Tag Archives: dystopian fiction

The Monday Book: MEMOIRS OF A SURVIVOR by Doris Lessing

I like most of Lessing’s work, but she can be a real downer. This book picks up on some scenes that appear in others, and since this was published in 1974, I’m assuming these were the first appearances, and their refinement came in later works.

Somewhere in her life, Lessing saw or felt that girl children were valued less than boys. She’s got this running as a sub-theme through a lot of her novels, and it’s here in a few of the scenes involving Emily, the teenage protagonist of this novel.

The novel has two protagonists, the second one also being the narrator, a woman in late mid-life who watches from her London flat window as society breaks down around her. Think “The Road” because there’s no specification of what’s happened, just reactions to it. The societal disorder is actually pretty ill-defined, because it’s mostly there to explain why there are bands of roaming young people terrorizing the city. Think “Children of Men.” Something’s gone wrong centrally.

The narrator gets Emily in a very strange way; one day a man knocks on her door and tells her this child is her responsibility from here on out. And the narrator says “Fine.” Think Stephen King, eschewing explanation and yet not sounding implausible because it’s all so human-nature driven.

Then Emily gets into all sorts of scrapes and her pet Hugo is getting eyed up by the gangs for dinner, and it’s not going well, and…. well, the ending is a bit of a shocker. It’s actually happy. That’s all I’m gonna say.

This book requires a lot of the reader. Nothing is what it seems, except is is. Everything is falling apart, and yet some things are getting better for no reason. If you like literary fantasy – and I’m not even sure that’s a genre – you’re going to love Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor. If you like things explained, best pick up something else.

When she published it in 1974, Lessing called it a dystopian fable. Apparently, it was made into a movie in 1981. I don’t even want to think what violence the subtle writing and edgy themes would have suffered in that process. I’d say this book is like steel lace. The beauty is unusual in where it’s found, yet the writing is so delicate in describing bluntness. Steel lace.

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The Monday Book: THE BAR CODE TATTOO by Susanne Weyn

First, apologies for last week, when dental surgery knocked me out of the world for a few days. I read Tattoo as escapism – somebody was having a worse time than me.

Weyn’s premise is interesting: everyone gets the bar code tattoo, encrypting all the data about them, on their seventeenth birthday. It isn’t mandatory, but it’s encouraged. Except it’s becoming mandatory. And as this takes hold, more and more people are getting the raw end of this deal, because the government knows everything about them. Promotions, health care, educational access: it’s not an open system  now that people are open books.

What’s interesting is that only one small dialogue in the book is devoted to the Christian take on what is essentially the Mark of the Beast plan. Weyn concentrates instead on the rebellion of teens and the growing awareness among people that the tattoo is ruining instead of assisting their lives.

While the writing is what I’d consider lumpy and the characters pretty thin, I liked reading it because I’m fascinated by dystopian lit, and YA fiction. And Biblical retellings, although this one ignored the religious angle. Her second and third book take up that piece a wee bit more, but overall this is more teen thriller based on futurism than any form of religious fiction.

It’s not the kind of thing I would read every day, but when you’re in the mood for frenzied, freaky, and futuristic, you couldn’t do better than the Tattoo series. (Weyn’s next books are Barcode Rebellion and Barcode Prophecy.)

 

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The Monday Book: UNWIND by Neal Shusterman

So yeah, most readers have a secret fondness for at least one area of YA fiction. Mine is dystopians and fantasy. And frankly, as far as I can tell, these days all YA fantasy IS dystopian.

I picked up UNWIND by Neal Shusterman to shelve it, from a box that came in for trade. And got intrigued with the premise on the back cover, about the last American war (The Heartland War) being fought over reproductive rights. And how now life begins at conception but from 13-18 a child can  be “unwound,” body parts farmed out for all sorts of operations for all sorts of reasons. It’s a boon to the economy and really a good deal for everyone except the Unwound Kids.

And it all goes from there. The book follows three kids, one whose parents give up on him, one a ward of the state, and one a tithe, from a family who has ten kids. Shusterman actually begins the four sections of this novel with quotes from ebay, denying someone the right to sell his soul (because if it doesn’t exist it’s fraud, and if it does exist it’s body parts, which they don’t allow), another about Ukranian orphans being organ harvested in 2003 (mass grave found outside the orphanage and shut down after outrage) and a third about Einstein and consciousness.

Shusterman’s book is intended to be more terrifying than gross. It goes for the jugular. And of course it has parts that just don’t hold up, but one really needs to enter this dystopia with a little willing suspension of disbelief, or what’s the point? And once you have, it’s a lot like reading Sheri Tepper. The exquisite sarcasm crafted so carefully in the words of those who escape Unwinding, reflecting back the odd slogans about bodies and rights, is funny. Dark, but funny.

It’s a creepy book, but well-plotted, with solid characters that don’t just serve as straw men. You know the people in this novel, which makes it all the more disturbing how some of them meet their end.

Two thumbs up (both still attached, thanks) for UNWIND.

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