The Body Electric by Beth Revis is a fast-paced and skilfully woven sci-fi novel in a unique dystopian setting. Ella Shepherd works at her mum’s MentaThe Body Electric by Beth Revis is a fast-paced and skilfully woven sci-fi novel in a unique dystopian setting. Ella Shepherd works at her mum’s Mental Health Spa, where clients can enter into ‘Reveries’- dream-like states in which they can relive their happiest memories. But Ella realises she has an ability to use these reveries in a way that no one else can and discovers that there are others out there who want to use her mother’s technology for their own ends.
At times the novel reads like a political thriller, with hints at conspiracy theories and terrorist plots, and both Ella and the reader are never sure of who to trust. There are elements of mystery as Ella tries to piece together the parts of her missing past and discover which side to align herself with.
As a main character, I feel that Ella is likeable and easy to identify with. She’s not the annoyingly perfect Mary Sue that you find in many YA novels. In many ways she is just a normal girl, but losing her father to a terrorist attack and bearing the responsibility of caring for her terminally ill mother meant she had to grow up fast. Understandably she worries a lot about her mother and about another war happening, but really she’s a strong person who continues to fight even after people have tried to take everything-even her memories-away from her.
As the synopsis already reveals, Ella fears that her memories may have been tampered with. A boy called Jack, who she suspects is part of a terrorist organisation, claims to have had a relationship with her, but she has no memory of him. She starts having hallucinations and begins to feel that she may be going insane. This was fascinating to read about, as I’m really interested in anything about amnesia, distorted perception, illusion and dreams vs. reality. Ella is obviously an unreliable narrator, so part of the fun is trying to piece together what really happened to her.
The world-building in this novel is fantastic. ‘New Venice’, set in a futuristic version of Malta, is brought to life with vivid descriptions of sounds, smells and colours. Revis describes interesting and quirky details of the city and Maltese traditions to help you create a clear picture, yet doesn’t slip into long drawn-out descriptions or purple prose.
I really enjoyed the science fiction elements of the setting, which were fascinating and not too far into the realms of imagination. One of the themes that Revis explores is government surveillance, evident from the robotic pigeons that record people’s movements to the ‘cuffLINKS’ that monitor their health stats, identify them and track their location via GPS. The cuffs are a feasible development of smart phones and we know that we are already recorded many times in a day by CCTV, so these aspects are quiet believable. Revis also explores the concept of nanobots, microscopic robots that are currently being researched and developed in medicine to identify and destroy cancer cells or toxic chemicals. In The Body Electric, this technology is taken further, with most people having nanobots injected into them so that they can watch videos behind their eyes or listen to music without the need for earphones.
Another major science fiction theme is android technology. In the novel, the use of androids in all areas of life is widespread and they look and act much more realistically than the androids we have so far managed to create in real life. Revis explores one of my favourite philosophical problems-the question of what really makes us human and how we can be differentiated from machines that look and act almost exactly like us. Revis has mentioned that she is influenced by Philip K. Dick, the author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the novel that inspired Blade Runner). There are a few allusions to this in The Body Electric, such as Ella’s scientist father, named Philip K. Shepherd and the sheep logo on the Mental Health Spa where Ella works. Philip K. Dick also wrote a short story called “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, which is all about real vs. false memories (the movie Total Recall is loosely based on this). I could also see some similarities to iRobot-one of my favourite sci-fi films.
If you’re a lover of literary allusion, you may also be interested to know that ‘I Sing the Body Electric’ is the title of a poem by Walt Whitman and also of a short story by Ray Bradbury (who wrote brilliant dystopian novels like Fahrenheit 451). In Bradbury’s story, a child called Agatha is unwilling to accept an electrical grandmother as a surrogate for her dead mother, until the grandmother demonstrates her own immortality.
As well as all these literary and film references, I was delighted to discover little ‘easter eggs’ from the Across the Universe series that I wasn’t expecting. Before reading, I didn’t realise that The Body Electric is set in the same universe and focuses on what happened back on earth during the events of the trilogy. There are references to Godspeed, the lunar base, the colonies and even solar glass (big alarm bells for anyone who has read Shades of Earth!). There is also a motif of bees and honey running through the book and I enjoyed playing a game of spotting all of the references I went along. Revis definitely has a sense of humour, as you can see from the following example of metareference:
“Real science is messy. This isn’t a sci fi novel.” Jack raises an eyebrow. “We’re doing brain scans in a mental spa, love.”
Jack is quite a funny, cheeky character. The romance between him and Ella is an important plot point, but never took over the main elements of the story, which were mystery, action and suspense. The ending comes with a juicy twist that is foreshadowed earlier but was still a surprise to me.
There aren’t many negative things I can say about this book, except that there were a few minor errors I noticed in the text that occasionally pulled me out of the story (I guess that’s just my inner-editor). For example, the following quotes:
“I raise the opacity of the program using my cuff, and sure enough, my dad becomes more and more transparent. More and more ghost-like. Thinking that makes a shiver run up my spine, and I shoot the opacity back down to zero so that he appears solid and real again.”
As opaque is the opposite of transparent, surely raising the opacity would make him appear less transparent?
“Maybe the nanobots I injected in myself were the result of the weird abilities I’ve been having, as well as the hallucinations.”
Surely the nanobots are the cause of these effects and not the result?
However, these errors didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the novel. Revis is a brilliant world builder, capable of some truly beautiful writing. Here are a couple of my favourite quotes:
“The sea is a dangerous place because it makes you believe in forever.”
“If I can only see him in madness, is it worth trying to hold onto sanity?”
In conclusion, The Body Electric was a joy to read and everything I want from a sci-fi dystopian novel. Beth Revis is now on my auto-buy author list and although this was a stand-alone I’m hoping she will write some more books set in the same universe. I would recommend The Body Electric to all lovers of science fiction (not just young adults), particularly those who have enjoyed the Across the Universe series, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Bladerunner, iRobot, Total Recall or Inception....more
**spoiler alert** I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in The Hunger Games trilogy, and was eager to start on the final instalment. Catching Fire**spoiler alert** I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in The Hunger Games trilogy, and was eager to start on the final instalment. Catching Fire ended with the cliffhanger that there is now no district twelve and there were a lot of questions left unanswered.
In Mockinjay, Katniss discovers that district twelve has been destroyed by the Capital, and all that remains are piles of ash. Most of the citizens were killed, but a small number, including Katniss’ mother and sister survived and have started new lives in district thirteen. District thirteen was thought to have been obliterated by the Capitol in the rebellion years ago, but instead they have been living underground building up resources, training and arranging undercover missions to take down the Capitol. Katniss’ mother and sister take up jobs as medics while she and Gale travel to some of the districts where uprisings are taking place and participate in the fighting whilst recording propaganda material to inspire people to keep rebelling. Meanwhile, Peeta is rescued from the Capitol where he was presumably tortured for information, and he returns as almost a different person. He is extremely aggressive and mistrusting of Katniss, and they suspect he has been brainwashed to hurt and fear her. All the while President Snow continues to manipulate Katniss with death threats and subtle things to unnerve her. She begins to fall apart under the weight of it all, struggling with her feelings of guilt and hopelessness, so it’s quite a harrowing read.
Unfortunately there is no real happy ending. President Snow is overthrown, but at a terrible cost, leaving Katniss heartbroken, and the regime that replaces his rule is far from perfect. It was very sad to read and reduced me to tears, but that is the way it should be. The message was realistic and not sugar coated: that war sometimes needs to happen, but it’s a terrible, horrible thing and the survivors are scarred by it forever. There are no real winners, no happy endings, but there are lessons to be learnt. The final pages of the book were extremely poignant and while the ending was bleak it did offer some hope that life goes on for the survivors, even though they will never be the same. And after all they have been through, how could they? Collins wrote an ending that was true to the situation and respectful of the character’s lives rather than just giving readers what they wanted. It was a very powerful ending to the series, and offers a very interesting socio-political commentary on the world we live in. ...more
**spoiler alert** After thoroughly enjoying The Hunger Games I had high expectations for reading the sequel, Catching Fire. The Hunger Games ends with**spoiler alert** After thoroughly enjoying The Hunger Games I had high expectations for reading the sequel, Catching Fire. The Hunger Games ends with an unresolved love triangle and the hint of a looming revolution and I was curious to see how the next book would progress. The novel mostly follows the aftermath from the first games as Katniss and Peeta embark on their victory tour and new life in the victor’s village. Katniss’ trick with the berries has been perceived as an act of defiance against the Capitol, inciting revolution in some districts. President Snow threatens to kill Katniss and her family unless she somehow quells the rebellion by keeping up the pretence of being madly in love with Peeta, who doesn’t need to feign his adoration for her. Throughout most of part one she is torn between following President Snow’s instructions to protect her family and trying to run away, and also between her feelings for Gale and Peeta. There is a fair amount of self-absorption and wallowing on her part, but it isn’t too drawn out. I like that Katniss is neither a passive damsel in distress nor an indestructible bad-ass. She is clever and brave but she has plenty of weaknesses to overcome and does not always do what is morally right, which makes her more relatable and believable.
When more brutal peacekeepers are sent in to keep district 12 under control, Katniss reluctantly resolves to stay and fight against them and incite an uprising against the Capitol. Just when you are expecting a story of revolution to follow, Collins throws a spanner in the works by introducing the announcement of the Quarter Quell- a special Hunger Games to mark its 75th anniversary, in which the tributes will be existing victors. So Katniss and Peeta end up back in the arena facing opponents with much more strength and experience. This time around, the arena is much more interesting, with many clever obstacles and twists and turns. Some great new characters are introduced-Johanna, Finnick, Mags, Beetee and Wiress, so you come to know the other tributes better than those from book one and root for them too. It is somewhat unrealistic that Katniss barely does any killing herself and that she and Peeta manage to stay alive despite facing opponents much older, cleverer and stronger than themselves. It seems a little too contrived how some of the characters just accidentally die and how Katniss just happens to find out about the force field and keeps thinking about it, when it later turns out to be significant. But despite this it was still an exciting read with plenty of surprising, intriguing, funny and poignant moments. I enjoyed this section of the book more than the first two parts as it is filled with action and suspense, and it is a shame that it doesn’t last longer.
It was disappointing that Cinna does not feature much in the book, as I really like his character. Another minor complaint was that I became bored with all the beauty procedures Katniss goes through with the prep team and the endless descriptions of the outfits she wears and found myself scanning over them, eager to get to the action. However, the latter half of the book and the cliffhanger ending made up for that, and overall I really enjoyed it and am eager to read the final instalment: Mockingjay. ...more