"It was as if there were no radio transmitters left in the world, or perhaps no souls to use them. He kept scanning. There was nothing."
Augustine, an"It was as if there were no radio transmitters left in the world, or perhaps no souls to use them. He kept scanning. There was nothing."
Augustine, an elderly astronomer, was stranded in the Canadian Arctic when he refused to be evacuated from a research facility. He had chosen to devote his life to research, and had pushed away any serious relationships. In his isolation, he reflects back on his life, wondering if he had made the right choices.
Meanwhile, six astronauts on the return trip from observing Jupiter have lost contact with Mission Control. They are unable to communicate with anyone, and no lights are visible as they view the Earth from their spaceship.
While an unspecified apocalypse is the crisis in the book, the story is really about people, isolation, connections, and group interactions. It's about people making choices on how to live their lives, and more choices when threatened by death. The story is a beautifully written piece of literary fiction with gorgeous descriptions of outer space, and the stark beauty of the Arctic Circle. There is a lovely bit of fantasy that surprised me, and helps entwine the two stories together. The reader has to let themselves go with the story since some events are not totally grounded in realism and seem more symbolic. I enjoyed letting Lily Brooks-Dalton's beautiful prose carry me to another place.
Thank you to Lily Brooks-Dalton and Random House for the opportunity to read this First Reads book....more
The rain was relentless. For years the winds roared, lightening cracked, vines whipped over toppled trees, water flooded abandoned buildings, and skinThe rain was relentless. For years the winds roared, lightening cracked, vines whipped over toppled trees, water flooded abandoned buildings, and skinny animals roamed the post-Katrina Gulf Coast. The government had transported people to areas north of "The Line" in evacuation buses, but a few survivalists and treasure hunters had remained. It was a lawless world where Cohen stayed in Mississippi, unable to leave his home full of memories of his beloved wife and unborn child who had both died. Cohen had lost everyone important to him, and was filled with regret that he had not taken his wife to a safer area.
After Cohen is attacked, and his Jeep and his precious mementos stolen, he goes searching for the culprits. He finds a group of people in damaged trailers, living under the rule of a Bible quoting cult leader. If he is able to help this group of women and children escape from their desperate circumstances, they will have to navigate blocked roads and avoid ruthless looters as they travel north to "The Line".
Throughout the book there are flashbacks to happier times when Cohen and his wife vacationed in Venice, a city covered with canals of water. There are also mentions of the novel Death in Venice where the protagonist refuses to leave Venice in the midst of an epidemic. The supernatural is also in the background, appropriate for a situation over which God and Nature are the controlling forces.
The book was bleak but very well written, and reminded me a bit of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It was very intense, leaving me feeling exhausted like I had been through a battering storm myself. (Or maybe it was because I stayed up to 3 am finishing the book!) I liked Cohen as a character--a good man who is capable of being tough to protect others, a man who had lost hope only to find hope rekindled. I enjoy post-apocalyptic literature that has the element of believability, and recommend this book to readers who enjoy this genre....more
Gold, fame, and citrus were the enticements that drew people across the country to California. But the state of California in this dystopian novel isGold, fame, and citrus were the enticements that drew people across the country to California. But the state of California in this dystopian novel is experiencing extreme drought and high winds, resulting in a reverse of the migration in "The Grapes of Wrath". Some states have closed their borders, and the last of the evacuation buses have left for the east. The few holdouts in the parched area survive on "ration cola", black market provisions, and goods looted from abandoned houses.
Luz and Ray have holed up in a starlet's former home in Los Angeles. They assume a parental role toward Ig, a neglected, possibly abused two-year-old who was spending time with a group of junkies. To find a better life for Ig they head eastward, crossing the desert with meager rations of gasoline and water. They find a sea of sand covering the Southwest, moving like a glacier and swallowing town after town. A desert cult, led by a charismatic dowser who finds water and food in questionable ways, may be their only hope for survival.
Watkins' writing is beautiful. Her descriptions are sensual and earthy, and sometimes hallucinogenic. The author has taken California's real problems of water shortage, diminished aquifers, wildfires, and corporate greed, and envisioned a near future with exacerbated problems. The people left behind seems real--survivalists banded together in communes, gangs, and cults. The scary thing about Watkins' vision is knowing that there is a possibility of at least some of it actually becoming a reality....more
Lauren Olamina lives with her family in a locked, walled community at a time of economic, environmental, and social crisis. Parable of the Sower is wrLauren Olamina lives with her family in a locked, walled community at a time of economic, environmental, and social crisis. Parable of the Sower is written as a journal of the intelligent black teenager in the years 2024-2027 in an area outside Los Angeles. In this dystopian future, water and other resources are scarce. Violence is rampant so people only venture outside the walls in a group armed with weapons. Because her mother took a certain drug when she was pregnant, Lauren has a condition called hyperempathy, so she shares the pain of other creatures she sees in pain. It's not an easy condition to hide when living in violent times.
Lauren anticipates the day when attackers will overrun their walled community so she has been learning about survival techniques, and has put together an emergency pack in case she has to escape. She has also written poetry about a new religion or philosophy of life called Earthseed which stresses the importance of change and adaptation to circumstances. As people change, they are also changing God (which seems to be the Universe or a force).
After Lauren's community is attacked, she makes her way northward. She travels with people that seem trustworthy, as well as willing to defend their small group from violent people. Will they find a way to survive?
Many of the problems causing the breakdown of society and government in this dystopian novel are more severe portrayals of actual problems present in the world today--such as climate change, wide differences in income, racial intolerance, and drug addiction. This gave the novel a realistic feel to it, although I could not imagine this type of situation as soon as 2024. The book is also food for thought about what qualities are important for communities to survive in a changed world. I did tend to skim over the parts about Earthseed which seemed a bit repetitive and preachy after reading a couple of her short poems....more
Station Eleven seems frightfully real as the survivors of the Georgia Flu Pandemic are seen before the disease strikes, and up to twenty years after tStation Eleven seems frightfully real as the survivors of the Georgia Flu Pandemic are seen before the disease strikes, and up to twenty years after the apocalypse. The book revolves around the family and friends of actor Arthur Leander who collapses onstage during a production of "King Lear", Shakespeare's play about great loss.
The novel gets its name from some science fiction comic books, illustrated by Arthur's first wife, about a group of people living on a damaged space station after aliens invade the Earth. Two of the younger survivors of the pandemic have copies of the comic books, given to them by Arthur, and considered their treasured possessions. Earth after the pandemic has totally changed, similar to the plight of the people in Station Eleven trying to survive in outer space.
Much of the book is seen through the eyes of the members of the Traveling Symphony, a group bringing culture to the area south of Lake Michigan. They alternate between presenting symphonic concerts and Shakespearean plays. Just as Shakespeare continued writing at the time of the plague, this group does not forget that people still need the arts in their lives after the pandemic. The actress Kirsten has a quote from Star Trek tattooed on her arm: "Because survival is insufficient."
The British man Clark preserves artifacts from the time before the pandemic--books, credit cards, cell phones, and anything that runs on electricity. There are no modern means of transportation, medical care, and communication. A young man called the Prophet twists Biblical passages and sets up a dangerous cult. People must carry weapons since many strangers are violent.
Although this is a post-apocalyptic novel, there are many complex characters that work together to support each other. The theme that "Survival is insufficient" runs through the book. In the midst of desolation, there is love and a glimmer of hope. Highly recommended....more
A man sits in his car, blocking traffic, while drivers behind him sound their horns. When other motorists reach him, he keeps repeating, "I am blind."A man sits in his car, blocking traffic, while drivers behind him sound their horns. When other motorists reach him, he keeps repeating, "I am blind." He was the first to experience "white blindness." When he was examined by an ophthalmologist later that day, there were no signs of disease. But everyone waiting in the ophthalmologist's office was experiencing the "white blindness" within a day. The government decides to quarantine the victims in an unused mental hospital. When the doctor is picked up, his wife pretends that she is also blind so that she can take care of him. No one knows why she is the only one immune to this blindness, but it lets the author reveal more about the situation through her eyes.
The conditions at the hospital are awful--shortages of food, filth everywhere, and armed guards shooting anyone who comes near them. A group of quarantined men with a gun gain control of the food. The starving people must give in to their demands or they will not be fed.
Soon the "white blindness" has spread through out the country. We see how interdependent people are in the modern world with food, water, electricity, and transportation soon disappearing. There is a breakdown of society, with small pockets of people who show kindness in helping others, sharing resources, and trying to maintain their dignity.
Saramago does not give his characters names, although they do have distinct personalities. They are identified by phrases such as "the doctor," "the girl with the dark glasses," and "the boy with the squint" so they could really represent any of us in society. Saramago's style is very different. He writes in multi-page paragraphs, uses no quotation marks, and separates dialogue with commas. However, it was easy to adjust to his style after a few pages. I found myself completely caught up in the story, and thinking about it days after I turned the last page....more
William Golding's experiences in the Royal Navy during World War II were significant in developing his bleak view of the basic nature of humanity. InWilliam Golding's experiences in the Royal Navy during World War II were significant in developing his bleak view of the basic nature of humanity. In the allegorical Lord of the Flies, a plane carrying mostly upper class British boys crashes on a deserted island, and no adults survive. At first, it looks like an idyllic place to have fun away from adult control. The boys elect charismatic Ralph as their leader, and he tries to organize them in building shelters, gathering fruit and water, and keeping a fire lit as a rescue signal so they can return to civilization. The power-hungry Jack organizes a group to hunt the pigs on the island, which quickly gains savage, tribal overtones with face paint and violence. I don't want to spoil the book for anyone, so I won't go into details of the plot.
The books show the conflict between civilization and savagry, between good and evil. There is a spectrum of human behavior on the island as the boys respond to their freedom away from civilization. Ralph has a strong conscience and tries to do what is right for the group. Simon is innately good and civilized. Piggie is intelligent, but is not a leader, and is a target for bullies because of his weight, his poor eyesight, and his asthma. Jack is hungry for power, has a violent nature, and manipulates the younger boys using fear of an imaginary Beast. (This type of manipulation has been used by many political and religious organizations.) Roger is the most violent and enjoys torturing others (a future Hitler or Stalin.) The boys on the island become more and more savage. Civilization is lost and replaced by primitive brutality.
There are many ways of looking at this book. It can be seen as a political statement about the brutality of a dictator taking over a society. Another view is religious with man's loss of innocence, and our innate evil destroying the Garden of Eden. The book can also be seen from a Freudian view with the struggle between the Id (primal instincts and desires), the Ego (conscious rational mind), and the Superego (conscience and morality.) But in all these views, the book is examining the basic nature of human behavior. In Chapter 8, the Lord of the Flies (the sow's head) tells Simon in a vision that the Beast exists within the boys. "Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!....You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are what they are?"
It's ironic that the boys are trying to get rescued by the Navy to get back to civilization. But the Navy is involved in the savage behavior of war, using guns and bombs instead of sharpened sticks. This is a dark, pessimistic book with lots of action, and a good vehicle for discussions. It continues to be very popular in classrooms. ...more
"All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others."
This is a chilling look at the creation of a totalitarian state, and the role of p"All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others."
This is a chilling look at the creation of a totalitarian state, and the role of propaganda in establishing a state. Parallels can be seen between the major players in the Russian Revolution and the characters in the story. (Farmer Jones=Tsar Nicholas, Old Major=Marx, Napoleon=Stalin, Snowball=Trotsky, Squealer=Government Propaganda, Dogs=KGB)...more
Published in 1962, "A Clockwork Orange" is set in the near future England at a time when teenage gangs roamed the streets committing senseless acts ofPublished in 1962, "A Clockwork Orange" is set in the near future England at a time when teenage gangs roamed the streets committing senseless acts of violence. The teenagers speak in an argot called Nadsat, which is mainly English with some Russian words, Cockney rhyming slang, and Romany, as well as some invented words. If your edition of the book does not contain an appendix with a Nadsat dictionary, print up a copy at wiktionary. The author, Anthony Burgess, was a linguist, and he increases the use of Nadsat as the violence increases.
The book starts with Alex and his droogs (friends) spending a drug-fueled night beating and robbing people. They end up at a home where they beat the husband and gang-rape his wife. Alex reads a paragraph about free choice from the book entitled "A Clockwork Orange" that the husband is writing before destroying the book.
Later in the book, Alex is imprisoned and is chosen for the experimental Ludovico's Technique, a form of psychological conditioning (somewhat based on B F Skinner's work). It modifies his behavior so that even thinking about violence makes him nauseous and sick. This also results in Alex having no way to defend himself.
The book asks the question of whether man is naturally violent and evil (original sin). Is it better to choose evil with free will, rather than be good with no freedom of choice? Alex is no longer acting freely as a human being, but is acting as a mechanical thing. How far should the state go in suppressing an individual for the benefit of the state or community?
I won't go into the plot details and spoil the book. "A Clockwork Orange" is a book filled with horrific violence, but it has a clever dystopian plot and the fascinating Nadsat language. Anthony Burgess wrote twenty-one chapters in the original book published in England, with some sense of redemption but no true remorse, in the last chapter when Alex matures and becomes an adult. The last chapter was left out of the American books until recently, and was also omitted in Stanley Kubrick's dark film in 1971. So it's interesting to read an edition with all twenty-one chapters to see which ending seems more realistic....more
George Orwell saw the oppression of colonialism when he lived in India, and the horror of the Spanish Civil War. Then he "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU"
George Orwell saw the oppression of colonialism when he lived in India, and the horror of the Spanish Civil War. Then he witnessed the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin. This inspired him to write Nineteen Eighty-Four about a totalitarian state that uses surveillance, mind control, perpetual war, rationing, persecution of independent thinking, and changes in the records of the past to control the people under its power.
Written in 1948, Orwell's vision of the future in 1984 is an Oceanic police state called Ingsoc which is ruled by Big Brother and the Inner Party. The Outer Party carries out tasks involving propaganda, revising history, creating the language of Newspeak which removes words associated with rebellion and the past, organizing Hate Week, and constant surveillance. The proles are the lowest class who are kept undernourished, uneducated, and do the menial jobs.
Winston Smith, an Outer Party member, works in the Ministry of Truth where his job is to revise history. If the past looks like a time of misery and trouble, then the present time under the Party's control looks like an improvement. When Winston rewrites the past to make the Party always look good, he also totally eliminates troublesome people from the records as if they had never been born (unpersons). If the Party tells the people the revised past over and over again through propaganda, it eventually seems like the truth. A party slogan is, "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."
A forbidden love relationship develops between Winston and Julia. Julia rebels against the Party for sexual pleasure. Winston is an intellectual, and believes in the freedom of the individual. His thoughts give the reader insight into how the Party establishes control over society. But their rebellions against the Party come with a high personal cost when they are captured by the Thought Police.
Orwell created a disturbing vision of the future, and many of his ideas have been seen in governments both before and after the book was published. He was also concerned about how technology would be used in surveillance of individuals. Orwell was brilliant in analyzing the many ways that the state can manipulate individuals and take away their freedoms. ___________________________________________
I visited the Peabody-Essex Museum in Massachusetts a few years ago. They have a Chinese house from the Mao regime in China. There was a loudspeaker at the house which blared propaganda all day long, and the villagers were not allowed to turn it off. It reminded me of the constant propaganda coming from the telescreens in this book.
"Community, Identity, Stability"--the World State's motto.
In the satire Brave New World, we read about the utopian/dystopian society of the World Stat"Community, Identity, Stability"--the World State's motto.
In the satire Brave New World, we read about the utopian/dystopian society of the World State. Their calendar starts in the year that Henry Ford rolled out the first Model T on the assembly line, and the book is set in 632 A.F.(after Ford). Mass consumerism is encouraged. Nothing is repaired, just replaced, so there is near universal employment.
Children are created in the Central London Hatcheries and Conditioning Center in jars on an assembly line where the proper nutrients are infused at the appropriate times. Multiples with the same genetic attributes are created so there will be the optimum number of people with a specific intelligence to match with specific jobs. The children are conditioned with positive and negative reinforcement, as well as hypnophaedia (listening to recorded messages while sleeping) so they will be content with their place in society.
Religion is replaced by community singery meetings. People do not spend time alone, but have strictly scheduled social activities. Physical satisfaction comes from promiscuous recreational sex where "everyone belongs to everyone else." People are never unhappy because they can just pop a drug "soma", a hallucinogen that is hangover-free.
Bernard and Lenina go on a holiday at a fenced reservation where the descendants of the Anasazi live in New Mexico. They get exposed to a primitive society, and Bernard questions the modern society he lives in. Bernard returns with John (the Savage) and his mother, a woman from the World State who was lost in the reservation years ago while on a trip. John is excited to go to the "brave new world", but cannot adjust once he spends time in the World State. The book deals with the contrasts between primitive society and the modern World State, the role of the individual, and the advantages and disadvantages of feeling strong emotions.
Written in 1932, at a time when assembly line production was being promoted and science was making many advances, the book is an interesting look at where society could be heading. It shows how technology could be used to control society, and the dangers of an overly powerful government. The book illustrates the conflict between the interests of society and of the individual. There's a lot of food for thought in this utopian/dystopian story....more
For no known reason, the rotation of the earth began to slow with both the days and nights becoming longer. Gravity became stronger, tides became moreFor no known reason, the rotation of the earth began to slow with both the days and nights becoming longer. Gravity became stronger, tides became more extreme, and maganetic fields were disturbed. The story is told through the eyes of a middle-schooler, Julia, who is also dealing with the normal pressures of growing up. In addition to its unusual, inventive premise, the book has wonderful characters that seem very real as they try to cope with the challenges. It takes a special resiliance to keep going when you don't know what the next day will bring. Described in the author's beautiful prose, the earth's creatures and plants are harmed by this new environment,reminding us to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the world we live in. I was a little surprised that there was not more looting and fighting as the crisis went on, especially to obtain food. This story was a quick page-turner that I will be recommending to my friends....more