Dec 23, 2008

To 2009 and beyond!

I started with a list and a vague goal at the beginning of this year, and I'm amazed at how far I've come. I worried a little that confining my reading to dystopian fiction would narrow my horizons and get repetitive and boring after a while. Amazingly, I feel like this project's lifted me out of a fantasy/sf rut that I traveled in for a few years.

I dipped into older stories I'd never heard of, classics I just never got around to, cyberpunk you-gottas, and novels that I'd only experienced as movies.

In the meantime, my dreams got freakier, my politics got a little more paranoid, and my friends started saying, "If you mention dystopias one more time, we're going to kick your ass." All in all, a hell of a year.

So, is this the end? Am I ready to give it up and read a little fluff, range a little further afield?

Hell no!

In fact, I want to spread the wealth. Comment to this post. Tell me something about your year, what you read, if you dipped into the dystopian pool at all. Tell me what you'd like to me to blog about aside from the actual books themselves. Include an email address and name with your post, and I'll put it in a hat on 1/5. If I pull your name, I'll send you a book I've read and reviewed this year. I'll start doing this once a month - gotta clear room for this year's books!

Dec 15, 2008

Futureland by Walter Mosley


Parts of this I enjoyed and parts I just felt underwhelmed by. I've been spoiled with all the William Gibson and Jack Womack cyberpunk I've read this year. Those two manage to take this sort of near-future, corporate control tale and make it thick and realistic. I found Mosley's stories a little too easily wrapped up, a little thin. Which could be the difference between short stories and novels, but I don't really think so.

Maybe it's just that Gibson and (to an extent) Womack are concerned so centrally on the technology and how that impacts society, but Mosley uses his creative takes on where we're going to express views on race and (to a lesser extent) sex and class. But, again, even those comments seemed a little too, not glib, obvious? Shallow? I'm all for a simple story told well, but if you are going to introduce what feels like Major Social Commentary into your tale, at least have something interesting to say that I haven't heard before.

Some of his characters, however, were excellent, and I would really like to revisit them in longer form. Fera Jones, boxing champ, and her drug-ravaged father and underclass lover, for example. Bits Arnold, too, and the TransAnarchist Trade Union. I want his back story and life before prison.

I understand that Mosley is mostly a mystery or crime writer, and I can see that. Futureland is nothing if not pulpish. I might pick up one of his longer works sometime and see if it carries the same flaws.

final thought: The used copy I bought was missing the final 5 pages. That pissed me off, but not enough to go hunt down a complete version. So that's about how I felt about it, overall.

Dec 12, 2008

Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody


I only read this a couple weeks ago, and I'm already starting to forget it. A passable story for the young'uns, but not much to mull over afterward. Did you read my last entry, concerning Gathering Blue? It pretty well applies to this novel as well. Look, I'm all for fantasies about plucky young women who evidence unknown strengths and powers to bring their friends and society itself to safety, but do they all have to be such sad sack characters?

final thought: Even at 13, this would have been a throw-away read for me. Nothing great, nothing terrible. Just there.

Dec 9, 2008

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Gathering Blue

This one's another of the young adult novels on my list. I do love the idea of dystopian fiction for preteens. I just wish it was all as amazing and worthwhile as, for instance, A Wrinkle in Time. But it ain't. Not to say I wouldn't give this to a middle schooler, because I would. The time to let them know that society will use them up and shackle them to their work is when they're still young enough to wind up paranoid and protective, I say.

Aside from that, pretty standard fare. Agriculture-based society risen from the ashes of probably our age which probably faced a probably nuclear war? Check. Plucky, hard working hero who, through courage and luck and the kindness of otherwise downtrodden friends, figures out society's Big Evil and makes her escape to a wiser and better place? Check. Semimagical gifts that make up for an otherwise condemning defect? Check.

final thought: I should write one of these myself.

The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Dispossessed

I've been reading but not writing. Blame the roast turkey. Blame my girlfriend being in town. Blame me being a lazy bastard. Or we could just blame Them. You know who They are. They want to keep me from telling you what I've found out. Yeah. Them.

I've decided I'm a LeGuin fan. (I know, I hear you, "Bout time. Welcome to the crowd.") That's one of the best things about this Dystopian kick for me - I'm picking up on a lot of authors that I'd meant to read for a long time but never did.

Okay, The Dispossessed. I've spent quite a lot of time thinking about and discussing anarchy and how it would ever work out in practical terms. LeGuin manages to overcome a few of the major hurdles by (a)stocking the original society with those who choose to be part of it, thereby taking out the problem of those forced into anarchy with no willingness to try the experiment and (b) settling her radicals on a planet in which willing participation in communal labor and society is pretty much the only thing keeping all their heads above water. (An odd cliche to use for a mostly desert planet, I'll admit, but you get me.)

Of course, after a couple generations of willing equality, I, too, would expect something like a socially enforced pressure to not rise above your mates to develop. A damning of the ego. A suggestion that genius or outsider thought may be dangerously divisive. The only thing that can prevent anarchy from becoming chaos is empathy, and when Shevek flies higher and higher toward the sun, those upon whom his shadows falls may feel a sort of chill. Is that acceptable? Is it justified? is it Shevek's problem, or should those people take it upon themselves to step back into the sunlight if it bothers them?

final thought: Which would you choose, Anarres or Urras?