I don't think there's any way to avoid a sophomore slump after a truly fantastic debut like Ready Player One. And actually as I read Armada, the wordI don't think there's any way to avoid a sophomore slump after a truly fantastic debut like Ready Player One. And actually as I read Armada, the word "sophomoric" constantly floated through my mind. The story is a teenager gamer's dream of ecstasy: high school senior Zack Lightman is the target of many a bully in his small suburban town, but that all changes when he's enlisted in the Earth Defense Alliance to counter an impending alien invasion based on his online video gaming prowess. There are many of predictable plot lines here, and Cline gives little winks to the video games and sci-fi films on which the stereotypes are based, but the references never achieve that clever level of sophistication present throughout Ready Player One. If you loved Ready Player One in spite of being a visitor to the world of online gaming like me, I'd honestly skip this one....more
I honestly could not wait for this book to end. Had it not been the last in a series of four books (and based on the way this one ends, it might not bI honestly could not wait for this book to end. Had it not been the last in a series of four books (and based on the way this one ends, it might not be the last), I probably would have ditched it after the first few chapters.
The Life As We Knew It series begins with an asteroid hitting the moon, pushing the natural satellite closer to Earth, which in turn wreaks havoc on the Earth's tides, somehow creating new volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and generally insane weather patterns. (It's all a bit like that ostentatious film The Day After Tomorrow.) The science--as flawed as it may be--kept me focused through the first book. I thought what was happening to the planet was interesting, even though it was being drearily narrated by a hardly believable adolescent girl. The second book took us to a concurrent third person perspective with a family in New York City, a shift in setting from the first book's rural Pennsylvania. I liked this the best of the series, especially when Pfeffer returned to the horrid diary format for her third book when the characters from the first two books come together.
The trouble with this fourth book is that Pfeffer attempts to turn it into a full-blown dystopian society, but she's no Margaret Atwood and fails in the process. This fourth novel opens three years after the close of the third, and Jon, who aged 12-14 in the previous books is now 17, living in an "enclave," a gated community on what was once a college campus where only the most elite of society are allowed in and provided a quality of life in many ways better than their pre-asteroid existences. The residents are called "clavers" and their entire way of life is supported by the masses outside the gates, called "grubs." Jon, his step-mom, and his half-brother gain access to the enclave through a free pass obtained by other characters in the second book, but the rest of his family now live as grubs.
This all sounds like appropriate dystopian fare of the young adult variety, but Pfeffer constantly hits readers over the head with a big club that reads, "This is a metaphor for class and race!" The clavers treat grubs like eighteenth century American slaves, and there are even laws preventing mixing of the classes through marriage. Initially, the dichotomy between the two seems one of mutual existence; the grubs needs to work to afford food, but then things quickly take a turn to an outright master-slave allegory, a transition that left me a little befuddled since the two portions of the book didn't seem to totally match up. When Jon's step-mother Lisa repeatedly threatens to take away her domestic's food allowance because she didn't clean the floors well enough, it simply doesn't ring true with the woman she was before and it certainly becomes far too flimsy when Lisa makes a tremendous sacrifice for these very same grubs near the end of the novel. Likewise, Jon's character is certainly peripheral in the first and third novels, but he is nowhere near the monster he's become as this book opens, nor does his transition back to goodness halfway through the book make sense given his earlier choices.
This book would probably entertain an adolescent who has devoured the series up until now, but for readers with discerning eyes, it might leave you feeling empty and hollow, yearning for the moment you'll turn that final page and it will all be over....more
This short story prequel to Ness's "Chaos Walking" trilogy directly precedes the action of The Knife of Never Letting Go. As a currently free downloadThis short story prequel to Ness's "Chaos Walking" trilogy directly precedes the action of The Knife of Never Letting Go. As a currently free download from Amazon's Kindle Store, it's a fine read that answers some of the questions raised by violent Viola's arrival on "New World," and it doesn't spoil any plots of the coming books. If the trilogy is even mildly intriguing, this is a quick and easy read to help validate those feelings!...more
Karen Russell is truly bizarre. Her work isn't unsettling necessarily, just strange. I find myself bewildered by her magical realism while reading, anKaren Russell is truly bizarre. Her work isn't unsettling necessarily, just strange. I find myself bewildered by her magical realism while reading, and it's not a wholly pleasant experience. After the fact though, I end up nostalgically thinking back on her stories as experiences I relished for some reason. Her work simply needs to simmer for a bit with me, and that is what I believe will happen with Sleep Donation. The world she constructs is an odd one: an epidemic of insomnia is slowly killing off the population, and the narrator must beg and plead with uninfected sleepers to donate their hours of slumber. While reading, I found myself hung up on the mechanics of the donation, which is described in terms similar to blood donation. How exactly is sleep extracted? How is it then implanted? The questions (and the lack of answers) need to be ignored to truly enjoy the novella though, and I think this is why I tend to find actually reading Russell's work less enjoyable then simply thinking about it.
The plot is complicated with the discovery of an infant universal donor whose parents are torn over whether to give consent to repeated donations, an infected donor who threatens to dismantle the entire donation system, and a little bit of corporate espionage. Thankfully, the book is short enough that I didn't become too perturbed by my pragmatic questioning of the plot (unlike Swamplandia. Still, I'm not quite sure what it's all about. Surely there are questions here about the moral ethics of medical donations and the for-profit model of healing the sick, but that seems a little too simple for Russell. I'll probably figure it out after the simmering is complete....more
I found the nearly 500 pages of this book a little daunting, but Ness does a great job creating suspenseful scenes and plot twists that propel the reaI found the nearly 500 pages of this book a little daunting, but Ness does a great job creating suspenseful scenes and plot twists that propel the reader forward at a swift pace. He captures the voice of this thirteen-year-old boy as he journeys through an unknown world, and the staccato sentence structure that punctuates the excitement throughout helped endear me toward the story, although at times it was a little trite as geared toward the intended young adult audience.
The story of young Todd Hewitt living on a planet where mind-reading is essentially possible in the form of hearing others' "noise." There is no hiding in this world where even animals expose their every thought, and still Ness keeps some questions explicitly unanswered until late in the novel. Still, when the big reveal takes place, I wanted something a little more substantial. Perhaps I need to read the two sequels to be totally satisfied on that front.
The book is essentially a gateway piece to bridge the gap between lighter and younger fare where all's well that ends well and more gruesome stories like The Hunger Games. I enjoyed most of the reading in spite of its deficiencies, and at some point I may pick up the sequels to see how the cliffhanger ending....more
This final installment in the trilogy of post-apocalyptic thrillers is a fitting end for the series. The first two novels run concurrently, each endinThis final installment in the trilogy of post-apocalyptic thrillers is a fitting end for the series. The first two novels run concurrently, each ending at the same point, and Maddaddam picks up where each leaves off. This follows the same narrative style as the previous two novels: the world has already ended after a calculated release of a bioengineered disease that dissolves people's organs from the inside out, and we learn much of what the world was like prior to that via flashbacks to the characters' earlier lives. Along for the ride are the Crakers, a genetically engineered new race of humanoids, and they play a much more prominent role here as Atwood tangentially explores whether these clean slates of human brain power will simply follow in our footsteps toward destruction. If this hadn't been the conclusion to a series I liked so much, I might have been disappointed by some of the storytelling techniques here. However, I was eager to discover how these characters ended their journey through Atwood's brilliant imagination, one that is far too realistic to be deemed science fiction....more
Feed starts out essentially as A Clockwork Orange-lite. It's a great predecessor to that far more mature text about the desensitizing of our society'sFeed starts out essentially as A Clockwork Orange-lite. It's a great predecessor to that far more mature text about the desensitizing of our society's youth. The focus here though is on the ways in which our culture is being deconstructed by the corporations as they monitor our consumer habits in order to create the most manipulative advertising campaigns, made all the more effective by a "feed" installed in the brain--ideally at birth--that synthesizes all mental activities with the infinite possibilities of our contemporary Internet. The first half of the book is pretty horrifying in its depiction of this dark dystopia, but the second half devolved a bit into a melodramatic adolescent love scene. It's a quick and engaging read, but parents beware--the language is pretty strong here, especially with its classification a young adult novel, although it certainly has its merit in the thematic context....more
I simply flew through this book from start to finish. The dystopian world unfolds through the narrative of an adult Julia looking back on her sixth grI simply flew through this book from start to finish. The dystopian world unfolds through the narrative of an adult Julia looking back on her sixth grade year--the year the Earth's rotation began to slow. Days and nights lengthen, crops begin to fail, entire species of animals die out, and Julia encounters it all at the dawn of her own adolescence. While the context of the novel is science fiction in nature, the book captures so much more about that paradoxical period in our lives:
"This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voiced dipped and dove. Our first flaws were emerging, but they were being corrected. Blurry vision could be fixed invisibly with the magic of the contact lens. Crooked teeth were pulled straight with braces. Spotty skin could be chemically cleared. Some girls were turning beautiful. A few boys were growing tall. I knew I still looked like a child." (43)
This may sound hokey, but Karen Thompson Walker's prose works wonders here. The conceit of the adult Julia looking back on the dividing line of her own childhood and adulthood and having it coincide with the world before and after the slowing is inspired. There is a lot going on here too on both fronts; Julia deals with revelations about her family and the schisms that exist there just as society grapples with the growing tensions amidst how to deal with the changing world.
After finishing the book, I read that Karen Thompson Walker received a million dollar advance for this first novel, and the movie rights have already been sold. I can certainly understand the hype now that I've finished. This book is accessible to a wide audience and is very well written....more
The first half of the book strikes a more realistic tone as Chris reels from his recent firing from a small liberal arts college because he wouldn't play the role of the token African American professor. The college president tells him, "We have a large literature faculty, they can handle the majority of literature. You were retained to purvey the minority perspective" (13), and this tone of social expectations for acceptable assimilationist behavior reinforces Chris's position that the roots of racism are found in the "whitest of pages" in the American cannon--the works of such men as Poe, Melville, and Hemingway (27). After his departure from his position at the college, he discovers an important artifact that suggests Poe's novel may in fact be a work of nonfiction--and one that might explain the significance of racial strife in the modern era. He then uses his sizable severance package to pursue his theories.
Once his crew of seven black Americans arrives in Antarctica though and the white behemoths make their presence known, the book departs for the realm of magical realism. Through the struggles with these white slave masters for the new millennium, Chris articulates the ways in which skin color--and this is treated as something entirely different than race--is the real source of societal strife. Even when the book heads off in the direction of an even more preposterous plot device than the white Sasquatches of the arctic, the books is entirely readable and enjoyable--at times even humorously macabre. The racial subject matter is thinly veiled within these ludicrous plot points (again, one that mirrors the absurdity of Poe's own novel), yet this is what makes the tense subject matter so palatable.
This is a great read and a weighty one in spite of its readability!...more
I have to admit to being a bit of a closet nerd. I know that makes me sound just a little bit like a regular nerd, but hear me out. A part of me wisheI have to admit to being a bit of a closet nerd. I know that makes me sound just a little bit like a regular nerd, but hear me out. A part of me wishes to have been welcomed with open arms into some hardcore Dungeons & Dragons group where I could roll those multifaceted dice to my heart's content as my low level wizard became an all-powerful sorcerer. Alas, I spent my high school years singing and dancing in community theater instead, only occasionally picking up a Nintendo joystick to battle Gannon and save Princess Zelda. With that little secret still alive and kicking inside me, I devoured Ernest Cline's novel with relish.
The novel opens in the 40s--the 2040s that is. America has lost its ability to sustain the insatiable appetites of its population and the urban centers have become the only habitable landscape as the rest of the country has fallen into lawlessness. Life is barely worth living, especially for Wade, a teenage orphan living outside of Oklahoma City near the top of a towering stack of trailers (such "stacks" have surfaced on the outskirts of all major cities and serve as the new projects). He is like most people of the world: the only enjoyment comes from plugging into a virtual world called the OASIS. Here Wade becomes Parzival. Imagine the virtual world of The Matrix combined with virtual fantasy world of Second Life and you'll be close to the virtual reality of the OASIS. In the OASIS though, avatar's travel the galaxy, adventuring around planets devoted to specific themes that run the gambit from Dungeons & Dragons to military warfare to John Hughes' flicks. In the OASIS, Wade attends school, lives out various adventures (although on a limited basis due to his real and virtual poverty), and searches for Halliday's Egg.
Halliday is the creator of the OASIS; born in the mid-1970s, he has a penchant for all things 80s. He developed the OASIS after growing up on the Atari 2600 and conquering each subsequent gaming system that replaced it. Upon his death a few years before the novel's opening, he released a video announcing that he had hidden three keys and three gates within his virtual world that lead to his "Easter Egg." Whoever finds the egg would inherit his insanely wealthy estate. Early on, Wade inadvertently becomes the first to discover the first key, and his avatar immediately becomes a worldwide celebrity as his name becomes the first to appear on Halliday's score board in the years since his death. Adventure begins as the nerds struggle to dominate the corporate bullies to reach Halliday's egg.
If this all sounds hokey, it is, but the beauty of Cline's novel is that it doesn't feel this way when you're reading it. He never delves too deeply into the miscellaneous D&D-style simulations even though the majority of the book takes place within the OASIS. With Halliday's love affair with the 1980s at the heart of the search for his egg, the book is as much a love letter to the pop culture of that decade as it is role playing fantasy excitement. (An intricate knowledge of such gems as Family Ties and Ladyhawke is helpful to truly enjoy the book, but not necessary.)
If you steer clear of this book because of its sci-fi/fantasy genre, you'll be doing yourself a big disservice. It's an utterly entertaining read from start to finish!...more
This is another one of those books that escaped me in my high school and college career (one of my students was totally aghast I had not read it). PicThis is another one of those books that escaped me in my high school and college career (one of my students was totally aghast I had not read it). Picking it up now to read with a group of students who had selected it for their literature circle assignment, I discovered what a gem I'd been missing.
It's clear why this is considered a classic; Bradbury's dystopian vision of a world without books is both frightening and prophetic. Early on the protagonist discovers that the historical ban on literature "didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God" (58). The text's predictions that books would lose favor due to a mixture of technological advances, a desire for more aesthetically pleasing books that diluted their very nature, and public outcries from minority groups about their portrayal within various books, is mirrored in every aspect of how our society interacts with literature today, more than half a century after Bradbury imagined it.
This does at times become a bit preachy, but luckily it's all combined with a riveting and fast-paced story. I'm surprised that it has not been interpreted into a modern film adaptation; the plot is full of opportunities for cinematic acrobatics and computer-generated visual effects.
I give the book four stars however because it does delve into a didactic final few chapters, much like other early dystopian novels (like 1984 and Brave New World, both of which provide a greater foundation for such discussion merely by the number of pages), and also because Bradbury's prose doesn't develop stylistically in a way that comments effectively on theme in the way contemporary pieces like The Road and Blindness. It's a quick read however and something to add to your literary bucket list!...more
Margaret Atwood is pretty brilliant, at least based on the two books I've read by her (this and The Handmaid's Tale). While Oryx and Crake never reachMargaret Atwood is pretty brilliant, at least based on the two books I've read by her (this and The Handmaid's Tale). While Oryx and Crake never reaches the soaring heights of fiction that The Handmaid's Tale tale, it's still a fantastic exploration of our future destination. She takes on a lot in this book. The sole character Snowman opens the novel in his post-apocalyptic world, dodging genetically engineered and dangerous animals, harrowing yet dependable weather, and keeping watch over a new species of humanoids (also genetically engineered). Through a series of flashbacks, Snowman relates his previous life as Jimmy, growing up in a dystopian America where the privileged live within walled compounds run by major corporations. Along the way he meets Crake, a genius with sociopathic tendencies who tries single-handedly to solve the world's population problem with modern science. Of course Crake does not account for the pull of human emotion, and his plans go horribly awry when the two boys jockey for the love of the beautifully damaged Oryx.
While effective at creating a believable future (she succeeds in getting readers to buy into such ludicrous sounding imaginings as as a rat-snake hybrid called a "snat"), Atwood at times attempts to fill in too many holes. In The Handmaid's Tale, she trusts the reader to take the journey into Gilead without a handbook of what's what, yet in the end, the reader feels as though the story has been told to the furthest extent possible. The absence of total understanding the dystopia mirrors her protagonist's role in the oppressive society (something Cormac McCarthy does equally as well in The Road). Here though, Snowman almost knows too much, and the holes are more glaring in the plot. None of this detracts from the experience of the book though, and Atwood's creation is still fantastic. Perhaps too, judgment on this novel needs to be reserved until she completes the trilogy, as this is merely the first in a series of books focusing on the same dystopian vision....more
This book is truly fantastic. Marketed in the young adult genre, it easily surpasses a vast majority of the fiction geared toward adults. In the styleThis book is truly fantastic. Marketed in the young adult genre, it easily surpasses a vast majority of the fiction geared toward adults. In the style of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Collins has created a horrifying dystopian future, one with a history that she metes out in pieces only as it is necessary to understand the plot. This fragmented exposition creates a tension in the veiled possibility that this reality is too easily linked to our own. The plot sounds outrageously sophomoric--an oppressive government reminds its lowly citizens of the dangers of rebellion by selecting twenty-four teenagers to battle to the death in a televised game of survival of the fittest--yet Collins expertly avoids mediocrity primarily through the likability and charisma of her strong female protagonist Katniss, a delightful mixture of burgeoning adolescent maturity, awakening sexuality, and a fierce independence. While the novel is truly plot driven (there really isn't a whole lot of literary "depth" here beyond the harbingers of a stark future of tyranny), the plot developments and characterizations make it difficult to put this book down. I simply cannot wait to read the next installment!...more
I really went back and forth over whether to give this book four or five stars. It was sort of all over the place, but I've grown to respect what CollI really went back and forth over whether to give this book four or five stars. It was sort of all over the place, but I've grown to respect what Collins has done with this series. Each of the three texts in The Hunger Games series becomes increasingly more mature in so many ways. The last two chapters of this final installment reveal such a complex understanding of the effects of her earlier narrative choices, elements that have tremendous developmental impact on he first person narrator. These books end in a way that belies the series' "young adult" moniker and reveals Collins's complex themes and characterization. I finished truly moved by the experiences of reading these three books. I had grown to truly love the characters and their struggles, and the inevitable loss of those characters--both in elements of the plot and because I am now finished reading about them--haunts me in a way I didn't anticipate. Now, I can simply hope that Collins has something else brilliantly addictive up her sleeve!...more
I probably would have given this book only four stars if I had not read Oryx and Crake first. That book is terrific on its own, but when The Year of tI probably would have given this book only four stars if I had not read Oryx and Crake first. That book is terrific on its own, but when The Year of the Flood starts to fill in some of the holes from that first volume in the Madd Addam series, the experience became a lot more exciting, especially (view spoiler)[when Atwood provides a resolution to Snowman's unresolved approach of three strangers in the final pages of Oryx and Crake(hide spoiler)].
Whereas Oryx and Crake provides some explanation of how the world dissolved into the post-apocalyptic environment of extreme weather conditions and genetically spliced super animals, The Year of the Flood focuses instead on who survived "the Waterless Flood" and how they did so. This religious point of view on the scientific choices in the first volume provides an intriguing counterpoint, but since the two really aren't sequential I'm sure this book can be enjoyed without having read Oryx and Crake, although as I mention above it's certainly a richer experience.
Atwood's vision of the future is terrifying, yet she accurately conveys a sense that we are on a collision course with her own imaginings. The ways in which the corporations couple with oppressive government forces to take over and cause our destruction doesn't seem so much prophetic as simply correct. Here she focuses on two female protagonists, both a generation apart but who come together as part of God's Gardeners, a pseudo-cult bent on a peaceful rebellion against the godlessness that they believe led to the rampant consumerism that provided scientific motive for the medical and genetic atrocities that inhabit this fantasy of the future. With the female perspectives Atwood is able to explore how these societal elements are inextricably with historical forms of female oppression, and because of that there are vestiges of her masterpiece The Handmaid's Tale, although those elements certainly aren't the main focus here.
The book attempts to deal with a lot of issues, which is one of the few concerns I expressed about Oryx and Crake, but the sheer magnitude of her own mythology is effective at convincing me of the veracity of her setting--one that unfortunately seems likely to become our own without prophets like Atwood to warn of us their coming.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This was definitely a great read from a purely historical and cultural perspective. Reading the original text of story that has totally infiltrated ouThis was definitely a great read from a purely historical and cultural perspective. Reading the original text of story that has totally infiltrated our popular culture even hundreds of years after it was written was totally intriguing! The most interesting piece for me though was how little Shelley devotes to providing veracity to the outlandish elements of her narrative. I suppose I'm just a product of modern science fiction in which verisimilitude is of primary importance, but there is absolutely NO discussion here about how exactly Frankenstein creates his monster. The narration literally suggests he just works really hard and then suddenly succeeds. The same is true of the preposterous voice of the monster. He speaks incredibly eloquently in more than one language, a product of eavesdropping on a family for a few months through a hole in the wall.
Clearly the focus here is the morality of science and creation, which in itself is totally worthy of devotion. At times Shelley hits us over the head with her themes, particularly when the creature voraciously reads John Milton's "Paradise Lost" and immediately identifies with Adam, as well as elements of the fallen angel Lucifer. However, the themes morality, responsibility, and even parenting are sufficient to make this a truly absorbing story!...more
I wish I had read this book in high school with a great teacher who could have walked me through the complexities of this novel. Having never experienI wish I had read this book in high school with a great teacher who could have walked me through the complexities of this novel. Having never experienced the book that way though, I'm glad I'm not the teacher being asked to lead a group of students down that path. The book is great, and at the same time, my head was spinning as I tried to make sense of the disjointed chronology of Billy Pilgrim's time travel and alien abduction. The scenes of the war, and in particular the bombings in Dresden are devastating, and the fantastical science fiction elements tempered what could have been a far too heavy book. Displaying some of Vonnegut's trademark dark humor in what seems like a deeply personal tale for him knowing what I do about his own experiences in the war, the book at once enjoyable and moving. It's a worth a read, especially if some erudite literary scholar can lead you through hard parts....more
My head is still spinning from this utterly fantastic book. (I'm not quite sure how I got out of high school and college without having read it!) WritMy head is still spinning from this utterly fantastic book. (I'm not quite sure how I got out of high school and college without having read it!) Written almost a century ago, Huxley's novel is eerily prophetic in its depiction of a culture that promotes promiscuity as "virtuous" and that pushes individuals toward chemical happiness. The narrative naturally includes all of the standard dystopian literary elements: Bernard is the underdeveloped Alpha who becomes "elated by the intoxicating consciousness of his individual significance and importance" in spite of the government's attempts to eliminate individuality; Lenina is his unquestioning love interest who willingly embraces the propaganda that sustains society's status quo; and John the Savage is the outsider who provides an alternative perspective to the shallow perfection of the World State. Unlike feeling tired after so many decades of reinvention by other authors, the story is invigorating in a manner that is far more easily preserved than some of its contemporaries, such as George Orwell's 1984, which although equally as brilliant suffers from a title and setting that has dated it for the past thirty years.
Beyond the precision with which Huxley predicts our reality from the vantage of the early twentieth century, what is so scary about the book is its honesty in depicting what utopian societies truly require: a prominent figure claims that "the secret of happiness and virtue [is] making people like their un-escapable social destiny." The novel suggests that humanity requires a caste system, whether formalized as it is in the World State of Brave New World or conveyed as subtext as it is in our own world. Admitting the static nature of those social positions however is antithetical to the ideals that promote capitalism in the Western world and would likely lead us inevitably down the path to this "brave new world" in which babies are born in test tubes and chemically engineered to fulfill their future line of work. The commentary here though provides for an inescapable contradiction. The perceived perfection of the World State is actually a flaw, supposedly only because we have history and our own reality to which we can compare it. Near the novel's closing, a government official details his belief that "actual happiness always looks squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand." Perhaps this is precisely why our current society soldiers on in the face of such vast disparities in social justice and economic representation....more
I escaped high school and college having never read any George Orwell and having just finished 1984 I understand what a tragedy that is! This novel isI escaped high school and college having never read any George Orwell and having just finished 1984 I understand what a tragedy that is! This novel is totally brilliant, especially given the time period in which it was written. Orwell’s ability to see with utter clarity the mad power grab of those in power as they strive to maintain the hierarchical nature of Western society is something I never (and perhaps this is a fault of my own deficiencies of history and philosophical thought) considered to be as keenly focused it is presented within this book.
I see so much of what Orwell details in this futuristic dystopia that is London in 1984 as part of our current political establishment in America. When Winston is given the book by The Brotherhood, he reads Emmanuel Goldstein’s dissertation on the power structure of the “oligarchical collectivism” that exists in his world. As Big Brother’s archenemy, Goldstein lays out for would-be activists the how and the why the Party maintains order and it reads (admittedly a bit didactically) almost as a manual for the powers that be of the read world today. He claims that “if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realise that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.” While this thought might be a bit radical, I really feel that many politicians, especially those on the right subconsciously suppress social programs to maintain the balance of power in their own favors. Goldstein’s thoughts on war or similarly prophetic: “The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labour power without producing anything that can be consumed.” In his book, he makes the argument to his readers that war in particular feeds the need to keep the lower levels of social hierarchies from achieving a comfort of living that would afford them time to consider their country’s leadership while also taking an emotional toll on the people, provoking fear and patriotism. In the context of the novel of course, this knowledge eventually wreaks havoc on Winston’s own attempts to rebel and the accuracy of the very existence of Goldstein is called into question, leaving Winston and the reader to wonder if the rumors of rebellion that are characterized by the elusive Brotherhood are merely another tactic of Big Brother in controlling the masses, particularly those intellectuals like Winston.
So much of the book reads as though it were written in response to today’s world and not the world of the mid-twentieth century; however elements of it are clearly dated. Orwell’s pre-sexual revolution male perspective comes through slightly in his depiction of Winston’s lover Julia, a much younger woman who wants nothing more than a sexual relationship with Winston. It is not until he sees her with “just a few dabs of colour [make up:] in the right places” that he discovers she is “not only very much prettier, but above all, far more feminine.” Julia not only represents the dated male fantasy of the oversexed younger woman who is madly in love with the man beginning his midlife crisis though. Orwell sets up the age difference to also brilliantly bring into the play the varying attitudes of different generations to political oppression. Julia is only concerned about subverting Big Brother and the Party in so much as it effects her own pleasure. She could not care less about playing a role in a larger and longer political movement, whereas Winston understands that he will likely never live to see the day that the masses overthrow Big Brother and is still willing to play his part. Winston idyllically tells her that he “can imagine little knots of resistance springing up here and there—small groups of people banding themselves together, and gradually growing, and even leaving a few records behind, so that the generation can carry on where we leave off,” to which Julia responds, “I’m not interested in the next generation dear. I’m interested in us,” clearly representing the voice of egocentric adolescence and early adulthood. Winston reacts with an objectifying and biting comment that she is “only a rebel from the waist downwards,” again displaying some of the misogyny that creeps into the novel from time to time, perhaps even deliberately on Orwell’s part.
In 1984, Orwell creates a brilliant depiction of an oppressive society that seems far too realistic to be true fiction, something we should all be wary of even as we move further and further away from the actual 1984! ...more