Not to sound ungrateful, but after the success of the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, does it really come as a surprise that Margaret Atwood is writing a sequel?
Originally published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale was a standalone story – in fact, Offred’s story was framed as a collection of tapes found by an archaeologist in the far, far future. So it makes sense within that framing device that Margaret Atwood’s next installment, The Testaments, skips over to follow three completely new(?) female characters 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale ends. (Will we ever find out what happened to Offred? Unlikely. And I’m okay with that.)
I’m about halfway through reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale with Tash from The Bookie Monster, and it has dawned with me that over the last few years, I’ve slowly lost sight of what the dystopian genre is all about.
The Handmaid’s Tale takes North Korean oppression, mixes in the gender-driven segregation of fundamental Islam, and frames it all in the language of Christianity. In no place in the text can you take a step back and scoff, this can never happen. It might. The story makes you believe it might.
This is the chilling power of the genre – it says, This could be the world. Our world. Tomorrow. The dystopian genre is a cautionary tale. It’s a warning. It’s the uneasiness of premonition. It is the Greek seer Cassandra, blessed by the gods to see the future and cursed to never be believed.
Reading The Handmaid’s Tale, it occurred to me that the mushrooming teen dystopian genre has been selling oppression lite. To win itself a shiny “dystopian” label, the ubiquitous YA book checks the box marked “oppressive society” and perform a token wave to its character’s rejection of the status quo. These worlds don’t need to be realistic or thoughtful or threatening (and perhaps that’s why Divergent’s world pissed me off. Several times.) They just need to involve oppression. The weirder the better. Continue reading
Monday Mine Inspection is a new weekly series talking about some of the new and upcoming releases dropping into bookstores this week. Into the mine, canaries! Let’s start the week with a book audit.
I’m a sucker for a good YA series–especially if it has the words “ancient gods” or “dystopian future” anywhere in the blurb. This week, we’ve got a couple of sequels that show plenty of promise. Here are some new releases that just might be a perfect fit for your reading appetite…. Continue reading
Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed
If your body is a temple, it stands to reason that keeping fit is an act of holiness, right?
In the America of Thinner Than Thou, by Kit Reed, the attainment of the perfect body has supplanted religion. People “repent” for overeating at health clubs, an order of nuns works to convert both the anorexic and the obese to the lean-but-fit ideal, and fitness guru meets evangelical preacher in the character of Reverend Earl, a national celebrity/savior.
The story follows Annie (anorexic) and Kelly (morbidly obese), friends who fall under the care of the Dedicated Sisters, and Jeremy (chubby and, unforgivable, aging), a middle-aged man who’s spent his life savings to train under the guidance of Reverend Earl himself in the weight-loss paradise of Sylphania. Of course, all three soon find that nothing is what it seems. Forced feeding, starvation, and sinister agendas abound, and what they learn about Reverend Earl’s dark secret could endanger all of their lives. Continue reading
Kat’s Review: Hollowland by Amanda Hocking
In Hollowland by Amanda Hocking, hardcore teenager chic Remy travels with a Canadian, a rock-star, and a fashionista teenybopper through a post-apocalyptic, zombie-ravaged landscape on a quest to find the military quarantine holding her brother. Romantic subplots are plentiful, but for a post-apocalyptic tale of horror and adventure, there aren’t enough zombies to fertilize a garden. The true monsters the companions encounter are their fellow man (in the form of polygamous cults, armies of psychopaths, and military law). But while these subplots are tense and suspenseful, it was a downer that the slow-moving zombies never made me fear for the character’s lives or health. In part, this was because they had a lion in their car.
Wait, what? Is that a typo?
Nope. It’s a lion. Lioness, to be precise.
Though Hollowland starts out with a modified T.S. Eliot quote, and the title is a nod to his melancholic poem “The Hollow Men,” I would have pulled a more tonally appropriate title and quote from Old Possum’s Practical Cats.
Ripley (the aforementioned lion) is a very practical, zombie-eating feline. When Remy (the teenager) takes pity on a chained-up lion, the cat ends joins their party rather than eating it, and then goes on to display a remarkable preference for rotting, undead flesh. The tigers show up later, but they seem to prefer to make friends with evil humans.
This entire Lion-Tiger thing may have caused some fatal suspension of disbelief issues, but that’s a chirp for another day.
Let’s shift back to the reading experience: Continue reading
The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse, by Dale Pendell
North Atlantic Books, 2010.
Maybe you’ve seen those images of the earth’s biggest cities underwater, edited to show the predicted effects of climate change on the coastlines we know and love. Maybe you remember the summer when Armageddon and Deep Impact came out, or the next year when Y2K-induced panic sent people rushing to 7-11 for more bottled water.
Fortunately, The Great Bay isn’t really like that. Though it’s the story of The End of the World As We Know It, it’s a gradual end, with lots of beginnings. It’s a history of the earth after the Collapse, a global pandemic that kills most of mankind. What happens next happens slowly, over the course of almost sixteen thousand years.
That’s a pretty enormous scope, so Dale Pendell focuses in on California, and the gradual widening of the San Francisco Bay into a basin at the center of the state. While this is the earth’s story, told on a chronological scale only earthquakes, canyons, and rivers understand, Pendell gives it a human voice. Continue reading
As a general rule, we at tCR do not review author requests for short stories. We are wing-deep in novels and rarely have time to spare to read even the shortest of one-shots. So it was pure serendipity that Tracy Marchini’s review request for The Engine Driver came through at the height of my work-place boredom. I clicked on the attached PDF before I’d even read the blurb. And I must say that I’m quite happy I did—partially because the blurb needs a little Pitch Slapped lovin’, but mostly because it was an absolutely delightful story.
The story follows Brig, a depressed teenager in a world where any negative emotions are attenuated by an internal playlist of music meant to adjust mood. When her best friend is selected to be a Musician, someone who can actually craft music, Brig sees an opportunity to finally hear a song that she wants to listen to—rather than one that has been carefully selected to attenuate her constantly sad existence.
That explanation actually makes the plot sound about 800% more emo than the story actually was. The characters were engaging even while wading through the subplot of wanting to hear a love song played when standing near a boy. The fact that a 6,000 word story has a flipping subplot should be an indication that Marchini has a knack for story-telling. The Engine Driver had nice subtleties to it, enough to gloss over a couple of places where the narrative stumbled.
Since this is just a Small Chirp and not a review, there’s no official Canary rating, but an unofficial rating would put it solidly in a four happy canaries territory. I hope this is the first of many forays that Marchini takes into Brig’s life. I would happily read an entire novel set in the music-controlled world she lives in.
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