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

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The Cover Made Me Read It: The Dream Protocol: Descent by Adara Quick

The soft, vintage tones. The flowy dress. The dramatic clockwork moth. The lovely font on the cover. I had to read this.

The premise: Diedre is a teen in a futuristic underground city where the caste system is all, sleep and dreams are manufactured by the elites, and anyone who turns 35 is eliminated from the system. In a dystopian world frantically obsessed with youth, Diedre’s best friend, Flynn, was born with a genetic condition that ages him prematurely. If anyone finds out, he’s as good as dead.

Impressions: I was looking for some Lana Del Rey summertime sadness with this – a touch of hipster, a bit of romantic subplot, a dash of dystopia.

Instead, and despite the incredibly clever world concept, the novel reads like a kind of morality tale, in which teen characters speak out against the system in eloquent, full sentences and rhetorical questions. Continue reading

[Book Watching] Upcoming Movies – New Divergent trailer

The official Divergent trailer has hit the internet last week, and the canaries are all a-twitter. Set to hit the big screen in March 2014, we still have a bit of a wait, made only slightly more bearable by the upcoming October 2013 release of the Allegiant, the third book in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series.

The trailer has that Hunger Games/Distopian vibe, so I look forward to seeing what director Neil Burger will bring to the table. You might recognize his name from his fantasy-real-world crossover thrillers like Limitless and The Illusionist. The cast features the largely unknown lead actress Shailene Woodley as Tris, Kate Winslet as the ruthless Jeanine Matthews, and Theo James as Four, everyone’s favorite love interest.

More to the point, I want to see how the book’s impossible premise – all people are just one specific personality – plays out in the movie medium. Veronica Roth will also be speaking at this year’s National Book Festival, so I look forward to hearing about her upcoming novel and the movie.

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[Book Review] I can’t tell if the dystopian socio-economics here are better or worse than in the first book

Meg’s Review of Insurgent by Veronica Roth

This review will contain spoilers for Insurgent.

The Goodreads Choice Awards 2012 are in, and Insurgent by Veronica Roth was crowned top YA SciFi Fantasy book of the year. I’m sort of baffled by this – by the fact that it beat out this whopper of a list:

  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
  • Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
  • The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  • Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
  • Insurgent by Veronica Roth
  • The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore
  • Onyx by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • The Selection by Kiera Cass

I mean come on – beat Cassandra Clare and the wonderful new comer Cinder? Mostly I’m surprised because I read Insurgent and started this review post in July and could never get up the gumption to actually write it because I was just that unimpressed by this follow-up to Divergent.

Insurgent opens more or less immediately after the chaos of the previous book. A quick refresher about this whacko world (you can read more about it here): In some sort of post-apocalyptic Chicago, the city’s population is split between five factions: Dauntless (courage), Erudite (knowledge), Candor (honesty), Amity (friendliness), and Abnegation (selflessness). Well, Abnegation is pretty much not there anymore because of a revolt that led to all of them getting offed (long story), and the Candor and the Erudite are now in this epic pissing battle standoff, while the Amity has shut their doors and poopooed on the whole lot of them. Oh, and most of the Dauntless are mind-controlled zombies. Continue reading

[Indie Book Review] Vampires hiding on the high seas

Indie Book Review: City of Promise by Dawn Prough

In the not-so-distant future, Misty works as a maintenance diver at Gideon, a city floating in the middle of the Atlantic, a haven for the undead. She’s good at her job; it helps that she doesn’t need to breathe. But during one night dive, she discovers a dead body, weighted and tangled in the nets. In a world where all vampires are one deportation away from execution, Misty wants nothing to do with corpses and criminal investigations. But then she meets Li, a man with a death wish, a dangerous past, and a connection to the body Misty found.

This book was a welcome addition eBook addition to my vampire-filled shelf. Prough does something different in her novel, City of Promise by moving her story and vampire heroine out of the urban fantasy setting into the 2063. From the delightful gritty details of the world (based on a real-world proposal of a city extension off Boston in the 1970s), to the (sometimes) over-the-top action, to the (scrappy) dialogue, the novel kept me tapping the screen for the next page. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Perfectly passable dystopia

Meg’s Review: Ship Breaker by  Paolo Bacigalupi

Audiobook read by Joshua Swanson

At a recent trip to Barnes and Noble, I found a themed display table that proudly declared “IF YOU LIKE HUNGER GAMES.” And I do indeed like Hunger Games, so I moseyed on over to peruse the selection. Most of the books I had read–the I Am Number Four seriesDivergent, Variant–and there, in the corner, was Ship Breaker.

“That’s the one that was billed as sci-fi dystopia. I kept expecting aliens to show up,” I told my shopping partner.

“Looks like it was a National Book Award Finalist,” she said, tracing the embossed award announcement on the cover.

I just sort of blinked at her for a moment before blurting, “But God, that book was so boring.”

And it was. Ship Breaker is written in beautiful prose–no less should be expected from the uber-talented Paolo Bacigalupi. But I almost think it was a case of being too beautiful. I actually listened to the book and found myself phasing out of the narrative for ten minutes at a time only to phase back in and realize that the character hadn’t actually moved at all. The past ten minutes of audio had been scenery description, observation of other character’s actions that had little to do with plot, or a lengthy internal debate. It made for great multi-tasking, but it did not make the text particularly engaging–or memorable.

Ship Breaker follows Nailer, a young-ish boy in a world set in the distant-ish future. His life revolves around stripping the old oil tankers that dot his Gulf of Mexico beach village of all their usable parts. In the aftermath of a hurricane, Nailer finds the boat of a rich girl smashed upon the rocks. Instead of the lucky strike of wealth he is imagining, the discovery of the boat propels him on an adventure that sets him at odds with the greatest villain he knows: his own father. Continue reading