Archives for posts with tag: dystopian fiction

joanWhen I read the description for THE BOOK OF JOAN, I thought, “oh, interesting, a science fiction retelling of Joan of Arc.” But that’s maybe the most basic a description that could possibly be attributed to Yuknavitch’s book. Not to be trite, but this story is about the nature of humanity and love, and whether those two concepts can ever really coexist.

Humanity has nearly come to an end. Aboard the space station CIEL, the remainders of Earth’s population work to find a way to survive. As they’ve been exposed to radiation from the atmosphere, humans are pale and hairless. Standard interpretations of sex and gender have become irrelevant. They can no longer reproduce. For means of entertainment, they turn to extreme body modification, aka “grafts”.

Grafts come in different types, including elaborate skin grafts that replicate 17th century French powdered wigs. The higher one’s status, the more extreme the graft. Different artists on CIEL create these grafts. Christine is one of these artists and specializes in branding stories into skin. On her body, she has branded the story of Joan.

Joan is a rebel who fights against the leader of CIEL, Jean de Men. Joan’s story, as you can imagine, mirrors the life of Joan of Arc. As a little girl, Joan has a strange encounter where she more or less connects spiritually to a tree. From this encounter, she receives a glowing light on her right temple. This light defies all explanation; no doctor can discover where it originates. But it connects Joan to the Earth and grants her power over nature.

On CIEL, the official story is that Joan was burned at the stake for being an eco-terrorist. (In this future world, even executions are theatrical events.) But Christine discovers that Joan escaped and lives on the wasteland of Earth below. Both Joan and Christine fight against the sadistic Jean de Men, but in different ways. As the stories of Christine and Joan spiral together, the book comes to a dramatic, though not uplifting end.

More than anything, THE BOOK OF JOAN is a piece of feminist science fiction. Yuknavitch deals with bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, and gender expression in what I would describe as lurid detail. I have to admit, this is not a book I’d recommend to everyone. It’s definitely a book for readers who don’t mind a bit of the grotesque. There are scenes that vividly describe torture of various kinds, including human experimentation. Yuknavitch pulls no punches. But if you’re brave enough to give it a chance, THE BOOK OF JOAN will provide you with a lot to think about.

Red Rising by Pierce BrownAdult Fiction

Darrow is a miner beneath the surface of Mars. He and his fellow Reds spend their lives underground in a dangerous, unforgiving world so future generations will be able to successfully and safely inhabit the surface of the planet. The Reds are the lowest in the castes of colors. From Red to Gold, slave to ruler, each color serves its purpose.

Darrow is content with his role. He understands that his sweat and blood, his obedience and incredible skill as a Helldiver are necessary to supply the surface with the miraculous terraforming helium-3. He must suffer so others will thrive.

This contentment begins to unravel when Darrow’s mining crew—his family—fairly and rightfully mines more helium-3 than any other. As a reward, the Lambda clan should receive the Laurel—the increased rations and luxuries usually won by the Gamma clan. When the Gammas receive the Laurel despite having been beaten, Darrow’s faith and his obedience are shaken.

Then a tumbling of heartbreaking events lands Darrow on the surface of Mars as part of the Sons of Ares, a terrorist organization that reveals the truth: Mars has been habitable for generations. Huge cities thrive on its surface. Luxuries and amenities abound for people of every color caste except the Reds who are kept both literally and figuratively in the dark.

Now Darrow must decide how far he’s willing to go to bring justice to his people. The first step is to infiltrate the Golds—the ruling caste—by becoming one of their most elite. No matter how brutal that process may be.

“Red Rising” is incredibly good. From the first lines: “I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war” I knew I was hooked. By page 50, tears streaming down my face, I knew this was one of Those Books. The kind of book that, when read at the right time, has the power to impact readers like no other book can.

Darrow starts out as a wide-eyed teenaged boy who is smart enough to know that his society’s caste system is rigged against him, but is naïve enough to believe that it’s serving a greater good. As events unfold, Darrow transforms into an angry and determined man who has but a single focus—vengeance.

Darrow narrates his story, so not surprisingly, he is the most developed character, but his narration gives life to the characters around him and makes his world feel real. The pacing is just about perfect. Slow where it needs to be and break-neck to keep the pages flying. The connections between the characters aren’t as palpable as I would have liked, but they’re still fairly solid. With just a touch of romance, Brown keeps things spicy without making it trite or gratuitous.

When you read the cover of “Red Rising,” you’ll see all the comparisons to other, super popular books that “Red Rising” is garnering. They’re accurate comparisons, but “Red Rising” doesn’t really need them beyond the first few chapters. It competently stands on its own in the Science Fiction and Dystopian genres and should, by all means, be read by fans of “Hunger Games,” “Ender’s Game” and the like. Just know that you’re getting something different and new with this one too.

Note of warning: this is the first book in a series. Book 2 is not out yet and “Red Rising” ends with quite the cliffhanger.

September 30-October 6 is “Banned Book Week” for 2013.  It is a coincidence, however, that the books I’d decided to review this week are some that have been on the ALA’s “most challenged” list several times in the past.  Libraries worldwide have always supported an individual’s right to read whatever books an individual so desires.  Personal tastes run to various genres, topics, and titles to read.  We are fortunate in the U.S. to have this personal freedom.

Also coincidental is an email I received this week via a library list-serve.  Although all libraries support an individual’s right to read, not all governments do.  According to a news report, just about a month ago in Cuba, librarians were arrested after attending a technology workshop on the use of Kindles.  According to the report, Cuban authorities consider independent librarians as counterrevolutionaries at the service of the U.S. government.  I’m supposing unfettered electronic access to books constitute a threat to the government.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry has a similarly totalitarian government.  In this book, society has given complete control to the government.  There is no war.  There is no poverty.  There is no sickness.  There is no unemployment.  There is no love. There are no choices.  There is only “Sameness”.

Until age 12 each citizen becomes a year older at a ceremony and at the same time.  At age one, a baby is assigned to a family unit to raise.  At age three, girls are all given hair ribbons so their hair will be identical.  Age four children are given a jacket buttoning in the back to foster dependence on and cooperation with others.  Seven year olds receive front-buttoning jackets as a first sign of maturity.  Bikes are given away at the Ceremony of Nines.  At age 12, a child is assigned his or her life’s work.

At the “Ceremony of Twelves”, all the children received their vocation except Jonas.  He was skipped over when his job should have been assigned.  At the end of the ceremony, Jonas is finally singled out  to become the Receiver of Memory.

As The Receiver, he is mentored by The Giver, the only person possessing the memories of the community before Sameness was begun.  Jonas discovers books, he discovers colors, he discovers music, as well as discovering less pleasant things.  This newfound knowledge demands choices, hard choices for Jonas.

Originally written as a stand-alone title, The Giver, has ultimately turned into a tetralogy (I learned a new word trying to describe these books).  At the end of the The Giver, Lowry leaves a lot to the reader to decide how it should/does end.  Over the years (because of reader demand?), Lowry has expanded this story to include Gathering Blue, Messenger, and just released October 2nd, Son.

Gathering Blue appears to be a stand-alone book as well, also featuring a dystopian society.  It is not until Messenger that the three books begin to be tied together.  I am eagerly the library’s receipt of Son which will no only ask more hard questions, but hopefully bring the story full circle to completion.  Although the books are considered juvenile fiction, there is a lot of meat in them for adults to digest and to form a basis for conversation with kids who read them.

Some good themes for discussion include personal choice, the role of government, human relationships, the preciousness of life, what kind of world will we leave for our children, and the quest for truth among others.  Joplin Public Library has the first three of this tetralogy in print, audio, and electronic format.  Initially, JPL will have the fourth volume in print format.

Celebrate your freedom to read at Joplin Public Library!


P.S.   There is an interesting New York Times Magazine article just out on Lowry.  It’s worth the time to read!

Cassia Maria Reyes lives in a society where free choice is non-existent.  The “Officials” in charge instruct citizens on what food to eat, what clothes to wear, they assign occupations, choose mates and they even select the date of death for each citizen.  Nothing is left to chance and Cassia has always believed that choice is a small price to pay for having an ideal life, until her seventeenth birthday when she is matched with her best friend Xander Thomas Carrow.

At first she feels lucky to be matched with Xander—he is honest, trustworthy, her childhood best friend, plus he is strikingly good-looking—but when Cassia plugs in her Match microcard to look at Xander’s  information, another boy’s face flashes on the screen for an instant causing her to question the choices that are being made for her.

While one should never judge a book by its cover, this one could not be more perfect.  Book browsers will be struck by the simplicity, as well as the image of a long-haired girl, wearing a party dress, trapped in a green-tinted bubble.  Matched definitely has the marketing campaign to push it to best-seller status, but more importantly, its engrossing, fast pace will make it hard for readers to put it down; though the unfinished ending—thus meaning a sequel is in the works—may leave some with a sour taste in their mouths.

While the title is reminiscent of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Ally Condie gives it a teen edge by creating a love triangle; though this dystopian fantasy is about much more.  She also, flawlessly, uses Cassia, and the book’s supporting cast, to draw readers into the internal struggle between doing what society assigns and thinking outside the box.