Tag Archives: dystopia

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (unabridged audiobook read by Corine Montbertrand; 12.5 hrs on 11 discs): Tally is an Ugly, eagerly awaiting her 16th birthday so she can undergo “the operation” to become Pretty, which transforms her to have all the most evolutionarily desirable physical traits. Then she will move to in New Pretty Town and reunite with all her formerly Ugly friends. Until she meets Shay, who speaks of a place where no one becomes Pretty, where everyone is free to look however they look. When Shay disappears, Tally must find her or risk her worst nightmare: Ugly For Life. Obviously there’s more to this whole Pretty deal than it seems at first; of course there’s something to be said for accepting yourself as you are, but if the only change was cosmetic this wouldn’t be a dystopia story. The “hover” technology was a lot of fun from a SF point of view, but the romance was pretty unbelievable: they go from absolutely nothing to twu wuv in no time at all. It felt pretty forced; I guess you can’t have YA without some kind of relationship. Still, I really enjoyed this one. The ending was reasonably satisfying while being very clearly the start of a larger story. I’m curious to see what ends up happening to Tally and her friends.

A note on the audio version: Montbertrand was a good choice for narrator. Though her voice for Shay was pretty annoying, it was also absolutely perfect for the character. I was especially impressed with the subtle shifts in intonation for the same character before and after their Pretty operation. I look forward to hearing her interpretations of other books, most especially the rest of this series.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (unabridged audiobook read by Carolyn McCormick; 11 hours 11 minutes on 9 discs): In a kind of Battle Royale-meets-The Running Man-type setting, each of the twelve districts in what used to be the United States must submit two randomly-selected teenage tributes – one boy and one girl – to the annual Hunger Games, where they fight to the death until only one remains. The story starts on Reaping Day (the day the tributes’ names are drawn) and ends when the victor returns home. Our narrator, Katniss, volunteers to be a tribute for District 12 (somewhere in the West Virginia area, I think) when the name of her younger sister is chosen. Since she’s the one telling the story you can be reasonably sure she won’t die, but it’s still quite gripping as you follow her fight for survival. There was a good balance between the drama of the games and Katniss’s confused emotions as a sort-of love triangle emerges. Never a dull moment. Can’t wait to find out what happens next.

A note on the audio: McCormick was great, using subtle but distinct voices for each character. I especially enjoyed her version of Haymitch, and I look forward to her interpretation of the other books in the trilogy. And for some reason, even though I knew she was supposed to be an olive-skinned brunette, I kept picturing Katniss as Atlanta Silverstone. I don’t know if this is because of the character or the narrator, but that’s how it is.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Anthem by Ayn Rand

Anthem by Ayn Rand: Dystopia stories fascinate me because they say so much more about the social issues of the author’s own era than the future. Here we have a collectivist society, where the good of the many outweighs the desires of the one. Our hero is a street sweeper, so designated because when it was his turn for a job, what was needed most was another street sweeper. He dreams of being a scholar, but is shot down for thinking himself better than others by rising above his station. When this was written in the late 1930s, collectivism was a popular idea, though in its extreme eventually contributed to the rise of fanatical nationalist groups such as the Nazi party. This particular story is not an especially memorable tale, since it is just about a misfit in a repressed society who eventually escapes, sees the light, finds the truth, etc. Hurray for individualism. Sometimes I wonder if Rand’s vision of a dystopian future is so popularly maligned because she preached not just cultural individualism, but economic individualism as well. This book in particular emphasizes the importance of every man working in his own interest rather than for the nebulously-defined public good, though she tends to gloss over the drudgery of factory work and those jobs that don’t provide a living wage. Sadly, not everyone has the option of doing the job he wants, or even the job that might serve as a stepping stone to the job he wants. If they did, the world would have a whole lot more artists and a whole lot fewer waiters.

That said, I find Rand’s writings interesting because they represent such a different way of thinking from the norm. Yes, they are preachy, but I don’t find them offensive. After all, the biggest tenet of the philosophy put forth here is the right to choose one’s own path, rather than allowing it to be dictated by another. I can see why that would be an appealing idea, even if in many cases it is woefully unrealistic. After all, we aren’t all lucky enough to inherit copper mines or train companies.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Messenger by Lois Lowry

Messenger by Lois Lowry: Matty is the messenger for Village, the one who can brave Forest to deliver messages between various settlements. The story begins at a pivotal moment in his life: he’s discovered a wonderful and terrifying ability, he will soon receive his True Name, and Village, founded as a sanctuary for refugees, is considering closing its doors. It is the third of a loose trilogy that began with The Giver (a truly excellent novel) – that is, it takes place in the same universe and has some overlapping characters. I never read the second book, Gathering Blue, but I didn’t feel like I needed to. Truth be told, I wasn’t that impressed with this story. It was too predictable, even for a young adult book. Maybe I’d have liked it better had I read Gathering Blue (or at least more recently read The Giver) but I doubt it. Usually I like dystopian tragedies but this felt forced. All in all, not one of Lowry’s better books.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

1984 by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell: I’ve wanted to read this for a long time, but was never forced to in school and just didn’t get around to it until now. It’s an important book. Not only does it detail the dangers of totalitarianism, but also raises some really good questions about the nature of the past. Basically, if something happened in the past, and then all documentation was changed so that it appears to have not happened, and then everybody says it never happened, how can you be so sure you really remember it at all?

A brilliant book, if a bit slow in places. It’s driven much more by description of the dystopian land of Oceania than by character or plot. If you’re interested in the inner workings of the socio-political landscape, you’ll enjoy it. If you just want a fun little sci-fi romp, this probably isn’t for you.

All the same, I think it’s a book people should read. The world of 1984 may seem overdramatic, but it is one plausible outcome of the gradual sacrifice of privacy and property in favor of governmental protection or the nebulous “common good.” It’s something worth thinking about. Indeed, that is perhaps this book’s strongest point: it left me with an unusually large number of things to think about. That, my friends, is truly high praise for a novel.

[Note: Star Trek: The Next Generation totally ripped off this book in the episode “Chain of Command” with the five/four lights thing. But Picard was a whole lot more badass under pressure than Winston, so they get points for that.]

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