In the future, climate change has ravaged the earth and Aborigines are still living under the government's Intervention scheme in the north, a schemeIn the future, climate change has ravaged the earth and Aborigines are still living under the government's Intervention scheme in the north, a scheme that promises to "close the gap" but only enlarges it. The mute Oblivia Ethylene is unwanted in her swampy home, but forms a bond with thousands of black swans. However, she is thrust out of this world by Warren Finch, Australia's first indigenous president, who takes her as his wife and imprisons her.
Half dystopia, half fairy tale and awash with powerful imagery, The Swan Book is far from an easy read. It was hard going, not only due to the topics Alexis Wright unapologetically focuses on, but also due to the way Wright has crafted and written this story. It is easy to be lost, to struggle to be drawn into this world and keep going.
I had this sensation with Plains of Promise, Wright's first novel. It was a struggle to read, as this was, but in the end, I could not help but be moved by the emotions and stories Wright captures. The same is true with The Swan Book, though it lacks the precise, devastating climax that Plains of Promise did. ...more
A woman known as Zoo wants to experience adventure and decides to compete in the latest survivalist reality show. Isolated with eleven other contestanA woman known as Zoo wants to experience adventure and decides to compete in the latest survivalist reality show. Isolated with eleven other contestants in the woods, Zoo competes in a series of twisted challenges and becomes determined that she won't quit. The contestants are unaware when a deadly illness sweeps through the human population, leaving destruction in its wake. When she stumbles over the disaster-struck outside world, it appears to be part of the game and Zoo can only keep going.
Alexandra Oliva's The Last One is a thoroughly absorbing, fast-paced read. It has a fantastically strong start, beginning with these ominous words: "The first one on the production team to die will be the editor." The rest follows along almost naturally. It is unsettling, haunting and thought-provoking – one that I connected to immediately and wanted to keep reading, even past the last page.
Oliva tells the story through two parallel storylines. The first, told in third person omniscient, recounts the beginning of the reality show, showing the characters beginning the competition, but also hinting at the disaster that is about to strike. The second, told in first person, shows Zoo in the midst of the disasters, alone and ignorant, thinking she is still playing the game. Interspersed between these narratives are excerpts from a Reddit-like forum, commentating on the reality show.
Both storylines are strong and engaging. I do have to admit I was a little sad when the first storyline came to a close. The entire novel could have been about the reality TV show and I would have stilled loved it. As much as the dystopian/apocalyptic element elevates The Last One, the interactions and relationships between the twelve contestants and the wry commentary on the editing of stories into a simple narrative that follows tropes, conventions and expectations, were simply fascinating.
However, Oliva's use of the nicknames (e.g. Tracker, Black Doctor, Biology) paired next to the contestants' use of each other's names meant it could be confusing as who was being talked. Other readers have pointed out that contestant's race is talked about in often cringe-y, borderline racist ways – personally, I read this as a comment on how Hollywood etc. often reduce individuals to their race and other most shallow characteristics.
Additionally, while I did connect with the characters populating the second storyline, I didn't connect with them as strongly as I connected to Zoo's fellow contestants. It also felt that there was rich material to be mined in the contestants' relationships, only for that opportunity to be cut off dramatically.
However, the second storyline is engaging, namely because of Zoo. Zoo is a complex, intriguing protagonist who is neither too perfect or too flawed. She is someone we can root for, completely, but also see honestly. Oliva makes us question just what she is capable of, what is the worst she can do and whether she can deal with it. And so too does Oliva make us question the world we inhabit, how the "better" story can be believed over the true one and how desensitised we can be to the world and tragedies around us.
If there is a flaw, for me it was that I wanted more of the ending. Not more from it – the ending is satisfying and works well to bring things to a close – but more of it. I wanted to linger there, in that moment, for just a little longer.
The Last One is a strong debut, complex and thought-provoking. It is a book I simply loved reading. I look forward to seeing what Alexandra Oliva writes next.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy for review from the publishers via Netgalley....more
I'm going to start off with the bad: I have big issues with the writing of this novel. Basically, every time I came to non-dialogue I was very nearlyI'm going to start off with the bad: I have big issues with the writing of this novel. Basically, every time I came to non-dialogue I was very nearly overcome with the desire to get a red pen out and edit the hell out this baby. Maybe it's more apparent listening to it than reading it, but Alan Dean Foster's writing felt over-explanatory, repetitious or just plain old "using fifty words where one would do". Not to mention the sheer amount of unnecessary exposition that just drags the story down (do we really need a monologue about voice control systems from a character that dies in the first minute of the film when it bears no relation to the main plot?) I found much of the prose irritating and maddening and if I had been reading a paperback, I might have just rage quit in the early chapters. Or succumbed to my red pen urges.
Too often, I felt I was counting down to the end of the novel because I don't need to have every little detail of a story I already know explained to me again in such a pedantic way.
The okay: I liked being able to see a little more of the world of Star Trek rebooted, I liked getting more of the stories and the characters. This included the expansion/rewriting of some scenes, insertion of new scenes, and catching details that weren't abundantly clear or merely subtext in the film. But it doesn't really add anything new or big to the story, especially if you've seen the deleted scenes.
The thing that I felt was most insightful to the story was Kirk's disciplinary hearing over the Kobayashi Maru, particularly the confrontation between Kirk and Spock. This seemed to be one of the scenes that was rewritten the most and it seems obvious that Spock was in the right and Kirk in the wrong. Though it begs the question: does the academy just throw cadets into stimulators/tests without explaining what they're being tested on? Surely, if the point of the Kobayashi Maru is to see how cadets react to a "no win scenario", then you should make it clear that the objective isn't to have a successful mission? But it seems it's framed as a pass/fail test on the basis of whether you save the crew of the Kobayashi Maru without hacking the test. I don't get it.
The best: Zachary Quinto's narration. As you'd expect from any decent actor, Quinto makes the story and characters come alive, giving each character their own unique voice. His take on Chekov isn't quite as adorable as Anton Yelchin's, but that's the worst offence he commits. Frankly, his narration is the only redeemable feature of the book.
But, unfortunately, it's not enough to keep me listening. Usually, I'm not too big on audiobooks and only really listen to them a long car journey. But I dread listening to more of this. I can't stand to put myself through more of that pedantic and tedious writing – especially when I can go and watch the movie, which is over in two hours, not eight, and has the fun visuals and pretty actors, even if they are obscured by too much lens flare....more
Despite this being an adventure story, I found it hard to get into and sometimes a little boring and slow. And, ugh, the casual racism was such a turnDespite this being an adventure story, I found it hard to get into and sometimes a little boring and slow. And, ugh, the casual racism was such a turn-off. Despite all of that, I eventually got into it and managed to finish it, but I won't be picking up any more of Conan Doyle's books. ...more