Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This is no longer a group blog.

Sharon here. Since this blog hasn't been updated by any group members in over one year, I have decided to take over. I will be running this blog on my own from now on. I haven't decided yet how often I'll be updating, or what type of features the blog will have. I'm sure all of these decisions will come with time.

I still have all of the old member posts visible on here. If you would like me to delete your post, please leave a comment. I might bring on future team members in the future, but for now I'd like to do this all on my own. I hope that none of you are upset.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Paolo Bacigalupi's WINDUP GIRL reviewed by Cara Powers

Cover of The Windup GirlI've been hearing (reading) all sorts of buzz about Paolo Bacigalupi's debut novel The Windup Girl. When I discovered that it made the short list for the 2009 Nebula Awards and remembered that I'd obtained a free copy for my nook, it went to the top of my must read list.

I had no idea what it was about. I thought maybe it involved an AI that looks like a little girl? When I saw the cover, I was like "Mammoths and skyscrapers?!" and was as clueless as I was before.

Bacigalupi takes ideas similar to the ones in Margaret Atwood's Oryx & Crake—biological warfare, new plagues in humans and crops, genetic engineering, and an eccentric genetic engineer—and adds in political intrigue, corporate espionage, and the end of fossil fuels to make a dystopia that is both more believable and thus scarier than Atwood's dystopia.

The Windup Girl is set in the kingdom of Thailand umpteen whatever years in the future. So many plant and animal species have been wiped out by plagues or genetically engineered organisms that replaced them in their environmental niche. Corporations like PurCal and AgriGen, the calorie companies, sell seeds all over the world, but to maintain their hold on governments, they only sell seeds that won't grow plants that will reproduce.

Those mammoths on the cover? They're the replacement for oil-powered generators, at least in Thailand. (I guess that's a more interesting way to go than nuclear power.) The mechanical energy the mammoths produce is stored in "kink-springs" which power everything electric.

The story is told in present tense by three narrators. Writing in present tense is supposed to be terribly difficult and is used to add immediacy and suspense to the narrative. After all, if the narrator is telling a story in the past tense, that narrator must have lived to the end. Right? Personally, I wasn't particularly impressed by the effect of the present tense except where I was jarred out of the narrative.

The motivations of the three narrators are clearly drawn, but only Emiko, the windup girl, undergoes any personal growth. This fact makes her character the appropriate title character, despite her narrative taking up less than one third of the narrative space. The scenes of her sexual abuse, illustrating man's fear of the other, are disturbing but well-written.

Both Oryx & Crake and The Windup Girl contain gang rape scenes. The scene in Atwood's book seems to be more purely for shock value. The Crakers in Oryx & Crake seem more like intelligent humanoid animal's than true humans while the windups in The Windup Girl seem more like humans engineered and trained to be slaves to their bodies.

All in all, the world building in The Windup Girl is better than the world building in Oryx & Crake. The character motivations are more understandable in The Windup Girl than those in Oryx & Crake. Most importantly, the social commentary in The Windup Girl is more profound than that in Oryx & Crake, making The Windup Girl the superior novel in my opinion. Feel free to disagree.

Was reading this book worth my time?
Of course. In the three weeks it's taken me to write this review, The Windup Girl has also made the shortlist for the Hugo Awards. I've now read two of the books on this year's Nebula and Hugo Award shortlists. I'm rooting for Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, but that's a discussion for another time. Perhaps I'll change my mind once I read the rest of the books shortlisted (if I can get to it).

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dose of Dystopia: Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

We all lead busy, busy lives. We might not be getting the levels of dystopian reading necessary. The solution to this problem is incredibly simple. Short stories. This isn't a meme. I just wanted to talk about an awesome short story and encourage you to check it out.

Raise your hand if you have heard of Slaughterhouse Five. Good. Great. Kurt Vonnegut rocks out loud. He's also written more books than Slaughterhouse Five. But his books aren't the focus today. Instead we're going to talk about Harrison Bergeron.

It's a very quick read, it will probably take 20 minutes of your time, if not less. Here's a link to the full text.

Harrison Bergeron takes place in the year 2081. Everyone is equal, in every sense of the word. If you're beautiful, you have to wear a face mask. If you are smart, you have to wear a radio transmitter to scramble your thoughts. No one is better than anyone else at anything. There is no longer such a thing as talent.

The story opens with two people watching TV, George and Hazel, we learn about their handicaps they are made to wear and get a very brief glimpse into their lives. Some wackiness ensues on the television. Eventually, we go back to George and Hazel watching TV.

It's brief, but oh man is a punch packed. Instead of me rehasing, I'd rather you take a few minutes to read the short story, then come back and discuss what you think of it. I have a few questions for you.

What do you think your handicap would be if you lived in this society?

Should people be completely equal in every sense of the word, as presented in this story, or is what is presented a completely different ideology for equality?

Does equality mean sameness?

Could you see society heading in that direction? Why or why not?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lenore's Dystopian Side

432_dystopia-metal_poster4.5 I was really excited when I found out Lenore was devoting a WHOLE MONTH to reading dystopian fiction.

The month is almost over, but you still have a week of great reviews and contests. Be sure to check out all the things she has posted in the last few weeks.

I have been a fan of the dystopian genre/subgenre for a really long time. Oddly, I never realized that a lot of dystopian fiction can be classified as science fiction. Over the years I have always struggled to find more titles to satisfy my desires. But dystopian is trendy right now and there are also some great lists of dystopian fiction out there. It has been great finding other people around the blogosphere with the same interests as me. I think Lenore agrees with that because when I asked to interview her about dystopian fiction she didn’t hesitate to agree! And now, may I present Lenore!

What was the first piece of dystopian fiction that really impacted you and why?

Well, some of the dystopian fiction I’ve read, such as THE HANDMAID’S TALE or 1984, I read long before I was conscious that I was reading “dystopian fiction”. I just thought of them as really great novels.

I guess the book that made me actively seek out other dystopian fiction was NEVER LET ME GO. A friend put it in my hands shortly after it came out and told me it was a must read. I was enthralled. After that, I had to have more!

Why were you originally drawn to dystopian fiction?

Before I even knew dystopian fiction as a category, I was reading a lot of sci-fi recommended by my father. I noticed I liked stories that pictured a future Earth the most…and, well, a happy future Earth doesn’t make the most exciting story does it?

Why did you decide to devote a whole month to this kind of fiction on your blog?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         My TBR pile is huge and I thought it might be less overwhelming to add some structure via themed reading. I realized I had a huge pile of dystopian fiction I was excited about (about 20 books) and thought February would be the perfect month to do it. It’s always so dark and dreary in Frankfurt in February.

Is there a type of dystopian story you enjoy most?

Anything really high concept with an original premise grabs me. But most satisfying to me as a reader are the novels that really dig deep into their themes and are thought provoking.

Why do you think dystopic themes are relevant in modern society?

You know, a lot of people aren’t political. Look at how many people don’t even bother to exercise their right to vote. Maybe those people who instinctively shy away from having deep real life political discussions are able to discuss those themes in a fictional context. And that’s certainly better than not at all.

What book are you looking forward to reading the most this month?

I am keeping my fingers crossed that Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE will make it to me by the end of the month. *squeal* I also can’t wait to dig into INCARCERON. I’ve heard such great things about it, that I bought the sequel SAPPHIQUE just in case.

What book have you enjoyed the most so far?

shades-of-grey2the-ask-and-the-answer-by-patrick-nessThat’s a toss up between Jasper Fforde’s SHADES OF GREY and the 2nd book of Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking Trilogy THE ASK AND THE ANSWER. Both authors deftly explore weighty themes with fully formed characters and engaging plot.

Why do you think that dystopia will be an enduring element of fiction?

I can imagine a scenario where someone makes a time capsule of a good canon of dystopian novels and buries it underground. In a couple of hundred years, after some earth-whipping catastrophe, a new society of survivors forms. After a couple of generations, some plucky teen heroine uncovers the dystopian novels (now the only literature on the planet) and tries to piece together what society used to be like. Probably figures she doesn’t have it too bad after all!

Thanks to Lenore for participating in this interview and highlighting dystopian fiction on her blog.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dystopian Digest Issue #3

Dystopian reviews:

Nicholas Morine reviewed Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: 'Bound tightly together by a cast of intelligently written characters led by an empathetic and tragic protagonist, Atwood's intrepid and touching story stands shoulder to shoulder with literary giants within the canon of dystopic literature."

Lizzy of Cornucopia of Reviews reviewed The Line by Teri Hall: "The Line was an intriguing, and suspenseful book focusing on the dystopian society that was once the U.S. (the Unified States). After winning a nuclear war, borders aren't to be crossed, and the government bears down on citizens by enforcing harsh laws."

Lenore of Presenting Lenore reviewed The Resistance by Gemma Malley: "
While these are certainly interesting ideas to explore, the execution is very uneven. Every adult not in the resistance (with one notable exception) is
portrayed as irredeemably selfish and heartless."

Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
reviewed The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness:"
What can I say, if you liked the Hunger Games then I am sure you will like this one too. Anyone can read and and enjoy it. And it sure has some suspense, and the secrets, oh the secrets. For fans of dystopian like fiction, read this."

Dystopian news and articles:

Will there be an Uglies series movie? Read the full article here.

Two big book covers were revealed this week. One for
Zombies vs. Unicorns and the other for the third Hunger Games book:

While you're at it go to that Zombies vs. Unicorn site and vote for zombies!

Lauren Oliver
announced the title of her second book "a dystopian Romeo-and-Juliet story."

Carrie Ryan
blogged about how to get autographed copies of her book The Dead Tossed Waves: "Hey y'all! I've had a few people ask about how to get an autographed copy of The Dead-Tossed Waves when it comes out March 9, 2010 (yay so soon!). Here are three ways!"

Dystopian contests:

Lenore is giving away The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

When I think of dystopias, several books immediately come to mind, 1984, Brave New World, The Hunger Games, etc. It seems like everyone got to read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley for school except for me. To be honest, I sort of wish I had read it within the classroom setting, more on that later.

Brave New World opens in a laboratory setting, the scientists are making babies in a test tube, and people no longer care to make babies the natural way. Children don't grow up knowing who their parents are, kind of like in The Republic by Plato. The terms mother and father take on negative connotations in the society described. Parallel to the laboratory setting a woman named Leninia is getting ready for a hot date, and we learn people of BNW get it on with whoever they want, whenever they want without care of reputation.

Ultimately Brave New World is about control, reproductive control, and mood control. The people are controlled by these drugs which take away all negative feelings. There's stark contrasts between BNW and this fringe society in the book which lives on a reservation.

Now, Brave New World is supposed to be a satire, and I can certainly see elements of this, as the people don't pray to God, they pray to Ford. However, I think I may have got the book better if I had some sort of guidance, i.e. a teacher who is going to help me tease out the higher meaning of the book and some classmates to dissect it with. I know a lot of people hate those sort of experiences and have emotional scars from classroom reading, but I suppose I'm weird in that I enjoyed that sort of thing.

Overall, I do recommend Brave New World, just because it is a classic of the dystopian genre and well, if you read it in a group/book club, you'll probably get so much more out of it than I did. However, if there's a choice for you between reading BNW and 1984, I'm going to say choose 1984. Personally, of the two I thought 1984 to be easier  to connect with emotionally, and to understand.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sab's Dystopian Challenge List

I will be joining for Level 3- Junkee - 20 books

My List
  1. The Line by Teri Hall
  2. Life as we Knew it by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  3. Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder
  4. 1984 by George Orwell
  5. Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner
  6. Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien
  7. Feed by Mira Grant
  8. Hunger Games 3 by Suzanne Collins
  9. The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
  10. The Dead & the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  11. This World we Live in by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  12. Dark Life by Kat Falls
  13. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
  14. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
  15. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
  16. The Ask & the Answer by Patrick Ness
  17. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
  18. Candor by Pam Bachorz
  19. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  20. Epitaph Road by David Patneaude