christian political resurgence born out of the decadent, free-wheeling sexual and economic liberation of the late 20th century. In the story, women are reduced to chattel and are forced into marriage, servitude or sexual slavery by the Commanders of the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States of America. Education and reading are forbidden, heretics are executed and hung on a wall for all to see, women have no rights and can’t own property and the all-seeing eye of the government is based on fundamentalist, old testament “values” that preserve male superiority and control. I was in my early 20s and proud to have been an active participant in a decade of progress in women’s rights, the firm cementing of women’s choice in health care decisions, growing women’s employment and financial independence (even though it was the middle of the Reagan-era). I thought the allegory made for a good read, but seemed a bit far-fetched.

Hearing recently that two local women got 2000+ people to sign a petition to remove The Handmaid’s Tale (and others) from the suggested (not required) Summer reading list for Senior AP English students at my son’s high school, claiming that it “denigrates Christianity” and contains “pornography,” I was a bit surprised. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “I don’t remember anything about that book being even remotely steamy.” I did remember the repressive, puritanical regime and at the time I first read the book, I thought it pushed the envelope of possibility. Thinking about it again, in light of the most recent attempts at reigniting the so-called “culture wars,” in particular this small skirmish here in my own neighborhood, I wondered how I would feel about it today. So, I did what too often isn’t done in these situations: I downloaded a copy from the library to my Kindle and gave it a re-read.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Caitlin’s CBR4 #38: Pure by Julianna Baggott

This is such a strange book, a story of the aftermath of a huge explosion. Some people were inside the Dome when it occured, they are the Pures. Those outside of the Dome were warped and mangled, fused to objects or other people. It’s an adventure story in a horrible wasteland. I liked it when I read it, but I kept thinking about it long after I finished. Oddly, I ended up liking it more as I thought about it.

You can read my review here.

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR4 Review #67 Rite of Passage by Alexi Panshin

There are books that change your life when you read them.  Books that somehow alter your perspective on the world for the better and make you feel more prepared to face the challenges in your own life, even if that novel is a work of fiction.

Rite of Passage was first published in 1968 and won the Nebula award that same year.  Written by American SF critic and author Alexi Panshin, Rite of Passage is a semi-dystopian novel about the Universe in 2198.  The Earth no longer exists, destroyed amid desperate wars and overcrowding.  Civilization is preserved aboard 7 giant ships that travel amid the hundred colony worlds that still hold the human civilization.

Discover why this is one of the books that will top my “Must Read” list forever on my BookhoardingDragon blog.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 36: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Amazon description: “The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God’s Gardeners–a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life–has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God’s Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible.

Have others survived? Ren’s bioartist friend Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her onetime lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the shadowy, corrupt policing force of the ruling powers…

Meanwhile, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo’hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through this strange new world, Ren and Toby will have to decide on their next move. They can’t stay locked away…”

(This is going to be kind of a lazy review — sorry.) Like Oryx and Crake, I had a bit of trouble with this one. Not so much with the story or the book itself, I suppose, but the way that Atwood (and many reviewers) seem to think that this world is an inevitability. I suppose only time will tell if I’m the one that’s naive here, but I find all of the “a world so similar to our own” rhetoric around these two books a bit overdramatic and tinfoil-hat-y. I mean, sure, genetic engineering and gene-splicing exist, but not like this. There are elements of truth and feasibility, but I don’t think we are depraved enough collectively to move in the direction portrayed in these novels. We’ll see, I guess.

Anyway, story-wise, I liked this one more than Oryx and Crake, mostly because I liked the narrators in The Year of the Flood a lot better than I liked Jimmy/Snowman in Oryx and Crake. What can I say — Toby and Ren’s backstories of survival and coping with adversity were a lot more interesting than Jimmy’s “Woe is me, my best friend is smarter than me and I’m in love with a manic pixie dream former child prostitute” memoir. The narrative gets a little jumpy, as the characters’ backstories catch up to the present, and the switches between character POVs are broken up by God’s Gardener sermons and hymns, which I found a little trite and tiring. Overall though, it was an interesting read, but not one of my favorite books this year.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 34: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Summary: “One choice can transform you–or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves–and herself–while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable–and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.”

I liked this one a lot, but I’m going to get kind of senior thesis-y, so the rest of my review is going behind the jump. Read more…

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 33: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Amazon: In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

This one has been reviewed already and loved by many, so I’ll not get too long-winded, and just add my voice to the chorus. I loved this one; I’m truly a sucker for dystopian YA, it seems! Books of this ilk will be inevitably compared to The Hunger Games for awhile, but while Divergent shares its tone of dark anxiety and element of dangerous competition, the novels are otherwise obviously different. I liked that the reveal of what it meant to be Divergent wasn’t given away immediately — it allowed suspense to build and the conflict to become more urgent. I did not like, as much, that some people were revealed as Divergent, a bit too conveniently, I think, toward the end; though Tris (the protagonist) still did have to force her own resolution without relying too much on these reveals.

I don’t have it in me to do a much longer review, so suffice it to say that if you’re into YA or dystopian lit, you should absolutely check this one out. I, myself, am waiting for the sequel to come off of hold at the library!

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR4 Review #30 Wither by Lauren Destefano

Yet another dystopian novel jumps on the bandwagon, hoping somehow to snare a portion of the reading audience so enchanted by Hunger Games. Like Matched and a few of the other novels I have been reviewing as part of this challenge, Wither makes a brave attempt to carve its own place among the competition.

The marketing campaign behind this series is brilliant and certainly has its pulse on where the next generation goes to create a buzz. The website for the trilogy is slick and the trailer on YouTube feels almost like a movie trailer aiming to entice a techno-savvy generation into reading this novel.

The basic premise of the Chemical Garden series is simple yet disturbing. Thanks to the meddling of science and the attempts to eliminate diseases, a plague has affected all of the younger generations of humanity. Men now die at the age of 25 and women at the age of 20 from the virus that plagues civilization. The gap between rich and poor has widened to the point where the wealthy are now able to entice or kidnap multiple brides for their young sons to breed successive generations or find a cure before they themselves (the untouched older generation) perish wither and die.

I found this novel very disturbing as my rating and the rest of the review will explain. It does contain information which could be considered “Spoilers” so I did not post the full review here, but kept it to my bookhoarding dragon site.

I found this novel very disturbing as my rating and the rest of the review will explain.  It does contain information which could be considered “Spoilers” so I did not post the full review here, but kept it to my bookhoarding dragon site.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 12: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I’m not really going to be fair to this novel — just throwing that out there. Oryx and Crake is a dystopian novel with genetic engineering/biotechnology as its cause célèbre. In the present, all “organic” humans are dead, leaving only behind the protagonist, Snowman, and a small race of humans that Snowman refers to as “Crakers.” How Snowman came to be the only living human from prior generations is initially a mystery, but it is unfolded throughout the novel in flashback format.

There is a lot in the plot to unpack, and I won’t go into it in detail. This book is much more interesting for its thematic elements. In addition to tackling the ethnics of biotechnology, Oryx and Crake also discusses commercialism and consumerism, class segregation and education, and sexuality and objectification. These themes are really the meat of the novel; everything that occurs in Snowman’s flashbacks serve as opportunities for him to critically ponder the implications of the situation. It’s not really a morality play, though, because a lot of Snowman’s choices are made for him. He is just dealing with the repercussions, and has the benefit of perfect hindsight as he’s looking back on his life.

So why did I earlier say I’m not going to be fair to this novel? Well… it’s hard to explain. Novels like 1984 and Brave New World have a lot to do with psychological conditioning, and the ‘nurture’ side of things. For whatever reason, I never had difficulty accepting that this kind of manipulation could happen in real life, and that’s what made those particular stories so compelling for me (and others, I suspect.) On the other hand, novels like Oryx and Crake tackle ‘nature.’ It’s about tangible, scientific manipulation that causes animals and humans to be different from what they once were. Of course, there are real life foundations for this — GMO food is certainly controversial enough, and we use genetically-modified animal models regularly to study gene function and disease pathology. We’ve floated theories that we would eventually see ‘designer babies,’ where parents could select for certain genetic variants that improved their children’s overall fitness (in the Darwinian sense.)

I don’t know, maybe my imagination is finite and it just ends before this novel begins. But I just don’t see it coming to this. There are only a few elements in here that seem scientifically feasible, and I’m not just talking about now — I’m talking about not being feasible ever. And unfortunately, not being able to suspend my disbelief did detract from my overall satisfaction with the story. I’m not saying that it’s not good, or that it’s not well-written, or that there aren’t some really gut-wrenching moments. Overall, it’s actually pretty compelling; it’s one of those books that stays with you for awhile. So despite my personal limitations, I do recommend this one for fans of dystopic books.

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR4 Review #25 Delirium by Lauren Oliver

The Hunger Games trilogy’s success has spawned a whole slew of dystopian society novels trying to grab a piece of this trendy readership pie.  I am far more critical of this phenomenon having lived through it already for both Harry Potter and Twilight.  Every time a writer creates something unique that catches on, writers and publishers alike seem to flood the market with similar offerings.

I found Delirium, by Lauren Oliver, on a table at Chapters with a buffet of other dystopian novels and a sign that read “If you loved Hunger Games… try these!” The photoshop montage cover that has become so affordable for publishers to produce (instead of the older tradition of hiring an illustrator) did little to make the book stand out from its companions, but the first part of the back jacket copy caught my attention.

“They say that the cure for LOVE will make me happy and safe forever.  And I’ve always believed them. Until now.”

Intrigued, I picked up the book and began to skim through the first chapter.  The first person narrative and writing style was gripping enough that I decided to add it to my basket.

Delirium is an easy read.  The writing style is simple yet highly descriptive.  The premise around which the novel is based, that love is a disease that must be cured and eradicated, is griping enough for most of us that it lures the reader on.  The awakening of a sense of individuality in the main characters, so threatening to any strictly governed society, is both poignant and captivating.  There were a few moments that felt a bit too overblown to me, too Romeo and Juliet or Edward and Bellaish… until I  remembered the emotional highs and lows of my own teen years.

Lauren Oliver does a great job of creating a rich and detailed background against which her story can take place.  Her limited range of characters are developed enough that you come to care about them as the tale unfolds.  The plot twists are clever and well planned.  As Delirium raced towards its conclusion, I found myself checking ahead to see how many pages were left with a touch of dread.  Sure enough, the ending felt abrupt and dissatisfying.  Like Matched, one of the other dystopian YA novels I’ve already reviewed, the story seemed to rely a bit too much on setting up the next book and leaving loose ends rather than creating a world and a tale that left the reader wanting more because of how well it was crafted.  The preview for Pandemonium, the next book in the trilogy (really? It’s a trilogy?) was OK… and I will probably pick it up if I see it on sale… but if this first paperback format is released to sell me two HARDCOVER books afterwards… I think I will pass.

Paperback format, 441 pages, published in 2011 by Harper

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 10: Harmony by Project Itoh

I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s about a young woman, Tuan Kirie, in her society set about 50-60 years in our future. Sometime around 2020ish (the dates are not exact, but that’s about when it seems) our world self-destructs and we begin launching nukes at each other, a time of chaos referred to as the “Maelstrom.” Billions of people are killed, and the survivors develop a strong instinct for the collective protection of humanity. Remaining society quickly shifts toward a humanist, “lifeist” perspective, fostering the philosophy that every body is public, and the maintenance of life in good health is a public good. Adult “civilized” humans install WatchMe, a nano-program that monitors every aspect of the body: metabolism, the endocrine system, mental/emotional state, etc… the list goes on. If something off-kilter is detected, an immediate remedy and/or counseling can be prescribed.

In the present, Tuan is grown, but much of the novel is retrospective. She presents memories from when her and two friends were younger, and the actions that led up to them trying to kill themselves as a way to rebel against the system. Those memories are interspersed with a present-day crisis in which, out of nowhere, six thousand people across the globe (intended to be a significant number given the reduced population) simultaneously attempt suicide. Tuan is tasked with getting to the bottom of what happened.

The premise is interesting enough, and as the story developed I got more into the novel. However, there were a lot of problematic elements for me in this book. One of these things is very minor, but I can’t help but mention it. Littered throughout the retrospectives are declarations from the girls that their bodies are theirs, not public (an idea that is pretty topical at the moment!) I take issue, unfortunately, with the way the male author chooses to express this:

<list:item>

<i: our bodies>

<i: our tits>

<i: our pussies>

<i: our uteruses>

</list>

“These things are ours. That’s what we’ll tell them.”

Can I ever get a reprieve from women being defined by our sex characteristics? PLEASE? Outside of this motif (and yes, it was repeated several times) there was no attention paid to sex in this book, so it just seemed bizarre to shoehorn in this faux-empowerment message by listing their female body parts, rather than every other part of the body that was also under public control.

Okay, so that was one thing. Another was that this book really was rife with a lot of new-age psychobabble about philosophy and consciousness, and it grew very trite and contrived after awhile. Ultimately, I suppose my assessment would be that the bare-bones plotline was interesting, and that if offered some choice thoughts about a direction in society that, quite frankly, we wouldn’t find too difficult to move in. Otherwise, some of the writing choices did turn me off.

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