dystopian

REVIEW: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

The year is 1984, Great Britain has become a part of superstate Oceania which is ruled by The Party who employs the Thought Police to stop people being individual and thinking or acting any different to what the Party says. Winston Smith works for the department of Ministry of Truth, he’s an outwardly diligent worker and believer in the Party but really he secretly hates the Party and reams of rebelling.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Andrew Wincott, it was an engaging and well narrated audiobook.

The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four is a scary place. It’s a dystopian world where Big Brother is always watching, the Party have full control and anyone who even thinks something that’s not in line with the Party message is wiped from existence. One of the most frightening things was how from such a young age, children are almost brain washed to be perfect citizens. They learn to tell the authorities about anyone who is not being the perfect citizens, even their own parents. No one can trust anyone, and because there’s so much surveillance and the Thought Police can appear to know what you’re thinking, it’s like you can’t even trust yourself.

The another thing that’s unsettling and scary is how quickly people can apparently change and become used to a totalitarian society. Winston was a child when things began to change, and he meets older people that vaguely remember how life was, but have little desire to make a fuss and to try and change things. That’s in part because it seems so hopeless because the Party is so far reaching and powerful.

I felt myself not really paying attention at times when Winston and Julia are reading a book about how the Party gets and maintains power. It was interesting, but it was a lot of exposition to take in at once and there was so much of it that I often had forgotten what the characters were doing before all this information appeared.

It’s interesting to finally see the origin of so many popular culture references in their original context. It gives the Big Brother reality show that’s been a part of British TV for almost 20 years a more sinister tone. As does the British comedy show Room 101 where celebrities are invited to discuss the things they hate and try and persuade the host to send those hates to oblivion aka Room 101 – it’s slightly more sinister now I know that Room 101 was a torture room.

I’m happy I’ve finally read Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s an unsettling social commentary and an engaging read. 4/5.

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REVIEW: The Power by Naomi Alderman

One day, teenage girls all over the world find that with a flick of their fingers they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. As this phenomenon spreads and women of all ages learn to release powerful electricity from their bodies, the world changes forever.

The Power is an engaging read that captures your attention from the outset. It’s a story that’s building up to something so from the very beginning you’re wondering what exactly is everything leading to and what’s going to happen next. The story is largely told from four characters point of view. Roxy, the teenage daughter of a gangster, Margot, an American politician, Allie, a girl who reinvents herself as a religious figure called Mother Eve, and Tunde, a journalist and is the only male character you follow in this story. The story is told in snapshots, you get a dozen pages or so with each character and then it jumps forward a year or so and you see what’s happening in their lives now and how much, or little, things have changed.

The Power is fascinating because one would hope that if women suddenly had a power that men did not, it would finally tip the scale so that both men and women could be equal. They’d each have different strengths and weaknesses but this electrifying power women had would make them be able to protect themselves. Instead, The Power shows the scale of equality tipping in the favour of women. It does take time, but women become power-hungry, aggressive and sometimes sadistic in the way they abuse men for their own enjoyment or just because they can.

In some ways it makes sense, if you have some women who have been abused all their lives in some shape or form by men, it’s almost natural that if they suddenly had the power to cause pain they’d use it against those who hurt them. Also people are complicated! We can’t say that Men Are Bad and Women Are Good, and if women ruled the world it’d be a utopia. Women are just as flawed and as capable of violence as men. That being said, if women were so often seen as lesser-than, one would hope if they got this unique power, they would be more empathetic as they know what it’s like to be the one who’s scared to go out at night.

I hope the last couple of paragraphs make sense. The Power does give you a lot to think about, how society can change in such a reasonably short space of time, how people can forget how things were and how things can snowball into something you could never expect.

The scenes where women abuse men with their new powers are uncomfortable to read. It reminded me of when I read The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter in my Women’s Writing class at university. It’s almost more disturbing to read about women abusing men, than men abusing women and that is probably because there’s so much media showing men hurting women, that it becomes something you’re almost desensitised to. Women being cruel, sexually assaulting men, making them be in almost constant fear, it’s unnatural in many ways, and seeing that side of the society that evolves in The Power is unsettling to say the least.

The Power is an incredible book. It’s fast-paced, exciting and it’s a story that you’re never sure where it’s going to go next. There are some minor plot points that I wasn’t over keen on, and as I said it’s both unfortunate and interesting that it appears that, at least in this book, an equal society isn’t possible. 4/5.

REVIEW: Who Runs the World? by Virginia Bergin

Sixty years after a virus almost wiped out all the men on the planet, the women of the world have grieved, pulled together and moved on. Life is pretty good if you’re a girl, but not so much if you’re a boy. Fourteen-year-old River wouldn’t know that though, as until she meets Mason, she thought boys were basically extinct.

What Who Runs the World? does very well is that it doesn’t just say men are bad and women are good. Though it makes it very clear that in this world, a lot of violence and crime was committed by men, it also shows that that doesn’t stop women from getting angry or lashing out.

River’s world is one without gender expectations. People are expected to be open, communicate and share their problems and work together to solve any issues. When Mason is discovered it’s clear he comes from a different world, one where from watching porn and playing videos games he has a certain idea of what women should look and act like. River has a certain idea of what men should be like too and seeing their beliefs clash is fascinating.

Mason has been brought up surrounded by toxic masculinity, believing he must be physically strong and it makes him lesser if he cries. River, and other girls and women who have grown up without men, on the other hand has grown up being taught that showing emotions isn’t a weakness and in fact sharing your thoughts and feelings is a good thing.

Kate, River’s great-grandmother, is an interesting character as she remembers life before the virus wiped out the male population. She was a teenager when it happened, so she and other women her age understand the loss of losing their husbands, fathers, brothers and friends and that indeed not all men were dangerous people. She remembers the various social cues that were just there and made men and women act differently. She remembers the good and the bad and now being confronted with Mason gives her some hope that boys and men are out there and can join the society she’s a part of now.

Who Runs the World? is great because it doesn’t just look at gender, it’s also a fast-paced mystery. River, her mother and Kate are all trying to understand where Mason came from and what that means for all the other men and boys that might still be alive somewhere. It would’ve been nice to learn more about where Mason had come from and there’s a lot left up in the air. River’s life has changed by meeting Mason but besides from that there doesn’t seem to be many long-lasting affects from the events in the book. It’s like nothing will get better or get worse in this world, and that River and all the other women are in limbo. 4/5.

REVIEW: Bubblegum by Sari Taurez

*I received a free electronic advance reading copy of this book in return for an honest review*

Status means everything in this society, including the difference between life and death. Tiana is a pampered member of the higher class of society, until her mother cuts her off and she must make her own way in the world. Tiana has a plan though – she has a knack for murder. Julia is Tiana’s first client, a lower-class girl, who volunteers at the local orphanage – an orphanage that’s being targeted by the infamous brothel-owner Bobby Nails. But as Tiana investigates she finds she might be in over her head. Tiana and Julia face a dangerous enemy on their quest for vengeance and justice, and they soon discover that they’re stronger together than a part. But will it be enough to stop Nails and save the orphans from a terrible fate?

The setting of Bubblegum feels like the near-future. Technology is pretty similar but the class system is very much a dystopian ideal – the rich get protection and are free to do whatever they want, including kill people from lower classes, while the lower classes struggle to get by with limited opportunities when it comes to work and education.

Bubblegum is a lot of fun and that’s down to the larger than life characters and the fact the action never really lets up for long. The characters are what really pulled me into this story. Tiana is bold, confident and a bit selfish sometimes, she seems to steamroll over Julia (and others) quite a few times but slowly you get to see that she’s not always as tough as she appears and she does truly care for a few select people. Julia is great. She’s the most relatable character of the bunch. She doesn’t have a lot of money, she cares a lot about the children she works with at the orphanage and she is very well aware of the dangerous situations she is slowly getting herself into and has very realistic, yet level-headed, reactions to it all.

The dialogue between Tiana and Julia is great. To be honest, pretty much all the dialogue is quick and engaging, putting the point across without too much unnecessary exposition. It’s the relationship between Tiana and Julia as well as Ruby and William, two characters you are slowly introduced to and are just as engaging as the story progresses, that really makes Bubblegum for me. Tiana and Julia have such an unlikely yet solid friendship (what with Tiana being almost the stereotypical white rich girl while Julia is the black poor girl) and when Ruby and William come along they dynamic shifts but they all make a badass yet kind of messed up group of people.

I’m pretty sure Bubblegum is the first New Adult story I’ve read and if this is the kind of thing the NA bracket brings I’ll be reading more of it. Bubblegum doesn’t shy away from gory violence and it does have some sex scenes but nothing too explicit. However, there are references to prostitution, including child prostitution, and sexual violence.

While I can’t say anything about how good the representation is, there is a female/female romance between a lesbian character and a transgender character. The relationship between the two is organic and sweet and you’re really rooting for them both, especially as their personalities are kind of the complete opposite but they compliment each other a lot.

Bubblegum is action-packed and while it does feature tough themes like human-trafficking and prostitution, it still manages to be fun without lessening the traumas the characters face in these situations. 4/5.

Bubblegum is released on 9th October 2017

READ THE WORLD – China: The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung

Old Chen lives in Beijing, where a whole month has gone missing from official records, no one has any memory of it and no one cares about it either. Except for Old Chen and his friends – they realise something’s wrong with the Chinese people’s cheerfulness and amnesia. When they kidnap a high-ranking official and force him to reveal all, what they discover could shake them to the core.

The Fat Years is set in the near future so while things are different, for instance there was not just the financial crisis of 2008 a second one in 2011, a lot of Chinese history is mentioned. This is interesting and on the most part the social and political history is well-explained and is a great insight into what life is like in (almost) contemporary China. However, as the book progresses it becomes more dense and I struggled to get through the 100 page epilogue. There was a lot of talk about world economics and politics and while most of the book had been relatively quick to read, that epilogue was a slog.

The Fat Years is an interesting take on a near-future dystopia as so much of it appears to be heavily influenced by what we know of China today. There’s the heavy control of the media and the internet, and if someone disagrees with the government there’s strict punishments. It’s the sort of situation that’s scary and unsettling because it’s so realistic. I did like how The Fat Years talks about controlling governments and how the people tend to just accept what is happening, the sociological angle of how a month could go missing from people’s memories was very interesting.

I enjoyed the concept and it was well thought out and interesting however the characters were a bit of a mixed bad. I didn’t find the main protagonist Old Chen particularly compelling but I did like Little Xi, an internet political activist, and the mentions of her relationship with her son who is an ambitious party member.

If you have an interest in or a good understanding of Chinese political and social history then The Fat Years might be for you. Unfortunately, it became a bit too dense and complicated for me towards the end. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Russia: Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

It’s 2033, the world is ruined and humanity is almost extinct. Possibly the last of the worlds survivors live in Moscow’s Metro system. There they’re safe from radiation in the city above and societies have formed across the metro system and its many stations. Artyom lives in VDNKh, the north most inhabited station on its line, life there is good, until the station becomes endangered by outside forces. Artyom is given the task to traverse the complex metro system to search for help and to warn every one of the new threat bearing down on his native station, and the whole Metro.

Metro 2033 is an interesting story. It’s quite slow to start with as there is a lot of world-building to do. Each of the different train stations in the Metro have become their own mini society, some have become Communist, some are Fascist while many others have their own capitalist democracy. It’s interesting to see what life’s like underground and how it differs from station to station. It wasn’t till I was about halfway through the book and I felt that I had a fairly good understanding that the story picked up speed.

The whole book is quite exposition heavy really and in some ways, it reminded me of American Gods by Neil Gaiman – both are quite slow reads, with a lot of world-building and main characters who seem to go from A to B without being an active participant in the situations they’re in. That being said, I felt Artyom was a character who actually reacted to the mad and dangerous situations he found himself in and, as the story progressed, he became more proactive and confident in his decision making and abilities.

The people Artyom meets on his journey are all very different. My favourites were those who are old enough to remember life outside the Metro, and everyday normal life in the cities. There memories were often rose-tinted but it was good to see Artyom compare it to what he knows as he was only a toddler when everyone had to hide out in the tunnels. It was those moments where you really got the dystopian aspect of the novel.

Metro 2033 also has horror and sci-fi elements as there’s rumours of creatures who have been mutated by the radiation, lurking on the surface and readying themselves to enter the tunnels. There are some passages on Metro 2033 that are generally creepy and unsettling as Artyom traverses the dark tunnel between stations. There’s some eerie stuff in Metro 2033 but it doesn’t always pay off which is regrettable.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it does leave things on a cliff-hanger. Unfortunately, there was no real build up to the “big reveal” so instead of a plot twist you could’ve figured out yourself, it’s more of a huge surprise. I think I will pick up the rest of the series at some point as I’m intrigued to see what happens next but Metro 2033 didn’t pull me in enough from the start to make me super eager to continue. 3/5.

REVIEW: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

unwind neal shustermanThe Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The resolution is a chilling one: Life is inviolable from conception till the age of thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen children can be “unwound” where all the child’s organs are harvested and distributed into different donors so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is a problem for his parents. Risa is a ward of the state, budget cuts and lack of talent means she’s not worth keeping alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child raised to be unwound. Together, they might have a chance to escape, and to survive.

Unwound is a dystopian YA novel where the pro-life vs pro-choice debate has led to a world where teenagers are just seen as viable body parts and parents can easily get rid of problem children. It’s a grim world and the way it’s so excepted and how they operate on the children is very unsettling.

Connor, Risa and Lev are all different kinds of people who are thrown together in a difficult situation. You get the story from their perspectives so while you may understand their actions, the other characters don’t. It can be frustrating and they aren’t always likeable, especially Lev because of his naivety and Connor because he often acts without thinking. Risa is the only one who manages to keep a level-head and while she does sometimes get mad at both Lev and Connor, she is very practical and excepts other people’s mistakes with good grace.

Unwound is a fast-paced read that appears to be a thrilling start to a series. The chapters are short and pretty much every one ends on a cliff-hanger. There’s lies, double-crossing and secrets throughout as Connor, Lev and Risa meet new characters who may or may not cause them harm.

I think I will be carrying on with this series, it’s a compelling and action-packed book and I’m interested to see what becomes of the characters. There’s a secondary character called Hayden who I liked a lot but considering my luck with secondary characters in dystopian novels I’m half expecting him to die/something terrible happens to him in later books. 4/5.