Tag Archives: Dystopia

Measuring Up to Other Dystopian Worlds: Divergent Review

Review by Nōn Wels: Check out his writing/political/philosophy blog, A Thousand Screaming Rabbits.

In reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent, two other book series came to mind. One, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. And the other, the massively popular Hunger Games trilogy from Suzanne Collins. While I don’t think Divergent packs the same amount of punch like that of Uglies or Hunger Games, I do believe it has just enough exciting elements for an enjoyable read.

Akin to the different houses at Rowling’s “Hogwarts,” Roth’s world is separated into factions. Five factions, in this case. Each of which dedicate their lives to a particular culture and ideal. Candor values honesty. Abnegation values selflessness. Dauntless values bravery. Amity values peacefulness. Erudite values intelligence.

And like all the other kids turning 16, Beatrice (or “Tris,” as she calls herself) has to decide which faction is for her. She does, but the result is something she wasn’t at all prepared for.  What follows is an enjoyable and often exciting dystopian tale that has the right idea about how we live. Ms. Roth, it seems, understands that things are not always so black and white; that the narrow-minded can, in fact, be quite dangerous; that it’s important to recognize individuality as it pertains to the cultures or “factions” we live within; and that each culture holds inherent value we as individuals need to recognize—for ourselves and our factions.

Unfortunately, even with the above mentioned, I was mildly disappointed in the story’s originality. It just seemed, as I was reading, that I had read it before—in Uglies and Hunger Games, for instance. I wanted something more. Something that I didn’t see coming. Something that was going to surprise me.

All in all, it was fairly enjoyable. And, being the dystopian junkie that I am, I will continue reading the series. But with some trepidation.

Age Group: 12 and up
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction
Themes: Science Fiction, dystopian, identity, discrimination
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books

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Hunger Games Trailer

I kind of love the trailer.  All right, I don’t kind of, I really do.  I am not skeptical about this movie.  I am very hopeful and I can’t wait to see it.  If I am disappointed when I actually get to see it then c’est la vie.  For now I am going to be super excited :

See the Hunger Games Trailer

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The Knife of Never Letting Go

Review by Nōn Wels: Check out his writing/political/philosophy blog, A Thousand Screaming Rabbits.

It’s not often I find myself so enamored, so transfixed by two books back to back. First, The Marbury Lens, which utterly floored me (read the review).  Second, after reading The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, I came to realize just how much I adore dystopian fiction. I like the idea of looking into a future that came about as a result of certain social, economical, religious, political and/or governmental action.

With that said, I couldn’t have prepared myself for the first sentence: “The first thing you find out when your dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.”

In Prentisstown, everyone can hear what you’re thinking. The thoughts are aptly called “noise.” There are also no women in the town, which, in addition to the noise, is a result of some unknown virus. When the story opens, the protagonist, the twelve-year-old Todd Hewitt, discovers a place where the noise doesn’t exist – a sort of patch in the air in which all is silent, and the noise is nonexistent. Unfortunately for Todd, the peace doesn’t last.

With the oppressive elders from Prentisstown, including the maniacal religious leader Aaron, at their heels, Todd, along with Viola, the young girl (yes, girl; and the first female he’s ever met) and his dog Manchee, flee for safety and survival. Over the next few hundred pages, Patrick Ness sets up a story that is both fast-paced and cognizant and indicative of its dystopian intentions: themes of privacy, gender politics and religious fundamentalism run throughout.

In addition to its fascinating story, the author writes in such a language that speaks to a post-apocalyptic, post-brick and mortar education colloquialism that is both rough and endearing.

I truly enjoyed this story, and I would recommend it to just about anyone. I am looking forward to reading the second book in the series.

**The Ask and The Answer: Book Two and Monsters of Men: Book Three are already available at your local independent bookstore!!

Age Group: 14 and up (Contains some bad language and sex is mentioned – 14 is really just a guess so you be the judge)
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction
Themes: Science Fiction, dystopian,
Publisher: Candlewick

CommonSenseMedia.org – This tells you in detail what is in the book that “might” be questionable.  Kind of interesting tool.  But if you are really worried about stuff then just read the book!

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Postmodernism in Feed?

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Feed, by M.T. Anderson, left me thinking about it for months and I even forced a friend to listen to the audiobook.  I needed to share with someone this inexplicable, yet totally real, world Anderson creates in Feed.  This review is long overdue.  I read this–actually I listened to the audio version of this book quite a while back, perhaps a few months ago.  There is something about this book that intrigued, frightened, and repulsed me–but I loved it.  My friend enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as I.  He just couldn’t find the main character, Titus, in any way likeable.  Titus is not likeable.  He is a quintessential teenager in a future that is dominated by consumerism and instant gratification.  He is not meant to be likeable.  I look back on my teen years and at times I find myself unlikeable.  The choices/decisions I made that were usually driven by a hormonal and insecure ego led to some ridiculous moments.  I look back and shrug my shoulders, chalking it up to my age, but when I am forced to relive teenage years through Titus it is almost unbearable.  He is utterly self-centered!  But again, he is also intriguing.  He develops a relationship with Violet, a socially aware teenage girl who contributes to Titus’ development as a character.  His fascination with her and her fascination with him is what drives this book.  You love her.  She forces Titus to confront issues of consumerism, the deteriorating natural world, and the global impact of technology on society in the most pleasantly benign manner.  She does not preach at Titus, but wholeheartedly shares her concerns as with a lover or an intimate friend.

Anderson never specifies  how far in the future the novel takes place, but it is clearly the Future with a capital “F.”  The first scene features Titus and his pals taking a trip to the moon as if it were the same as going to the mall.  The slightly annoying vocabulary of these futuristic teens captures the age perfectly.  In Anderson’s Future, most humans are implanted with a “feednet” that delivers pop-up like advertisements directly to your brain the minute you step into a store or look at a billboard.  Imagine walking around and you happen to catch a glimpse of an empty Starbucks cup, immediately the Feed will shoot a verbal advertising assault to your mind.  It’s like having radio commercials broadcasting directly into your brain.  Corporations are capable of monitoring what your interests are directly from your brain waves.  It is kind of creepy.  Privacy is non-existent.

M.T. Anderson - The Mastermind

The thing that makes this young adult Sci-Fi novel postmodern is its ability to create a world where language has become stupified by the future and by technology.  Titus is unable to write because all messages are sent through the mind, like a telepathic instant messenger.  The novel focuses on an uneasiness and suspicion towards the future, as well as the past.  The short snippets of the Feed disorient the reader at times, always reminding the reader of the constant pro-consumerism intrusion into the internal self.  Interiority is being exploited.  The result of such a world leaves humans only able to ingest information but never digest, resulting in a shallow humanity and utterly vacuous teenagers.  The question remains–Is there redemption for Titus?

Did I mention I kind of love this book?

Age Group: 16 and up (Contains bad language and teenagers being teenagers)
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction
Themes: Science Fiction, dystopian, social issues, postmodernism
Publisher: Candlewick Press

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Is a Utopian Prison Possible?

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Catherine Fisher explores the idea of a utopian prison in her book, Incarceron.  Utopian prison!?  What!  Is that possible?

Basically, in a nut shell, the novel contains two constructed utopias, the Outside and Incarceron.  The Outside is ruled by Protocol, which was decreed by King Endor “as a world free from the anxiety of change.”  The rulers have chosen an Era from the past and require that all who live within the realm follow the strict protocol of that particular era.  Imagine an amusement park where all of the employees are forbidden to break character (See “Super Fun Time” South Park episode which makes fun of these parks).  The people living in the Outside must adhere to the rules of  a Victorian-like Era, however, there are instances when highly advanced technology (or even just washing machines) are referenced but such technology is forbidden.  The big caveat to the law/Protocol forbidding the use of advanced technology is that the government can spy on you using highly sophisticated listening and visual devices.  Basically, technology is used, but only when it is to enforce control over the people.

Incarceron has been created to hold prisoners.  At the start of each chapter there are brief illuminations on why and how the world is the way it is.  At the beginning of Chapter 6 the Court Archives describe Incarceron as a Utopian experiment:

“All criminals , undesirables, political extremists, degenerates, lunatics would be transported [to Incarceron].  The Gate would be sealed and the Experiment commence.  It was vital that nothing should disturb the delicate balance of Incarceron’s programming, which would provide everything needed—education, balanced diet, exercise, spiritual welfare, and purposeful work—to create a paradise.”

Early on in the novel, like in the first twenty pages, the reader realizes that Incarceron is much closer to a dystopia* rather than a utopia.  In fact, both worlds, the Outside and Incarceron, appear to be struggling under government control.  This sets up the worlds Fisher creates but not the characters.  Claudia, daughter of the warden, finds herself rebelling against the Protocol within the Kingdom, while seventeen-year-old Finn attempts to break free from the clutches of the prison, which by the way is alive (Please imagine Gene Wilder playing Dr. Frankenstein and crying “It’s alive!”).  Incarceron is so sophisticated that it is actually alive and considers all of the prisoners it’s children.  The book focuses on Claudia and Finn as they attempt to upset the “utopian” balance of their worlds and in the end must help each other to break free.

The creation of these worlds highlights the improbability of ever having a utopian society.  While the world of Incarceron is much more dramatic in emphasizing the troubles with government control and the ridiculous idea of utopian societies, the Outside kingdom’s idea of Protocol, of essentially banning progress and change from ever occurring, creates just as much of a dystopia as Incarceron.  Can a government find a policy to make everyone happy, to create a utopia without restricting the rights of others?  An excellent short story that further explores the idea of utopias is “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin.  If you haven’t read it, then you should!  Along with Incarceron.  Fisher does an amazing job at creating the worlds in this book.  I found myself fighting against my body’s need for sleep, especially towards the end!  I wanted more than anything to find out what happens at the end and I was not disappointed.

Expect the sequel, Sapphique, in December 2010!

*Dystopia: –noun– a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding. Dictionary .com

Age Group: 13 and up
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Themes: Fantasy, Utopia, Friendship, Adventure, Prison
Publisher: Dial Books, imprint of Penguin

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Dystopian Young Adults

I have been considering writing a blog about the dystopian young adult novel, however, The New Yorker beat me to it.  Check out this interesting article “Fresh Hell” by Laura Miller.  To come soon will be a review about the book Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, which Miller mentions in her article.

This image is from The New Yorker article.

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