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

Dystopian Digest Issue #2

Challenge news:

Parajunkee is hosting a 2010 Dystopian Reading Challenge: "I've placed this challenge upon myself, so I decided to share it with the blogoverse. I enjoyed books such as The Hunger Games and Uglies so much that I planned on revisiting them this year, along with others in this category for comparison purposes. Therefor why not a challenge?" Click here* to join the tour of find the rules. *blog contributors feel free to post your challenge list on this blog as well.


Reviews for The Sky Inside and The Walls Have Eyes by Clare B. Dunkle at Stilleto Storytime: "I felt the premise while done before was done beautifully and given new insights and ideas. Readers who like science fiction and dystopian settings will be delighted. I really enjoyed both works. While somewhat predictable at times, one has to remind oneself that for this reading level it might not be predictable at all. I highly recommend the series and am hoping that it will be followed with a third installation at some point. It would be a great pick for reluctant readers especially boys. "

Review of The Ask and The Answer at Rhapsody in Books: "The author takes what is basically a one-note idea and creates a dark fugue of complex characterization and surprising plot turns. There are such moments of deep tenderness and poignancy intermixed with visceral cruelty that it can take your breath away. This is an exciting, edge-of-your-seat book that repeatedly impresses you by
the author’s skill for conjuring up the unexpected."

CarrieK of Books and Movies reviewed Gone by Michael Grant: "This book is extremely well-written, with the right amount of description to put the reader right into the action – smelling the smells, seeing the sights, feeling the fear and anxiety – but not to slow the pace. It kept me turning page after page. And I will definitely be picking up book two in the series to see what happens next. Don’t let the YA label keep any of you grown-ups from picking this up! If you love a good story, this book delivers."

Zella Kate reviewed Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: " Rather than fashioning atotalitarian communistic society, like so many other dystopianwriters, Bradbury's futuristic world bears a disturbing resemblance to modern-day America, with its rejection of knowledge and culture in favor of superficial pursuits. This book is often championed as a criticism of book censorship and it is. But the real target of Bradbury's anger is obsession with televison and superficiality in general.


Joni of The Spectacle writes: "What defines a dystopian novel for you? What are some of your favorite examples… and any alleged dystopias that may not fit the label? Or is “dystopian” just a marketing word without meaning?" and "Are dystopian books science fiction, fantasy, or not even speculative?"

Bill Gates Warns of a Dystopian Future: “If we project what the world will be like 10 years from now without innovation in health, education, energy, or food, the picture is quite bleak,” said Gates, in his annual letter from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, published earlier this week."

A very thoguht provoking cartoon titled Amusing Ourselves to Death can be found here. Aldous Huxley vs. George Orwell: who had the right idea?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: Genesis - Bernard Beckett

Title: Genesis
Author: Bernard Beckett
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: Purchased
Parental Warning: none

“Every pause, every flickering of uncertainty: the Examiners observed them all. This, surely, was how they decided. Anax felt suddenly slow and unimpressive. She could still hear Pericles’ last words. “They want to see how you will respond to the challenge. Don’t hesitate. Talk your way toward understanding. Trust the words.” And back then it had sounded so simple. Now her face tautened and she had to think her way to the words, searching for them in the way one searches for a friend in a crowd, panic never more than a moment away.”

Anaximander lives in a world of rigid faith and structure. A world where plague has decimated populations and changed the way the people of Anax’s country were governed. Most importantly it became a world that changed how free people were to live the lives of their own choosing. As part of this world an ultra exclusive Academy has been created where only a chosen few are allowed entrance. Anaximander, fortunately or not, is one of those few.

As part of her entrance exam she has chosen to provide an oral history of Adam Forde. A somewhat controversial subject, Adam is a man branded as both friend and foe to her country. A man Anax considers a hero. It is Adam’s relationship with Art, the central player in the one act the former perpetrates in defense of humanity, that becomes the singular focus of Anax’s testimony before the Examiners. In that re-telling, Anax showcases how Adam changed the direction of history and as a result shaped the world they all lived in.

It’s extremely difficult to review this book without giving away the most surprising elements of the story. But as a lover of dystopian settings I’ll say that this one was pretty awesome. It’s one hundred percent worth your time to read.

It’s a pretty short story that is quickly read. Having said that, however quick a reader can get through is of no real consequence though as it is as profound and thought-provoking a book as many of the classics. I’m going to get a bit cliche here and say that when all is said and done Genesis is the very definition of a page-turner.

Beckett paints the picture of a stunning locale — futuristic in tone but simplistic in reality. Moreover, he generates innovative and enthralling characters in Anax, Adam and Art. Each obviously has their own individual characteristics but are all also bound together by their love of thought. Their story, told primarily in flashbacks, is a stunning portrait of how one event can be the catalyst to shaping an individual’s opinions on humanity, religion and government.

Subtle hints throughout the story foreshadow the end (which I will not spoil here) but, surprisingly, did not give it all away. It wasn’t until I went back and re-read certain points that I noticed small references, a word here and there, that reinforced the ultimate resolution to the story. Beckett was quite masterful in that way.

In case you didn’t already get the idea, I absolutely recommend that anyone read this book. Even if you aren’t a sci-fi fan (it’s really not overwhelming in the fantasy elements) I believe you’ll find it enjoyable.

Where it's Reviewed:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dystopian Digest Issue #1

Welcome to the very first issue of Dystopian Digest. Dystopian Digest is a weekly feature showcasing some of the latest dystopian links in the blogosphere. My inspiration for DD came from The Story Siren's YA Connection feature.

Dystopian book reviews:

Mr. Maurer of Coffee for the Brain posted a review of The Maze Runner by James Dashner: "If you are looking for a book to quench your thirst of a novel like Hunger Games, then this is a must read. Actually, this is a must read if you just plain enjoy reading books that have the dystopian feel."

A review of The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood at The Last Word Blog: "Atwood’s writing is confident and taut, something I rarely expect from a female writer. There is so much going on in terms of plot, pace and subtext, that you find yourself marvelling at this woman’s talent. "

Kate at The Neverending Shelf recommends Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey to all of her readers: "This book is always on the top of my recommendation list. It is an amazingly vivid novel that sucks readers into its pages. To be honest, this is book remains the grittiest novel that I have ever read. "

Bermuda Onion reviewed one of my favorite dystopian novels this week, Battle Royale by Koushun Takami: "While the overall plot of this book was good, I struggled to finish it. At over 600 pages, I felt that it was too long, and at times, there was too much detail. Several pages would be devoted to a student’s background just to lead up to their death. "

Beth of Beth Fish Reads reviewed Genesis by Bernard Beckett: "Unfortunately, I have no way of discussing this book without ruining the entire experience. Just take my word for it, this is a book worth reading and worth owning, so you can reread it—maybe even moments after you finish the first time."

Dystopian movie and Televesion reviews:

Brad Brevet of Rope of Silicon reviewed the new movie Daybreakers: "There's some fun to be had and it feels unique, but Daybreakers lacks an overall "wow" factor making it hard to suggest it as a necessary theatrical viewing."

Greg Victor of reviewed the new movie The Book of Eli: "No matter how much I wanted to like this movie (and I did want to like this movie), I have to report that I had absolutely no idea how I felt about it as I walked out of the theater. Was it a great action flick/morality tale or just a ridiculously hyper-violent missed opportunity? Alas, if that question has to be asked, then we know the answer. "

Other articles and posts:

The Top 9 Signs You Are Reading a Bad Dystopian Novel at littlefivers:
"9>This author’s idea of a bleak, grim, and hopelessly angst-making future seems to revolve around not having a Starbucks on the corner." Click here to read the rest of the list.

One of our very own contributors, Gail when to the ALA this past week. Check out the recap on her blog to see what cool dystopian titles she got: "On the day of the ALA I decided to drive into Boston and thanks to my handy dandy GPS I made it to the convention center no problem, parked in their ample parking lot and before I knew it I was all registered and getting my first site of the floor."

Lusty Reader asks: Are apocalypse and dystopian stories now less appealing: "The pictures and news of the earthquake in Haiti is a true post-apocalyptic world. As I scrolled through these images were burned in my brain and merged with all the imaginary images from the books I had been reading. The ash that the characters in The Road had to breathe through and that covered the land is too eerily similar to the concrete dust that coats the faces and streets of Port-au-Prince."

Philip Reeve wrote a thought provoking post titled Apocalypse, schmapocalyspe: "The truth is, we never get tired of seeing the world destroyed. I suspect on some deep level most people secretly look forward to armageddon. We feel we deserve it. "

Dystopian giveaways:

  1. Win a copy of Veracity by Laura Bynum at The Bibliophilic Book Blog. Open until 2/5
  2. Win a copy of The Passage by Justin Cronin at The Boston Bibliophile. Open unitl 1/31
If you know of any dystopian giveaways that I missed, please link to them in the comments.

Review: The Adoration of Jenna Fox

Note: This was originally posted at my books. my life.

Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian
ISBN: 0805076689
Pages: 265
Year: 2008
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Source: Dunedin Public Library
Rating: 5/5

Plot summary:

17-year-old Jenna Fox wakes up from a year-long coma to a life she doesn't remember. She has no memory of the accident that changed her life but she can recite whole passages of Walden. Her secretive parents and uncaring grandmother only further confuse Jenna.

Other Books I’ve Read By Author: None.

Why I Picked Up This Book: Jennifer really liked it and I'd heard good things, but I really just requested it on a whim.

My thoughts:

Loved it. Go read it now. Right now.

I left the plot summary pretty thin because I had no idea what I was walking into when I picked up this book and I think that made the experience even more enjoyable than it otherwise would have been. I was immediately curious and dying to know what was going to happen. I read it in a weekend and would have read it in one sitting if I could have.

This novel deals with the issues of bioethics, the increased use of science and technology in our lives, the essence of identity, and the lengths a parent will go through for a child. I disagree with the "young adult" label for this book. Pearson is generally a YA writer and the protagonist is 17, but the themes are mature and would appeal to readers of any age.

This book is dystopian, but it's a really scary dystopia because it is so close to our own world. There is no clear date for the story, but it hints at 2040 or so. And decisions that our society has already made are to blame for the current state of affairs in the novel. It may be less "dystopian" than some other novels, but the fact that it seems entirely possible makes it somewhat worrisome.

If I had to pick something I didn't like about the novel, I would say that I could have done without the epilogue at the end (but I tend to be one that hates epilogues). I thought the final scene before the last section was so touching that it should have ended the novel.

I'm having a little difficulty articulating what it is about The Adoration of Jenna Fox that I loved so much. It just has that extra something that makes a book special. I know it's only January 20, but I anticipate this one cracking my top 10 for 2010.

Memorable Passages:

"Maybe that is all any life is composed of, trivia that eventually adds up to a person, and maybe I just don't have enough of it yet to be a whole one." p. 174

"One small changed family doesn't calculate into a world that has been spinning for a billion years. But one small change makes the whole world spin differently in a billion ways for one family." p. 256

Will I Read This Author Again?: Absolutely.

Other Reviews:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Movie Review: District 9

This is a cross-posted review from one of my posts of 2009 - I just watched this again recently on DVD and it prompted me to post the review on this page...the movie is too good to miss.

Before I launch into why this is another of my current LOVES, let's begin with a bit of summary: The actual 'District 9' is a compound for aliens. Basically, the movie plays out an alternative history where back in the early 80s an alien spaceship appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa. The world watches the ship but it doesn't budge, cough, or scratch itself for three whole months. So, of course, curiosity gets the better of us humans and the special operations team is sent in to 'cut open' the spaceship and find out what the hell is lurking about. And it's not what they expected. Millions of aliens cowering in the darkness.

Like a whole bunch of Little Bo Peep's lost sheep, the aliens are shifted to a makeshift city away in the slums of Johannesburg, much to the chagrin of the human slum residents. The aliens are seen as a public nuisance, and in the last 20 years since they 'landed' have been coined with the dereogatory and kinda racist term 'Prawns', because of their physical resemblance to such creatures.

Enter Wikis - a totally naive, excitable, nerdalicious government bureaucrat, who leads a team of military men and P.A's into the compound with a 'notice to evict', to shift the aliens to a concentration camp-looking area further segregated from the humans known only as 'District 10'. Wikis goes into the compound brazenly and condescendingly, asking the aliens to 'scribble their name' to show they've 'understood' that they're going to be evicted. Some of them don't appear to understand what the hell 'eviction' even means...those who do and put up a fight are killed on the spot. Wherever an alien gives 'trouble', Wikis searches their unit, knowing them to be particularly 'evil' and harbouring weapons which his company could take and use to blast the shit out of people. Oh, if only the weapons didn't have to be activated by alien hands...

In a particular unit resides Christopher Jones, an alien with his young son. They've been doing something really naughty - trying to get back home. For the last 20 years, Jones has been secretly working to get the spaceship back on track. Wikis sniffs out Chris' hidden workshop, and gets totally sprayed by the alien DNA used as the secret 'fuel', the last piece to the puzzle of making the spacecraft work.
From this DNA spray, Wikis starts turning part alien. And the government want him for experiments and such. So he runs - to hide in the last place they will ever look for him - District 9.

I really don't know where to begin talking about the sheer superiority of this film. Peter Jackson backs it - he must have spotted the talent a mile away and poured his moolah into it because the resulting special effects are simply WOW. The aliens and the spacecraft look so real, especially placed against the dusty Iraq-war style landscape of the compound. And this movie is totally gory in the best way - I'm talking heads blown off, bodies ripped apart - everything. But it's super.

When you first start watching it, the Cloverfield/ Blair Witch handheld camera technique and the documentary style of the beginning sequences makes you wonder whether this will be as good as the critics have said it will be. The Boy actually leaned over to me about 10 minutes into it and said 'THIS movie got a perfect 10?" I nodded and wondered secretly to myself whether he would ever pay for my movie ticket again. And then suddenly, the story starts to build momentum - bricks are placed on bricks and the foundation is such that when you get to the suspenseful bits your heart is in your mouth and your fist is ready to pump the air when victory is at hand, and then suddenly you're totally deflated as the chance flies out the window. THAT'S the sort of tension you want to feel when you're at the movies - some EMOTION, people!!

I think what I liked best about this movie (besides the perfect plot and script) is the commentary on humanity. There's the underlying racial tension between the humans and the aliens, which you know is wrong straight away. But as a viewer, when I first saw the aliens, I was like "EWW"! And then, as the story plays out, somehow these aliens become more real to you than the humans. You feel for them not the way someone might feel for an ugly but vulnerable animal, but rather like your best friend. There's some uber poignant bits which I don't want to spoil here (I could go into very minute detail about this movie, the images are just seared into my brian) - but you need to know that this movie has absolutely everything from humour, to romance, to sci-fi dystopian setting, to action-packed gun-wielding scenes arnie swarznegger would be totes jealous of. And the added benefit is that it doesn't suffer from being a Hollywood Blockbuster - it's more indie with South-African actors (I think the writer or director or someone is a white South African himself).

I loved this movie so much - I don't know what else to say. I'm buying this as soon as it comes out on DVD of course, but the movie definitely benefits from the surround sound of the cinema complex. If you haven't been to the movies in ages, or you just 'dont like THAT sort of movie' then get off your arse and stop type-casting yourself and GO SEE THIS MOVIE. If you have a brain and a heart it will be a piece of entertainment for a while (the editing is beautifully done and the 2 hours you spend here will not be misused or feel drawn out at all). And who knows, you might love it as much as I did, and come crawling back to thank me profusely for making your life more meaningful. And just so you know, in this case - I accept cupcakes. Lots and lots of cupcakes.

5 out of 5 stars for 'District 9'.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Off the Road by Nina Bawden

Tom sees a door ajar and steps through it.

Off the Road was published in 1998, but deals with some of the same issues that are popular in fiction right now. When a person becomes of certain age, they are locked away to be cared for apart from others.

Tom pushed out of his known world and into one that he has been told his whole life is scary and dangerous. In the outside world, Tom sees his grandfather sliding away, trying to escape, going mad. Tom's grandfather is trying to go off the road into a world filled with barbarians and dangerous trees that will eat children in a single bite. In desperation, Tom follows after his grandfather in hopes of saving him from the mistake of venturing into the wild.

Tom is convinced that his grandfather's brain has gone soft, for that is what happens to people when they age, he has been told. It is clear to Tom that his grandfather has wandered off in a fit of senility and gotten lost.

But as Tom and his grandfather stray further and further from the road, the reader begins to understand more and more about the world Tom left. Where words like brother and sister are rude and unspeakable. In Tom's world, children are the most important and most respected people. In the same way that we understand where Tom comes from, Tom is also faced with the lies his world had taught him. Tom understands why his grandfather has chosen to escape.

The thing I love about this book is that it continues to build the world through the story. It doesn't just set the world up in the beginning and abandon it for pure adventure. Every step of Tom's journey helps you understood where he had come from, because the story doesn't start in Tom's world, it starts with Tom leaving his world.

When I read a dystopia or science fiction, I want it to be more than an adventure story nestled in a futuristic or government controlled world. I want the story and adventure to live and breathe inside the world, and Off the Road does just that. The book continues to deepen an understanding of Tom's world throughout the whole story. The reader stays connected to the inside world by the emerging details. The story unfolds in an interesting way, even if the dystopian elements fall together in a rather standard pattern. Tom is faced with a type of survival I have not seen in previous worlds. There were moments when the story was slow, but overall it was a compelling and rewarding read.