After the apocalypse, persecuted gay lovers fight homophobia and dragons!

The mysterious sudden climate change called the Ice descended about eighty years prior to the beginning of this book. 17-year-old David's 100-year-old grandmother barely remembers what things were like before; the government is still hanging on and handing out precious seed wheat; the culture is reminiscent of the Old West but the social mores are reminiscent of the 1950s, due to a resurgence in religious and social conservatism immediately post-Ice.

The best things about this novel were the atmosphere and the voice. (This is the third book in a row I've reviewed with that note, isn't it?) The cold is palpable, David's voice is likable and unique, and the small town and its culture are very well-imagined: Little Town on the Prairie after the apocalypse.

The first third or half of the novel, in which David slowly introduces us to his world, is very strong. A young new healer, Callan, shows up to help the old one. In David's eyes, Callan is hot, sophisticated, bringing a whole new world of intelligence and culture in the form of precious books, and hot. I am a total sucker for the "what are these strange feelings?" trope, and David's awakening sexuality is sensitively depicted.

Problems set in at about the one-third mark, and the same one continues all the way through: amazingly stupid decisions. In a world in which doors have latches and homosexuality is punishable by death, I find it mind-boggling that the town healer, who commonly has people suddenly rushing into his office due to medical emergencies, would get a blow-job in his office without latching his door first. I also find it boggling that a townsperson would give him one under those circumstances. Sure enough, someone walks in, and both are immediately jailed.

This sort of thing is especially annoying because other aspects of the book continue to be very good. I'd be lulled along by the sweet romance and well-done scenes of post-apocalyptic life, and then wham! Astounding stupidity!

Also, the last half-to-third borders on grimdark. Warning for child harm. Major spoilers below.

Read more... )

A Strong and Sudden Thaw

There is a sequel, but Goodreads reviews suggest that it's excruciatingly depressing. I think I'll give it a miss. But I did enjoy the first book, albeit with caveats, and it has a satisfying ending.
A YA dystopia in which a computer arranges marriages for everyone. Since I spent much of my childhood in India and my own culture invented the yenta, the concept of the arranged marriage, despite being obviously horrible if non-consensual, does not exactly spell out “terrifying dystopia” to me.

[personal profile] janni has mused that dystopias tend to be either extremely ordered or extremely chaotic. This is the most orderly dystopia I’ve ever encountered.

Things which are chosen for people by the Society:

- The food they each individually eat at every single meal. They are not allowed a single bite of someone else’s food.

- The clothes you wear. You can only select the color on very special occasions. Otherwise, red, yellow, pink, and purple are banned.

- The day you die. Everyone who survives so long is euthanized on their 80th birthday.

- The total art of the society. All art has been destroyed except for the 100 Best Poems, 100 Best Paintings, 100 Best Songs. Etc. No new creation is allowed.

- Love letters, farewell letters, etc, are clipped and pasted from official templates. Handwriting and pens are banned – only typing is allowed, presumably so they can track everything you write.

- Your job, your entertainment options, your schooling, the mysterious pills you must carry at all times, where you live, what you can know, what you can own, how many kids you can have and when, and of course, who you marry.

Teenage Cassia Reyes is happy to be Matched with Xander, her childhood friend. But the computer briefly flashes an image of Ky, the neighborhood oddball, who is forever forbidden to marry because his father committed an Infraction. Cassia is told that it was a prank or mistake, but she begins to wonder.

I expected the book to be amusingly awful, but to my surprise, I liked it. Despite the anvillicious premise, it’s also a sweet, well-observed romance and coming of age story, detailing all the fleeting emotions of teenage love and personal growth with earnest, heartfelt delicacy. Cassia, Ky, and Xander are well-meaning and likable, which made the inevitable love triangle less annoying than usual.

Given the total lack of conclusiveness, I’m guessing this will have a sequel.

I am a connoisseur of the post-apocalypse novel. But what I like about the genre is the idea of the desperate struggle to preserve civilization and save the people you can, or, after the disaster, to re-create civilization from scratch. I am also a sucker for stories of disparate groups of people banding together and finding unsuspected heroism when faced with a situation where they must find more strength than they ever knew they had, or die. I like this, I suppose, because I figure that if I made it through the first hit, I'd be in that group, testing myself to the limit and risking everything because I've got nothing left to lose.

This is not that kind of story. It has absolutely no onstage violence, no corpses littering the streets with rats eating them or anything like that, and yet it's one of the most disturbing, plausible, and haunting apocalypse stories I've ever read.

It's the diary of Miranda, an ordinary teenage girl in a small town in Pennsylvania. One night a meteor hits the moon, knocking it into a lower orbit. Immediately, tidal waves drown coastal cities. Her mother is a writer, and when lists of the dead go up, her agent, editor, and half the writers she knows are on it, because everyone in New York City is dead. The President gets on TV to recite platitudes about the spirit of America. Gasoline goes up to ten dollars a gallon. School goes on, then gets cancelled. Everyone tries to keep life going on as usual, as much as they can, but environmental catastrophes begin to snowball...

It's the small scale of the story that makes it so easy to identify with, and the little details that make it so chilling. People start leaving, looking for a better place. A letter arrives from one of those, a month late but before all mail stops, to say that borders are closed and they're stuck in a refugee camp. Miranda tips off a friend that food is being handed out, and her mother goes into a fit of rage, screaming that she is never to do that again, that she risked her family losing food for the sake of a mere friend, and that she is only to think of her family and no one else, ever, or they're all gonna die! Two months later, they're digging up and eating tulip bulbs.

spoilers )
"Ann Halam" is the YA pen name of sf writer Gwyneth Jones. In this novel, teenage Taylor, who lives with her parents on an orangutan reserve in Borneo, learns that she is actually the clone of a scientist friend of theirs. Just as she's beginning to come to grips with that, the reserve is attacked by rebels and Taylor flees into the jungle with her younger brother, a wounded scientist, and a suspiciously intelligent orangutan named Uncle.

This novel is intelligent, well-written, and fast-paced. It is also, as [ profile] coffeeandink warned me, one of the most depressing YA novels I've ever read. It's not more depressing than Karen Hesse's Into the Dust, in which Billie Jo is growing up in the dust bowl and her only pleasure is playing the piano, and then she accidentally sets her pregnant mother on fire and Billie Jo's hands are horribly burned and they all writhe together in thirsty, untended agony because her father runs out to get drunk and leaves them alone, and then her mother dies slowly and the baby dies and Billie Jo can't play the piano any more and her father's a drunk in the dust bowl and it's all her fault. But it's up there.

What makes it so intensely depressing is not only the extremely sad events, but that it is the only YA novel I can think of that deals with a real-world problem (the destruction of the orangutan's habitat) that explicitly says, both in the novel and the novel's afterword, that the situation is not merely dire, but hopeless. In fact, the very last sentence in the book (in the author's note) includes the word "doomed."

Have a nice weekend, y'all!
Most Gratuitously Depressing Novel (involving an apocalypse)

I Who Have Never Known Men, by Jacqueline Harpman )

Most Gratuitously Depressing Novel (not involving an apocalypse)

Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse )
Most Gratuitously Depressing Short Fiction (involving an apocalypse)

Most Gratuitously Depressing Short Fiction (not involving an apocalypse)

A Touch of Lavender, by Megan Lindholm, and The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant )
Most Gratuitously Depressing Dramatic Work (involving an apocalypse)

Wolf's Rain )
Most Gratuitously Depressing Dramatic Work (not involving an apocalypse)

In the Company of Men )
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Aug. 4th, 2004 01:16 pm)
Two hundred years ago, after a cataclysm whose causes have been lost with time, wolves went extinct. Or so the rag-tag remnants of humanity, living in isolated, damaged cities adrift in wastelands, think. In fact, the wolves only went underground. Their habitat gone, they learned to project the illusion that they're humans, and moved into the cities. They gained other abilities as well: remarkable manual dexterity, the ability to speak to both humans and animals, the power to draw sustenance and healing from moonlight, and more-than-lupine strength and speed and leaping.

But the Earth is dying, and if civilization completely crumbles, not even these enhanced wolves will be able to survive. But there is a legend that wolves have a link to Paradise, though it's not clear whether wolves will lead humanity to it, or flee inside and leave humans to die on their wasted planet, or whether Paradise is a real place or a state of mind. Or how the wolves will get there.

Four wolves meet up in a city: Kiba (Fang), a young wild white wolf whose human form looks exactly like Elijah Wood as Frodo; Tsume (Claws), an adult lone wolf who runs with the criminal underground and is beholden to no one; Hige (Whiskers), a young scavenger wolf whose street smarts have allowed him a relatively happy-go-lucky existence; and Toboe (Howl), barely more than a cub, raised by humans and longing for someone to take care of him.

These four wolves become entangled with a weird experiment conducted by the city's nobles, who have retained some technology-undistinguishable-from-magic and have used it to create a girl with the scent of moon flowers, a scent which the wolves connect with Paradise: Cheza, the Flower Maiden. Everyone wants Cheza: the wolves who think she can lead them to Paradise, the woman scientist for whom she's both a grand project and a surrogate daughter, the bizarre nobleman Darcia with one lupine eye, and Darcia's rival Jagura. Meanwhile, the scientist's policeman ex-husband is following her, and an alcoholic hunter with a blue-eyed dog is pursuing the wolves with intent to kill. Pretty soon almost everyone's on the run.

This is a madly complex story in which every character has his or her own agenda, and most of the twists and turns are impossible to predict. Mysteries layer upon mysteries, and there's the sense that the world is enormous and filled with strangeness and riddles.

Apart from the intriguing story, the appeal of this is in the characters, who are sharply drawn but are mostly not human. The wolves act like wolves, not people; Cheza is innocent yet alien, the mirror of everyone's deepest desires; and the nobles are so far removed from everyone else that they seem less comprehensible than the wolves. But the surrogate sire-cub relationship between Tsume and Toboe, or the bond between the hunter and his dog is no less touching than the cop's longing to remake his family.

The look of the show is remarkable, fluidly animated in sepias and watercolor-tones, like an early photograph, and filled with archetypal images. In one sequence Cheza is given a red hood and cloak-- Little Red Riding Hood who runs with the wolves. Later, she stands in a pool of water and spins, and the folds of cloth transform her into a blossoming rose with a woman's face.

I was so taken by the two episodes I saw of this at the anime expo that I ran out and bought the entire set. Unfortunately, what I took for the legitimate Chinese release (is there such a thing?) proved to be a bootleg, with subtitles that got progressively worse until by the final disc, no sentence was grammatical, some were so garbled as to be nonsensical, and some words were translated into a language which does not exist. For instance, at one point when a character is clearly saying something like "It can't be! I don't believe you!" the subtitles read "Flubgub and gulf!"

Worst of all, the final four episodes, which appear only on the DVD and were never broadcast, are missing. The last episode I have has all the characters gathered together in one place at last. Then there's a flurry of violence which may or may not kill some of the major characters. The end. No closure, no mysteries solved, no nothing. I can't help feeling that the four episodes at the end have to resolve the story better than that. If anyone has them and could burn them for me, please let me know.

So don't buy the three-disc bootleg. Watch it on The Cartoon Network or wait for the US release. The first disc is out now.
Let me quote the back cover:

"'We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.' So says Titus, a teenager whose ability to read, write, and even think for himself has been almost completely obliterated by his "feed," a transmitter implanted directly into his brain."

The feed is basically non-stop commercials and brainless TV, plus a search capability and the ability to "chat" telepathically. Sort of like the internet, except that no one uses it to make and maintain long-distance friendships, do research, or anything else worthwhile. I think it's suggested that people use it for various business-related purposes, but all business in this book is evil, so I don't think that counts as worthwhile.

The world is a hell-hole of war and environmental devastation, and a horrible leprosy-like disease is making everyone's skin fall off, but as long as Americans can consume, they can pretend everything's fine. Then Titus and his shallow, moronic buddies meet a girl named Violet, who seems a little different from the rest, a little bit of a rebel. Their feed gets hacked by a protester, and they spend a few days in the hospital experiencing life without it. Then they get the feed back, and things go back to normal. Except that something's wrong with Violet's feed...

I picked up this book because I enjoyed Anderson's first novel, THIRSTY, a weird and quite funny novel in which America has always been plagued by vampires. Despite the vampires, the vampire God Tchmuchgar, and the occasional interference by unpleasant beings from Heaven and Hell, things are very similar to the way they are now. All the characters are either vicious users, shallow sheep, or stupid victims, but one still feels sympathy for the doomed protagonist, who just wants to get a date but is slowly turning into a vampire.

(I was bored by Anderson's second novel, BURGER WUSS.)

With that worldview and the premise of FEED, I not only had a feeling I wouldn't like it, I had a feeling for why. But Anderson's an interesting writer with a distinctive voice, so I picked up the paperback. Yep. Didn't like it.

It's quite well-written and clever. And yeah, I pretty much agree that consumerist culture is bad, Americans are way too insular, a lot of corporations are evil, and destroying the environment is a bad thing. And yeah, a lot of people are stupid or ignorant or shallow or hateful or all of the above. Sometimes.

But when everyone in the entire book is all of the above almost all of the time, except for Violet, it starts reading like one of those articles that appears all the time, the ones that can be summarized as "Anecdotes/dubious statistics/a feeling I pulled out of my ass proves that teenagers are morons/killing each other in record numbers/having sex in record numbers/shooting heroin before they even become teenagers. Eeek! The sky is falling! I blame the internet."

I don't have kids, but I hang with teenagers now and then, and they don't seem notably more stupid or shallow or hateful than adults. I think that most teenagers, if they ended up in the extremely painful and difficult position Titus is in toward the end of the novel, would behave much better than he does. Because what he does is completely despicable.

Read more... )

I'm curious how teenagers have responded to FEED, by and large. I found it extraordinarily depressing. The message is that everything's hopeless, rebels will be crushed by the system, and virtually no one is worth saving anyway.

I think Anderson wants his book to make people stop being apathetic. But I'm not sure that telling them that they're jerks and pawns and that everything's hopeless is going to do that. I think that people who don't act are often not apathetic, but think that change is impossible and nothing one person can do will make a difference. They need to be inspired and encouraged, not confirmed in those beliefs, insulted, and yelled at.

I don't want to sound like I require happy endings. Connie Willis's DOOMSDAY BOOK (despite the dull future parts, which I always skip when re-reading) is a good counterpart to this one. Willis presents a situation which is equally dreadful: the end of the world on a smaller scale. There is nothing her protagonist can do to change things, in the sense of changing history or saving lives. But what she does just by being there and trying to help, in another sense, makes all the difference in the world.


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