The Handmaid’s Tale gets a sequel

Testament.jpgNot 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.)

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Defining Dystopia. Hint: It’s not about love triangles.

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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 offSeveral times.) They just need to involve oppression. The weirder the better. Continue reading

[Monday Mine Inspection] Squawk-worthy sequels

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

[ Book Review ] When Hunger is Holy

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

[ Book Review ] Lions and Tigers and Zombies, oh my!

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

[ Book Review ] The Great Bay, by Dale Pendell

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

[ Small Chirp ] An Indie short story worth checking out

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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[ Book Review ] Almost like the lovechild of Twilight and Shakespeare

Meg’s Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

The reading experience of  Divergent fell neatly into the ‘like watching a train wreck’ category. I could not look away, not even though I was way, way too close to the tracks. When the train flipped, surely it was going to take me out as well.

My Nook went everywhere with me in hopes that I might be able to sneak in a few pages during lunch breaks and line waits. Because I had to know–had to know–whether or not the world was simply going to implode on itself by the final chapter.

In post-apocalyptic (or at least future dystopian) Chicago, the city’s dwindled population is split between five factions, each devoted to a certain positive characteristic of humanity. Beatrice was born in Abnegation–the faction devoted to selflessness. But as that would make for an amazingly boring book, on her Choosing Day, she selects to transfer to Dauntless–the faction that believes that courage is the order of the day. She must go through their abrasive and violent initiation–and, in the process, discover what the hell to do with herself. Because she doesn’t belong in just one faction. Her aptitude test shows that she is the most dangerous of all citizens: a Divergent with traits of more than one faction. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] When a good blurb leads to a dead canary

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

(a book written in eight weeks)

In the aftermath of a terrorist attack in San Francisco, the tech-savvy, teenage Marcus Yellow and his friends find themselves in the struggle between what is “politically necessary” and the unalienable rights of the individual. They take the fight against Homeland Security to the digital world.

Can a few school kids make a difference?

Do I recommend this book? It depends. Does the small speech excerpt below do it for you?

“My name is Marcus Yallow. I was tortured by my country, but I still love it here. I’m seventeen years old. I want to grow up in a free country. I want to live in a free country.” (290)

If yes, please feel free to ignore my review and read the book (you can download it free and legally here). If you’re not completely convinced, continue.

This is a review requested by a friend who said: “Read something by Cory Doctorow – I want to know if I should.”

The Review:

It is not a good sign when you hit page 27 and you already have enough material to make up an entire review. I decided to trudge on to page 50 just to see if things improved — an explosion of action at that point convinced me to slog my way to page 75. But my dedication just made my list of problems so long that I had to cease and desist. It’s for your, the reader’s, benefit that I stopped. Anything longer than this and you would have died by proxy.

Where to begin? Perhaps at my nonplussed reaction at the awards the book was listed (or nominated) for, or the blazing critical reception it received. On reading the rave reviews, I began to doubt my sanity. Was I even reading the same book?

Exhibit 1:

“But to his credit, Doctorow weaves a captivating story that raises serious political issues without hitting you over the head with the hammer of civil liberty.” From SF signal

From Little Brother:

“I use the Xnet because I believe in freedom and the Constitution of the United States of America. I use Xnet because the DHS has turned my city into a police-state where we’re all suspected terrorists. I use Xnet because I think you can’t defend freedom by tearing up the Bill of Rights.” (192)

Exhibit 2:

“Marcus is a wonderfully developed character: hyperaware of his surroundings, trying to redress past wrongs, and rebelling against authority.” – School Library Journal

From Little Brother:

“The Man was always coming down on me, just because I go through school firewalls like wet kleenex, spoof the gait-recognition software, and nuke the snitch chips they track us with. […] I raised my arms over my head like a prizefighter and made my exit from Social Studies and began the perp-walk to the office. […] Spending Fridays at school was teh suck anyway, and I was glad of the excuse to make my escape.” (22)

Exhibit 3:

“I’d recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I’ve read this year, and I’d want to get it into the hands of as many smart 13 year olds, male and female, as I can.” – Neil Gaiman

It’s interesting to note that Neil Gaiman is referenced (and quoted) in the introduction of the Creative Commons version of the book. Also, each chapter of the Commons version starts with a shout-out to (and the address and phone number of) Doctorow’s favorite bookstores.

Little Brother says, question everything.

Exhibit 4: 

 “I was completely hooked in the first few minutes. Great work.” –Mitch Kapor, inventor of Lotus 1-2-3 and co-founder of the EFF, on Little Brother.

I just don’t…I don’t know where I went wrong in reading this book. Maybe if I’d have stuck to the end, I’d have had a stunning revelation that this is the most evocative dystopian struggle against encroaching totalitarianism since Orwell put pen to paper. Perhaps 1984 does meet Catcher in the Rye in Little Brother.  But I couldn’t finish, and because of this, I will refrain from addressing any of the socio-political or thematic issues I noticed in the first 75 pages. I’ll talk about the story instead, and the many things that made me sad inside.

Let’s start at the beginning.

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