Musings on the prevalence of dystopia in young adult fiction…
- Obvious thought #1: dystopias offer readers a chance to remake their world, even if the ways in which this happens are not all that pleasant or even desirable. From my subject position the stakes seem higher: connections with the natural world are harder to come by, the destruction of the planet looms, older folks keep threatening (and succeeding) with getting them into an ever-increasingly vague and confused series of wars from which they may or may not come back whole, things that seem clear to the majority of their generation (race and gender are constructs, capitalism has limits, consumerism is destructive, the poor are just like those who are not) are sources of anger and bad arguments by those older.
- The problem with dystopias, though, is that there are still residues from the old world. That may not be a problem, especially if dystopias are canvases that we can draw our own desires on. What are those desires?
- Fewer other people, perhaps, and a world where everyone is joined in a common purpose *because* of the dystopic threat that all simultaneously face…
- Complications about good and evil disappear, as with the vast majority of folks gone sides are easily determined.
There are many more, of course…
Assassin’s Creed (dir. Justin Kurzel, 2016) felt like a film trapped by its desire to stay close to its game origins. At times the film tries to take its time-travel-through-blood-connections theme seriously, while at other times it sticks to its theme that the Knight Templars are an evil organization dedicated to wiping out the human ability to have free will. I’m not sure that either would work, but the back-and-forth is tough to explain in a film (and I didn’t play the game, but I can’t imagine that the expository sections of the game devoted to making these connections clear were among game-players favorites).
- This film features the assassins in full-on game mode at times, as we see the characters running through the streets and doing parkour on the sides of buildings and off wagons and all other kinds of obstacles. The Assassins can kill dozens? hundreds? of soldiers without many of them dying. I almost felt like the game was in god mode.
- And yet Jeremy Irons is in this thing, playing the kind of guy who wants to rule the world.
- The other piece of this film that kept me wondering is the costuming. The hooded assassins look really cool, and the armor and weapons look real (heavy, real weapons that a soldier would carry). The combat, though, comes straight from the game – there are no shield walls or lances forward or standing as a group, just lots of meat for the assassins to practice their cool combo moves on. In that sense, I think, the film never pretends to be more than it is…
I finished the second book in the Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, The Broken Kingdoms. I’ll try to sort out my reactions below…
- Jemisin has created a world that feels absolutely alien and inhuman, despite all the characters being either human or divine in human form. This world feels like it should be recognizable, but the powers that all of these characters have are so dramatic and always in conflict, with mortals stealing from gods and gods trying to contain mortal power.
- She borrows characters, or archetypes, from all sorts of mythological traditions, but nothing feels immediately recognizable. I find that sort of uncanniness compelling, because the sort of approach where a character appears and I as the reader can immediately say, of course, that’s Thor, feels lazy and uninspired to me.
- It’s more than just compelling, somehow, and that’s why I’m struggling so much with analyzing a novel that I enjoyed, a lot.
- I can’t find a typical lens to read it through – it’s clearly about power, and energy, and identity, but those are not the typical fantasy lenses, and thus my struggle.
- I get a bit of a feel of the Malazan series, but without the endless deaths and cannon fodder. This book only has one major character die, but there are no minor characters – everyone in here is dangerous in some way that they might not even comprehend.
- I can’t wait for the third book to come up in rotation.
I’ve been hearing about Salzi for a while, and I hadn’t picked anything up by him, but since there are no more Expanse novels to read and I need a hard sci-fi fix I figured what the heck…
I enjoyed The Collapsing Empire, especially since it had a Wolfe/Silverberg feel with the late reveal of the reasons why the political and economic system exists the way it does. As always, thoughts:
- Scalzi is in love in this novel at least with smart ass characters, and he has a couple of good ones in a couple of the houses.
- Speaking of which, at first I was frustrated by the feudalistic system this seems to represent, and then the explanation of the interdependency that has arisen from the the discovery of how to travel in the Flow hit, and I got it. This isn’t some sort of Frank Herbert thing, with an inability to imagine space as anything but a continuation of humanity’s (supposed) search for empires – there are reasons of survival that have created this system, at least originally, as each of the planets was forced to become dependent on the others in order to ensure that humans got along.
- It’s not surprising, perhaps, that this all went wrong…
I read Parable of the Sower a long time ago, and reading a ton of dystopic fiction made me remember to pick up Butler again, who was one of the first. Parable of the Talents had me reading too quickly.
- The narrative device she used was cool, even if it took me some time to figure out. The story is being told by Lauren Olamina, the protagonist of the first novel, but in this one we get a preface to begin each chapter by her daughter, who survives the destruction of Earthseed and has a strained relationship with her mother. We essentially know that Lauren will survive, since the daughter’s passages talk about meeting her again in the future, and the look from the future gave a sense of the cost to her own humanity that Lauren goes through in order to create Earthseed.
- “God is change” is the constant refrain in this novel, the basis of the religion of Earthseed. I admire Butler’s relentless optimism, even though she writes a dystopic novel set in a California that is rapidly becoming too hot to live in and in a USA that briefly falls sway to religious zealot as President. God is change is Butler’s attempt to show a way we can live with religion and science, a way to essentially think of earth through a sort of gaia theory (without all the sentience) and to understand how we can fit into the planet.
- Of course, Butler’s work isn’t easy, so Lauren – despite offering us a way to live on earth – is convinced that we have destroyed it too badly and wants humanity to head to the stars.
- As often happens in her novels, Butler shows how horrible people can be to each other. This novel is full of slavery – called indentured servitude or prison sentences – that has arisen in a USA that is rapidly sliding into meaninglessness. Shock collars are used to keep people subdued, and they are incredibly effective.
- I was often disturbed by how close to reality this often felt. People in towns that were still intact were intentionally ignorant of the nastiness happening around them, except when they had to defend themselves from it. Parts of the country still work – they’re able to hold a presidential vote – and other parts are sheer chaos. All of this is caused by the dislocation and disruption of declining natural resources matched with climate change. Who could have seen any of that?
I am seemingly determined to work my way through all of these novels. Sharpe’s Trafalgar gives Sharpe an excuse to write about the Battle of Trafalgar and to paint a heroic portrait of Admiral Nelson that had me wondering about how historically accurate it was (in a good way!). Cornwell admits that he contrives to get Sharpe there, but as all of this series is an attempt to add reality and grit to portraits of European colonialism and the continental wars of Napoleon’s time then I’m not sure the manipulations matter all that much.
- The descriptions of ship life are pretty stark and brutal and I’m guessing honest. I sort of wonder if there’s a bit of a gross-out factor happening here, but I appreciate them much as I liked how Battlestar Galactica made Star Trek seem insanely clean and sterile.
- The casualties in these battles are horrific, and the fact that bodies are dumped overboard feels insanely irreverent to a twenty-first century denizen…
- Masculinity is also under examination in this series, and the construction that Cornwell does justifies my like of the fake combat of mosh pits and rugby. Every utopia that I try to imagine has to deal with human, often masculine aggression wired into our lizard brains, and utopias that pretend that that doesn’t exist make no sense to me.
- Sharpe at one point feels guilty about his love of combat, but there is clearly some sort of emotion (perhaps it’s joy, as Cornwell describes it) in the physical contest between humans. And there is clearly something to combat…
- In the short story that follows Sharpe’s Trafalgar in this edition Cornwell has a Spanish partisan who is a woman. Unfortunately, she’s also Sharpe’s lover, but he is attempting, I guess, to include women in these types of histories…
After reading Lord’s Redemption in Indigo I felt the need to look up more of her novels, and downloaded The Best of All Possible Worlds from my local library. It’s completely different in setting although sort of similar in its intense concentration on relationships and what an earlier time might have called domesticity.
- Somehow, Lord writes a novel that describes both the plight and the courage of refugees that feels both grounded in realistic human behaviors and feels apolitical. I’m not saying it is apolitical, but…
- The ways in which the home planet of Terrans accepts their near-cousins (the Sadiri) neatly emphasizes how racial identity is a social construct. Terrans are capable of the same mental capabilities, but cultural differences and emphases have produced one race that relies on the powers of meditation and control and other that is more grounded in emotions and the qualities of resilience.
- Lord’s desire to add how partnerships and relationships are developed in different cultures to the scifi oeuvre would probably have made my teenage self go ewww, but reading these now makes perfect sense. I found the novel to be the sort that I trouble putting down despite the biggest risk to the protagonist being a former lover who controls people telepathically (but who is put in jail by those who set the standards for telepathic behavior) and losing her career over a move to get a slavery ring into the public eye. Not exactly riveting-type The Expanse-style stuff, but not romance fodder either.
- Her desire to make space not just human but also factor in what feel like genetic mutations of humans that did not originate on Earth is pretty cool. The novel does not make this connection explicit, but I get the feeling that the origin point of humanoid species is not Terra…
- Her questions about what constitues ideal masculinity are also pretty interesting, and helped me think about the ways in which scifi continuously constructs masculinity in what often feels like a retro fashion even with a generic history that includes Thomas Disch and Samuel R. Delaney.