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Bookclub in November: Dystopia re-visited

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I blogged about bookclubs before. I joined the bookclub my WoW friends are running, but I found that throughout the year I had little time to participate. For November I did have the time, hooray. This month’s selection was Science Fiction, and yet strangely enough both books that were voted in by club members are not what I would consider Science Fiction at all. Both are based in the future, of course, and yet I would label both as dystopian, or at least utopian.

If you look at Wikipedia’s list of dystopian literature, it’s very noticeable that in the 21st century there’s been more dystopian literature published than before, and I don’t see this trend stopping anytime soon. If only for copycats jumping on the Hunger Games train. I never read Battle Royale, so I don’t know how much of a derivate it is, but I did really enjoy Hunger Games and Catching Fire when I read them earlier this year. But why the sudden fascination with dystopia in general? I do not know.

As a warning, if you’re in the book club and haven’t completed both books yet, this might be a tad spoilery, in particular about Oryx and Crake. But nothing that would really ruin the experience. Read at your own risk.

The main selection this month was Divergent by Veronica Roth. I hadn’t heard of the book before but the synopsis was interesting enough. The basic premise is that there are different factions that live in a dystopian Chicago. They are the selfless Abnegation, the honest Candor, the daring Dauntless, the intellectual Erudite or the somewhat hippy-sounding Amity. The city is surrounded by a fence, most of the buildings are in ruin, and no one uses the train system anymore but the Dauntless. The main character, the very compelling Beatrice aka Tris, doesn’t quite seem to fit in with her own faction, the selfless Abnegation who basically form the government, and decides to join another faction when she turns 16. Her initiation into the new faction, her contacts with the other initiates, some good folks, some very bad, and the overlying story arc of factions on the brink of war, are very fast-paced, full of action, and interesting story turns. We never find out what happened to cause all this ruin and splintered society into the factions to keep another war from happening. The splintering didn’t bring about peace anyhow.

It’s YA fiction, so don’t expect a literary masterpiece, but it’s a pageturner. It’s a fast, fun read and so far I think everyone who’s read it is excited for the sequel to come out next year. I definitely will be picking it up for sure. If you enjoyed The Hunger Games, there’s no reason you wouldn’t love Divergent. I really appreciate all these stories about girls ready to kick ass and take names. The only part that was a bit meh for me was the love story, but again, it could have been worse.

The second choice for the month was Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I hadn’t read any of her books for years, so I had few expectations going into it. Now that I completed it I would like to say that Divergent seems fluffy and light-hearted compared to it, and that I really enjoyed it. It’s set in the not too far future, in a world that’s dominated by gene-technology, splicing and big co operations. The protagonist is Snowman, the last survivor of a giant catastrophe that befell the world. What catastrophe it is? The author is taking her sweet time revealing it. Snowman is suffering, living alone in the wilderness, his only company being the Children of Crake. In flashbacks we find out that Snowman used to be a boy called Jimmy, living in one of the big Compounds of the rich scientists working on gene-projects. Jimmy’s father is working on the pigoon project, basically pigs grown to serve as organ donors for men. The marriage of his parents falls apart because his mother can no longer live this life in the compounds, where science and progress rule over men. Jimmy befriends Crake, his genius schoolmate, and they spend a teenagehood together that I found terrifyingly descriptive when it comes to their Internet endeavors. Basically everything that’s out there today, just in more brutal, soulless, disgusting. From watching child pornography to watching death row live across the world, to weird games where brutality faces civilization, called Blood and Roses. Inbetween, you learn the story of Oryx, the girl both Jimmy and Crake fall in love with. Her background is Asian, and she was forced to work in the sex trade from childhood days on. I found her story the most stomach turning, because of its frightening realism. It’s a world ruined by global warming, devastated by technology, where biological weapons and germs dissolve people into goo in corporate warfare.

Eventually the story culminates in the truth behind the disaster that wiped off humanity, and then ends in the only fist-punching moment this book provided. I was really frustrated with the end, because it solves nothing for me. Ultimately, it’s a beautifully written book of a future that seems very possible, and that’s what makes it so disturbing. I don’t think this book would be for everyone, but it was for me, as I am reading another book of hers right now.

Read any good books lately? Do you enjoy dystopia? I am at a loss what to read next, but I think I’ll finally tackle all of Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch books.

3 Comments

  1. Hey! I knew you had mentioned reading ‘The Hunger Games’. I haven’t done so myself, I’m usually too suspicious of best-selling phenomena. Nevertheless, I’ve got a lot of friends who seem to be interested in the series, and I recently read an article that perhaps would interest you – take a look: http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2012/04/whats_wrong_with_the_hunger_ga_1.html

    What is your opinion on that? I’m genuinely interested.

    */wave*

    • Very interesting post! I have to admit that I never looked at the Hunger Games books as kind of female empowerment. I have heard the rumblings around the movie where people are celebrating that Katniss is the Anti-Bella. The Hunger Games Trilogy is a bleak look at a dystopian society, with a critical look at media influence. I don’t think female empowerment was on Suzanne Collin’s agenda when she wrote the books.

      I haven’t seen the movie, but I don’t agree with the OP that Katniss has no agency. Sure, she is passive and controlled from the outside for a huge part of the book, but she kills and plots her survival on her own. I was never very fond of the twist that she uses a ‘showmance’ to influence the crowds, and generally, cannot deal with romance in YA novels well.

      What shocked me far more about the article is that people were offended by Rue being black.

      • I haven’t seen the movie nor read the books, but for what I’ve heard, it’s not such a literary revelation. But the possibility that these are claimed as a feminist empowerment fantasy, when they seem to be more about the illusion of empowerment, is problematic. Also, shoehorning a romance as a plot device seemed to me too puerile, as well as conflicting with the supposed bleakness of the world. To whoever you tell that in such a violent world, where kids are forced to kill each other for sport, that the last two are condoned because they love each other, your listener will probably think that the story doesn’t take itself seriously enough, or that there are subtle but powerful nuances that he/she is missing. Or that people these days buy into anything.

        “What shocked me far more about the article is that people were offended by Rue being black.” It’s evidence of the white lenses with which most people view the world. Unless you state otherwise, people usually read any character as white, even those who are not white, because they’ve grown up in a culture in which white is the rule, the generic, the unmarked. When there is a black person, it is to either fulfill a clichéd role, or to fill the quota. When the whole cast is non-white, it is assumed that the movie/series is about racial issues, instead of just about human beings and their universal conflicts. Same usually happens with man-universal and women-other. An all-male (or mostly male) can participate in any endeavour, and will target a universal public. An all-female movie will usually depict feminine issues and appeal to women, unless the female characters embody some kind of male fantasy, as in Sucker Punch.

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