Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Dystopic”

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.

LurkeyTurkey, #CBR4 Review #10, Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Love, the deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.

But that isn’t it, exactly.

The condemner and the condemned. The executioner; the blade; the last-minute reprieve; the gasping breath and the rolling sky above you and the thank you, thank you, thank you, God.

Love: It will kill you and save you, both.”

I’ve waited several days to write this review, to fully allow the novel to marinate in my brain because the last couple chapters really changed the entire momentum of the book.  The last few chapters were, in fact, a complete departure, and they were action-packed and taut.  The rest of the book was…  well, to quote The Princess Bride, a kissing book.

The story starts in Portland, Maine sometime in the future.  Society is under the brutish control of the government, and love, or Amor Deliria Nervosa, has been labeled a disease.  In an Equilibrium-like move, the government has determined that love, and really all strong emotions, are hindrances to control, and have required all citizens to receive “The Cure” at age 18.  The Cure is a medical procedure which prevents strong emotions, namely love, thus making the population complacent zombie-sheep (no, that’s a thing, trust me).  Invalids are the enemies of the state: unCured people living in “the Wilds” (the area outside of government control) who, according to the government, are attempting to infect the pre-Cured population. 

Lena, the protagonist, is a 17 year old girl just months away from receiving her Cure, and relieved at the prospect of being inoculated from the disease.  She is an orphan whose mother committed suicide when the government attempted to Cure her after 3 previous failed attempts.  Lena is believed to have this tainted blood, and is essentially an outcast and looked upon with suspicion by her Aunt and Uncle (with whom she lives), and various members of society.  Hannah, Lena’s only real friend, is well-to-do and gorgeous, and seems to have  a bit of a wild streak, which could be dangerous in this society.  Both girls are ready to graduate from high school, receive their Cure, get paired by the government with their mate, and lead lives of quiet subservience.   

All is on track until Lena meets Alex.  Commence kissing.  Alex is smart, handsome, and initially believed to be “safe” because he has been Cured.  Lena falls for him the way teenagers do, and spends the book hiding her illicit romance, and fantasizing about Alex during nearly every waking (and sleeping) moment.  They both realize the relationship is doomed, as her Cure looms, but are unable to stop their feelings.  Alex clearly has secrets, which are unveiled as the book goes on.

This was my introduction to Lauren Oliver, though I have read some high praise for her book, Before I Fall.  I think this book had an interesting (though hardly profoundly innovative) concept, and the execution was ok.  I hope that the characters are more fully developed and interesting in the second book, though I wonder why I should have to wait for that to occur.  The author had 400 pages to develop them in the first book, what happened?

I will say that Oliver did have some beautiful prose, and she managed to paint the canvas of the society through nursery rhymes, government propaganda, and the basic handbook to society, The Book of SHHH.  I think the audience would have been better served had this been 1 book, instead of the 3 that are planned.  Tightening up the story lines would have served for a much more taut narration, and more impact.  Still, I’ll read the next two books, if just for the cultural augmentations, like this nursery rhyme: 

Mama, Mama, help me get home
I’m out in the woods, I am out on my own.
I found me a werewolf, a nasty old mutt
It showed me its teeth and went straight for my gut.

Mama, Mama, help me get home
I’m out in the woods, I am out on my own.
I was stopped by a vampire, a rotting old wreck
It showed me its teeth, and went straight for my neck.

Mama, Mama, put me to bed
I won’t make it home, I’m already half-dead.
I met an Invalid, and fell for his art
He showed me his smile, and went straight for my heart.

Bottom line: a decent book, but really more for those who are into love stories instead of those who love the dystopic genre.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #2: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

So I saw this book mentioned in rave reviews all over the internets in the last year, and as I enjoy young adult quite a bit, I figured it might be worth checking out. I have to agree with what a lot of people are saying – young adult novels have certainly changed since I was a teenager. The plots tended to feature your teen pregnancies, and eating disorders, and homosexuality, and drug abuse, and AIDS and stuff. There were no sparkly vampires, or morally ambiguous fairies, or werewolves, or apprentice witches of the Discworld, or magical wizards schools, or Greek or Egyptian demi-gods, or criminal masterminds, and certainly no post apocalyptic future where most things have gone completely to hell, like in The Hunger Games or this one. Seriously, young adults today don’t know they’re born, they have so much good stuff to choose from.

Nailer works as a ship breaker, crawling through the tiny spaces of beached, rusting hulks, trying to scrounge enough copper wire to make the daily quota, so he and his work crew can eat for another day. His mum is dead, his dad is a calculating, deadly drug fiend who rarely has a good word for him. He’s fiercely loyal to his work crew, and fears the day when he grows too big to work stripping copper, as he may not be big and strong enough to get work on a crew stripping heavy things like iron. He watches the sleek, clean, elegant clipper ships that sail by, and hopes that some day he’ll find enough oil or gold to buy himself out of his dismal existence, but has very little hope of anything ever changing for him.

A few days after nearly drowning in a room filled with oil, a terrible storm hits the beach where Nailer and the other ship breakers live in shacks. When out with his crew mate Pima (whose mother is the only adult who seems to really care for him), he finds a stranded clipper ship, blown onto the beach by the storm. Inside the ship, they find enough luxuries to buy their freedom and set them up for the rest of their lives, but they also find a beautiful and clearly very rich girl, in the rubble. When trying to strip her jewelry from her, they discover that she’s still alive, and have to decide whether the kill her, and keep their new found riches for themselves, or save her.

Due to his recent near death experience, Nailer can’t bring himself to let Pima kill the girl humanely. They decide to rescue the girl, who assures them that her father will reward them handsomely for her return. But Nailer’s psychotic father and his crew of equally dangerous low-lifes have also discovered the wreck, and want to sell her to the rival band who want to take over her father’s business. Can Nailer go against the only family he has left, and abandon everything he’s ever known, to risk his life and possibly his future for a disdainful stranger?

Bacigalupi paints an all too convincing picture of our future in Ship Breaker. The ice caps have melted, the sea levels have risen. Pollution and reliance on fossil fuels have made much of the world uninhabitable. The gap between the haves and the have nots has become almost insurmountable, with most people scavenging whatever they can find, including blood and organs, to sell to the wealthy corporations. Terrible hurricanes ravage the coasts of what used to be America, and many of the big cities are under water.

Nailer’s life is awful, and you can’t fault him for dreaming about something better. He lives in a harsh reality, where you are loyal to your blood-sworn crew, and betrayal is punished swiftly and brutally. Without a crew at your back, you are nothing. Every character is beautifully fleshed out, with very little effort, and the world building is excellent. The descriptions Bacigalupi uses are stark, sparing and very effective. There’s quite a lot of violence and brutality, and the action rarely slows down for long.

I wanted to love the book, but something I can’t quite put my finger on, held me back. Maybe it’s just the sci-fi aspect. For some reason, I have a lot less time for science fiction than fantasy. I just can’t seem to like it as much. This was a very good book, but maybe all the glowing reviews had raised my expectations up too high. Still, it’s well worth a read, and people without a strange aversion to fantasy might enjoy it even more than I.

LurkeyTurkey #CBR4 Review #2: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

What a fun, frenzied, super nerdy romper room of a book. I picked this one up in the Chicago airport after Patrick Rothfuss (author of “The Kingkiller Chronicle”), recommended it on his blog AND on the dust jacket. And he was dead-on- this book was frakking awesome.

Welcome to 2044.  The world has gone to shyte, resources are scarce, violence is rampant, and most people escape this reality by jacking into OASIS, a Second Life kind of virtual reality containing thousands of worlds, including sci-verses (there’s a Wheedonverse, y’all!) where you can be anything or anyone you want to be.  Steve Jobs James Halliday, the creator and genius behind OASIS, has died, but not before leaving a Willy Wonka-ish easter egg and riddle, which will award the finder his entire $250 billion fortune and ownership of OASIS.   Years have passed, yet no one can seem to crack the code of this puzzle, and thus the great search for the golden ticket has gone a bit cold.

Enter Wade Watt, an orphan obsessed with OASIS and the ability to escape his grim reality.  As a true Halliday devotee, Wade has immersed himself in Halliday’s favorite books, games, music, and comics- all based in the 1980-2005 time period- and the keys to unlocking the puzzle.  He and his friends, none of whom he has met in person, get together to talk about the competition, quote random 80s movies, and sit around playing Asteroids whenever they aren’t in virtual high school.  They are OASIS prodigies, so deeply ingrained in the Halliday lore and culture that the competition is not just an abstract game to them; it is a way of life, a social and support network, and the means of their emotional connection to “the world.”  Wade stumbles upon the first portion of the solution, his name flies to the High Scorers board, and all hell breaks loose, both in OASIS and the real world.  The game, as they say, is afoot!

Enter stage right, the “Sixers,” a corporate army of OASIS players who are Machiavellian and driven by one principle: the ownership and commercialization of OASIS.  These be the bad guys, and make no mistake, they are evil.  Their corporate coffers allow them nearly endless resources and information at their fingertips, and they are gunning for Wade and his friends.  It soon becomes a frantic race to the final easter egg, possession of the fortune, and control of OASIS.

As a nerd from way back, I love the references (no, more than that, the open love letters) to 80-90s culture- it is truly nostalgia porn- featuring D&D, Rush, Voltron, Star Wars, Firefly, Blade Runner, and the list goes on.  It is particularly fun because these characters fully embrace the purest forms of the culture, without the other pesky real-world problems of that era (particularly the Cold War and bad hair).   If you’re not into all the gaming/music/film homage, this book is still a good frolic, but to truly fall into it, harness your inner nerd and get your geek on.

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