Tag Archives | Dystopia

Borne | Jeff Vandermeer

The cover of Vandermeer's BorneRachel and Wick live in a nightmare. The world they can’t remember—except through drug-like memory beetles inserted into their ears—has been destroyed and abandoned by The Company. Their lives have been reduced to scavenging the debris and detritus of failed biotech experiments. Then Rachel found Borne on the flanks of Mord, a multi-story bear-human hybrid experiment. Did I mention that Mord can fly?

If you’re reading this second paragraph, you might enjoy the New Weird genre described by Rose O’Keefe as “cutting edge speculative fiction with a literary slant.” Vandermeer’s Borne is not meaningless fiction. Publisher’s Weekly elevates it beyond weird fiction. Borne is “weird literature.”

The ethical dilemmas that Rachel and Wick face resonate with those that humanity faces in real life. This is all wrapped in a mystery story that will keep you frantically turning pages until you reach the end.

Like his earlier Southern Reach Trilogy, Borne is a compelling work of New Weird literary fiction that challenges the reader to see the real world in a new light.

 


Vandermeer, Jeff. Borne. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2017.

All Tomorrow’s Parties | William Gibson

The cover of Gibson's All Tomorrow's PartiesWilliam Gibson’s books are a window into a disconcerting future. His future isn’t the shiny clean tomorrow portrayed in countless Apple ads—his future is full of grit and blood. Even the virtual worlds he envisions are tagged and twisted by hackers.

In All Tomorrow’s Parties, the main story takes place on the Golden Gate bridge which has been deemed undriveable since the earthquake. It has become makeshift city of people living in hand-built cubicles. The police leave them alone. They are a social experiment unto themselves. Meanwhile, in a cardboard box on the other side of the planet, a dying man has developed the ability to interpret raw information as it’s funneled to his body through his eyephones.

All Tomorrow’s Parties is Gibson’s third book in the Bridge Trilogy. You don’t have to have read the first two to follow the third, though. Trust me—I started at the back end of this trilogy.

You might call Gibson’s future post-apocalyptic, except there was no worldwide apocalypse. Everything he writes seems like the disturbingly plausible consequences of our own technological ambition.

—William Gibson, All Tomorrow’s Parties (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1999).

Pump Six and other Stories| Paolo Bagigalupi

The cover of Bagigalupi's Pump SixOne of the most profitable ways to interpret apocalyptic literature is to consider what the words meant to the original hearers. Revelation, for example, was a worship text for the early church which gave them the confidence to persevere in trial. In an analogous way, Bagigalupi’s collection of short dystopian fiction speaks volumes to our present reality.

I purchased this collection because two of the short stories it contains (“Yellow Card Man” and “The Calorie Man”) were precursors to The Windup Girl. These stories were nominated for the Hugo award and won the Sturgeon Award, respectively. As powerful as these stories were, I was captivated by some of the other stories just as much. Each story, regardless of the mechanics, illustrates some of the trajectories of our world, pursued ad infinitum.  “The Fluted Girl” is a story about genetic engineering and politics gone awry. “Pop Squad” explores the quest for eternal life, along with its dark corollaries.

The title story was perhaps the best of the lot. If you’re concerned at all about societal tendencies towards distraction and hedonism, “Pump Six” explores how far down that road we could go as a society, wrapped up in a compelling mystery story.

Pump Six is a disturbing but important collection of stories that describe a world left to its selfish devices—apocalypticism without the hope.

—Paolo Bagigalupi, Pump Six and Other Stories (San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2008).

MaddAddam | Margaret Atwood

The cover of Atwood's MaddAddamI closed my review of The Year of the Flood (the previous book in the series) with, “We can only hope this turns into a trilogy.” MaddAddam is the third book I hoped for.

Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy is the story of a dystopian future where human greed and pride have clashed to unleash a plague that wipes out the vast majority of humanity. The first two books in the series tell of this”waterless flood” from two different perspectives. They loosely cover the same amount time. In MaddAddam, these two stories converge and the timeline moves forward, albeit with frequent flashbacks.

At its core, MaddAddam follows the relationship between Toby and Zeb, two people who try to come to grips with their past lives as they live in the apocalyptic remains of their world. These characters are complex and surprising. Their past lives allow Atwood to explore themes like religious cults, the authority of large corporations, the ethics of genetic manipulation, and the role of law in a radically subverted context.

Atwood’s exploration of this world is shocking and even cringe-worthy at times, but her analysis left me thinking about important themes long after the novel was put back on the shelf.

—Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam (Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2013).

Turn Left At Thursday | Frederick Pohl

Turn Left At Thursday is a collection of three novelettes and three stories, although I’d call the “novelettes” short stories as well. The longest clocked in at 43 pages.

These stories go beyond the usual golden age sci-fi fare. Rather than just setting adventure stories in space, Pohl used some mind-warping points of view to shed a dystopian light on the world.

The best part of reading mid-twentieth century science fiction is the light it sheds on the culture of that day. You can learn a lot about people’s history by reading their dreams (and nightmares) for the future. The last story, “I Plingot, Who You” is particularly telling. In it, an alien exploits cold war tensions to attempt to bring earth to the point of nuclear annihilation.

Even though the quality of some of the shorter stories was lacking, this was an interesting set of tales.

Player One | Douglas Coupland

This book started off very promising.

I’ve read almost everything Coupland’s written—certainly all his fiction. Like an band that’s been around for a few decades, he’s become a bit predictable. I keep reading him for the flashes of penetrating cultural insight he manages to describe so perfectly.

Player One started off with a string of metaphors that only Coupland’s mind can produce. Here’s an example:

Warren — her highly anticipated date — is wearing the bland politician’s smile of someone who knows that the bodies in the car trunk are, indeed, dead.

Unfortunately, after the second chapter, the characters started to feel like all the other characters in Coupland’s Novels. The moment that turned the book for me was when he used a long sentence from a previous work verbatim:

What separates humanity from everything else in this world — spaghetti, binder paper, deep-sea creatures, edelweiss, and Mount McKinley — is that humanity alone has the capacity, at any given moment, to commit all possible sins.

It’s a fantastic sentence … the first time you read it. Coming from the mouth of a second character in an unrelated book is just a little sad.

I’m not sure if Coupland will be able to extract himself from the role he’s typecast himself in. Right now he’s like REM and U2. A brilliant world-altering artist who needs to explore a new direction.

Elantris | Brandon Sanderson

  • Elantris © 2006
  • Tor Fantasy
  • 656 pages

How does a world carry on when its gods die? How does the political machine grind on in an immediate catastrophic power vacuum? Can a dystopic future can be reversed? Sanderson tackles all these questions in the form of a mystery novel set in a fantastic setting.

The lead theme in this volume is leadership. What role can good leadership play in the face of overwhelming odds? What effect does weak leadership have on a nation? Of course, the religion plays a lead role in this discussion, as it does in all of Sanderson’s works.

Sanderson excels at planting enough foreshadowing in the text to alert the thinking reader just before major events happen. I found myself cluing in to what was about to happen a number of times just before the events or epiphanies transpired.

Elantris is a fine novel that grips you in the preface and refuses to let go until you lay the book down sometime well after midnight.

The Passage | Justin Cronin

  • The Passage © 2010
  • Doubleday Canada: Random House
  • 766 pages

I have to agree with most of the other reviews on this book. It’s an interesting take on the vampire motif that grabbed you at the beginning, slowed down a bit in the middle, and ramped up at the end.

Many people compare it to Stephen King’s The Stand. I see the comparisons, you shouldn’t expect the same reading experience here. The Stand delves further into the minds of the characters than Cronin manages. Also, the ending of The Stand is far more odd and satisfactory than the somewhat predictable ending of The Passage.

The Passage is a great read, though. It’s the first in a series, so maybe I’m judging the story arc prematurely. I’m looking forward to see if Cronin can keep the series interesting. He’s sure created a fascinating world with a lot of questions to be resolved.

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