Tag Archives: dystopia

Solomon the Peacemaker by Hunter Welles

Solomon the Peacemaker by Hunter Welles: The structure of this book is rather unique: it is told as a series of interviews with a prisoner named Vincent as he tells the story of his crime. However, the interviewer’s words have all been struck, leaving only Vincent’s answers. Most of the time you can kind of intuit what the interview had said, but at other times it just feels like a convenient break in the narrative, not a place where someone would naturally speak. But that’s all right. It works far better than I was expecting, actually. Somehow a detailed story gets across even with such sparse dialogue and description. Not that I’m entirely clear on what happened, mind. World peace is controlled by a powerful and intelligent computer known as the Peacemaker. This computer is so complex it must interface with a human mind, so a host is chosen once every seven years. Vincent and his wife become involved with a man known as the Preacher, a kind of revolutionary who believes humanity is enslaved by the Peacemaker. It’s all very strange but my biggest issue is that I want to know what happened after the very last page. Did Vincent’s actions change anything? What exactly was he trying to accomplish, anyway? Was Preacher right after all? What happens to the hosts when they’re connected to the Peacemaker? And given the existence of a drug that erases memories, how much of Vincent’s tale even happened?

In short, I was waiting for an “ah ha” moment that never came. I suspect the author was hoping for this novel to serve as a kind of conversation starter. And indeed, I think I would have really enjoyed reading this alongside a friend and discussing it as we went – assuming, of course, that they picked up on more clues than I did. I feel like I didn’t absorb enough information about the world in which the story was set to truly grasp what happened, but I’m also willing to accept that this might be, like Neal Stephenson’s later works, the sort of book that I don’t understand but other people love. I’d recommend this book to someone who prefers their science fiction esoteric and experimental.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Feed by M.T. Anderson (unabridged audiobook read by David Aaron Baker; 5 hrs on 5 discs): In a future America where the internet is inside everyone’s head, Titus and his friends are regular teenagers just looking for a good time. At a club on the moon during spring break, they meet Violet, a homeschooled outsider hoping to experience regular teenage life. After their feeds are hacked by dissidents, Violet’s feed begins to malfunction, and Titus must choose between this interesting girl he’s just met and his longtime but shallow friends. I’m not going to lie to you: Titus is not a good or admirable person, but he’s actually pretty realistic. He’s self-absorbed and wishes bad things would just go away and not bother him. I’m sure many of us have wished an inconveniently ill person could just “get over it” but unlike Titus, we readers have a moral compass reminding us that their trauma is not about us. This is a dystopia clearly inspired by the inanity of the internet; most of the characters talk like they’re on Tumblr. I found it an interesting and worthwhile read, but if you need to have some level of fondness for the main character in a book, this story will likely be pretty hard to take. If nothing else, it reminded me of the importance of empathy and kindness.

A note on the audio: I am so glad I listened to this one. The entire thing is written in dialect that would surely have driven me mad in print, but isn’t so bad to hear. (It helps that Baker is an excellent reader.) Also, the feed ads are done just like radio ads, which brings some extra realism to the story. I was kind of confused when they first cut in, because I thought maybe my CD player had switched over to radio accidentally or something, but a lot of the content is actually quite absurd and funny.

The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem

The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem: Ijon Tichy is attempting to attend a conference of futurists when his hotel is attacked by terrorists with mind-altering gas. Through a series of absurd events, Tichy finds himself resurrected several decades in the future, when everyone relies on chemical supplements to provide them with all knowledge and emotion, perception-altering drugs that hide a distressing reality. This all sounds terribly dystopian and horrifying, and in some ways it is, but it is also pretty hilarious satire. It’s one of those sorts of books where you just have to go with it, and pay special attention to the made-up words and random asides, many of which are the funniest parts of the book. I hadn’t expected to so enjoy this book – I’d sort of expected it to be a bit of a slog, a book about an idea only tenuously strung together with plot – but this was quite a romp. The humor is dark, to be sure, but still quite entertaining.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin: The cover of my copy of this book claims to be the most influential science fiction novel of the 20th century. I’m not convinced that’s the case, unless it influenced Orwell and Huxley and Bradbury and claims vicarious influence through them, because let’s face it: most people haven’t even heard of this book. It is indeed a dystopia, where people have willingly sacrificed their freedom and individuality in the name of happiness. Everyone has a letter and number instead of a name. Everyone’s actions are completely synchronized, down to each bite of food. All walls are transparent except during sex, which is restricted to certain hours of the day and only with a pre-approved coupon from your partner. When our protagonist, D503, meets the alluringly subversive I330, his world is turned upside-down. Unfortunately, the writing is kind of terrible. A good portion of the sentences end in ellipses, leading me to wonder if anybody in this world is capable of finishing a sentence. It leaves a whole bunch of stuff to inference. Maybe I’m just dense, but I had a lot of trouble figuring out what was going on. And then, after all that confusion, the ending still manages to be trite and predictable. There’s a reason why 1984 and Brave New World are more famous than this one: their plots and philosophies, at least, are possible to follow. If you read only one dystopian novel this year, choose something else.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

Extras by Scott Westerfeld (unabridged audiobook read by Corine Montbertrand; 11 hrs 45 min on 10 CDs): I almost didn’t read this book at all. I was so upset at the end of Specials that I figured I might as well just give up on the series, since Extras was supposed to be just sort of an additional story rather than a continuation. But a friend of mine convinced me to give it a try and I am so glad I did. While the first three Uglies books took place somewhere on the west coast of what used to be the United States, for this book we have been transported to Japan. It’s been a few years since Tally’s adventures and the Mind Rain (the removal of the lesions causing people to be Pretty-heads) has caused the world to go a little bit crazy. In Japan, Aya lives in a world of face rank – measures to fame compared to the other people in her city. They live in a reputation economy, where relative fame means more credit to purchase items. Aya is a kicker – what we’d call a vlogger – and in order to become famous she goes undercover with a secret clique of fame-shunning maglev-surfing girls. When she unwittingly stumbles upon the biggest story in the world, she attracts a whole lot of unwanted attention.

This isn’t just another story taking place in the same universe as the rest of the series: it actually is connected. Loose ends are tied up and I felt extremely satisfied by the end – and getting there was a hell of a lot of fun as well. Radical Honesty – the physical inability to lie or even hold back the truth – was an interesting plot device that ended up being more funny than contrived. I loved all the new characters and while I guessed at the truth behind the mystery pretty early on, I still enjoyed watching them figure it out. And, of course, the appearance of some of my beloved characters from the previous books was much appreciated. Definitely a worthy finale to the series.

A note on the audio: Despite my dislike of Monterbrand’s stoned-sounding male character voices, I was impressed at how well I was able to distinguish between each of them here. Hiro was especially entertaining.

Specials by Scott Westerfeld

Specials by Scott Westerfeld (unabridged audiobook read by Corine Montbertrand; 11 hrs on 9 CDs): Though the title really should have prepared me for this installment of the Uglies series, I spent much of this novel in a state of anxiety because I really hated Tally and I didn’t want to hate Tally. Alas, that lasted until the part when I cried, then I spent the rest of the book feeling pretty despondent. On the bright side, Shay is back in my good graces and All Is Not Lost, but I sure hope Extras cheers me up a little bit.

A note on the audio: Montbertrand shines as always. I am sure her narration played a part in my unhappiness, since I clearly care about these characters.

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld (unabridged audiobook read by Corine Montbertrand; 11 hrs 15 min on 10 CDs): I am so glad I had the next book in the series in hand when I finished this one, since it ends on a “Tally noooooooo” cliffhanger. But up until then, I really enjoyed it. The romance aspect was handled much better, though it probably didn’t hurt that I totally fell in love with Zane. I got pretty tired of Shay, but luckily she wasn’t as prominent a figure here as in Uglies. Mostly I just really enjoyed returning to this world with its strange rules and fascinating technology. The introduction of Andrew Simpson Smith opened up a whole new layer of interesting subplots to this world, and was one more reason I was so glad not to have to wait between books. I was amused by how all the Pretties talked like Joss Whedon characters. I have to admit I’d totally be a Pretty. I like to think that I’d be all brave and independent like Tally and Zane, but the truth is I’d be perfectly content being vain and lazy like the rest of the Pretties. I’ll hold off on judging the whole series until I’ve finished it, but I definitely liked this installment.

A note on the audio: I’ve been consistently impressed with Montbertrand’s ability to create voices that manage to change between transition from Ugly to Pretty while still keeping the character’s voice distinct. I will say that I really hate Shay’s and Dr. Cable’s voices, but that’s actually a compliment because I also think they’re absolutely perfect for those characters. My only real complaint is that all of Montbertrand’s male characters sound bored or stoned. But oh well.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (unabridged audiobook read by Carolyn McCormick; 11 hours on 10 discs): The war with the Capitol has begun! Katniss is front and center as usual, this time as a sort of mascot for the rebellion. As she reunites with her prep team and frets over Peeta’s safety, the lines between the Capitol and District 13 start to blur. Though there are no Hunger Games this time around, this unflinching and horrifying war story more than makes up for it in terms of violence. The awkwardly forced romance that bored and exasperated me when reading Catching Fire is all but gone here, overshadowed by far more pressing issues. In fact, were it not for Gale’s constant harping on whom Katniss will choose, the whole thing may have been moot. And though there were plenty of shocking and heart-breaking moments, the ending was one of hope.

My favorite character is probably Haymitch, bastard that he is, though I’ve always had a soft spot for Buttercup that only strengthened through this last installment of the series. This is definitely a trilogy I’ll be rereading at some point. I love the characters, but I’m also fascinated by how uncertain Katniss (and thus the reader) is about whom to trust. This is part of what draws me to dystopia stories in general, actually: how else but through misinformation does an entire population become so well-controlled?

A note on the audio: McCormick was once again excellent in her treatment of this book, with both the humor and the horror.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica Roth (unabridged audiobook read by Emma Galvin; 11 hrs 11 min on MP3): This is not a good book to read while on a YA dystopia kick unless you simply cannot get enough of it. The influence on Roth by giants like Collins and Westerfeld is too painfully evident. Our heroine is Beatrice, native of the Abnegation Faction which values selflessness and comes across a bit like an extreme form of Amish. Each Faction is built around a separate value: Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (peace), and Erudite (knowledge). At the magic age of 16 (what is it about that age in young adult fiction?), you choose the Faction you will spend the rest of your life in – that is, if you pass the initiation. Feeling like she’s not nearly selfless enough to live in Abnegation, Beatrice chooses Dauntless at the last second, and is launched into a crazy world of thrill-seeking and combat. There was plenty of action, and it was kind of fun watching Beatrice grow from a timid Abnegation to a self-assured Dauntless in little jumps. That was enjoyable and believable. The rest of it, while perfectly fine as far as it went, felt like something I’d heard before. It’s certainly not a bad novel. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more had I not recently read so many other YA dystopia novels. As it is, it was nothing more than a pleasant diversion while recovering from surgery.

It’s interesting how many YA dystopia novels focus on societies where your life path is chosen from a limited number of possibilities and can never change. My guess is that this is in response to the typical teenage angst regarding all the choices they find themselves facing: colleges, careers, relationships. Sometimes it feels like it might be nice to have it all decided for you. Of course, these stories always involve someone who breaks the mold, thus showing the importance of being free to make your own choices. I also think it’s interesting that it’s mostly women (though The Giver by Lois Lowry is a notable exception). Despite the occasional repetition of theme, I still find myself drawn to dystopia stories, YA and otherwise.

A note on the audio: Galvin was fine. Not very memorable, but the characters’ voices were distinct without being caricatures, which is really all I can ask for in a narrator. I’d like to thank Bewitched Bookworms for this book: I won it in one of their monthly Whisper Stories in My Ear contests. Thanks so much!

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (unabridged audiobook read by Carolyn McCormick; 11 hrs 37 min on 10 discs): Katniss is back home in District 12, richer than ever but still not safe from the Capitol’s reach. I enjoyed the story, even if it was clearly just a bridge between the first and third books in the trilogy. The love triangle was completely forced, reminding me eerily (and embarrassingly) of something I wrote when I was about 14. I like both guys and can understand Katniss’s dilemma, but it was still pretty unbelievable. All the same, it was fun to dive back into this weird world of specialized Districts, and I look forward to reading the third installment that has garnered such strong reactions.

A note on the audio: McCormick continues to shine. I wonder if seeing the movie will be weird after getting so used to her voices for all the characters.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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