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:
<i: our bodies>
<i: our tits>
<i: our pussies>
<i: our uteruses>
“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.