Author: Charles A. Fletcher
Title: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
DNFed at 35% mark
This book has made its rounds in the blogosphere; almost universally praised by many of our fellow bloggers, it was hailed as a unique blending of post-apocalyptic dystopia with a heartfelt reflection on the current state of our world, spiced with an empathic portrayal of the bond between man and dog. It all sounded wonderful. To me, however, this book turned out to be a total hoax.
It is an unremitting diarrhea of words, generated by an old man masquerading himself as a teenager. And here’s the crux of the problem. Nothing in this book seemed even remotely realistic: not the setting, with the mysterious Gelding and a plethora of weird behaviours in response to the realization that end of the humans is near; not the worldbuilding, inconsistent and varying in the amount of details from nearly none to overabundance in just few short paragraphs; and absolutely not the characters. Everything seemed like an elaborate stage setup erected by the author solely for the purpose of expounding – freely and without consequences – on his own opinions on everything. Don’t get me wrong; literature in its entirety is predominantly focused on exactly that, most of the time. Here, though, the smug masquerade incessantly grated on my nerves.
There was nothing honest in this elaborate setup, and while I enjoy my share of subtle sleights of hand, I enjoy them solely on the basis of willing participation on my part, and not because someone sets out to make a fool of me. The total and unchallenged domination of one perspective – not questioned or undermined in any way by others – soon became exceptionally tiresome. For the narrator is a perfect example of der Besserwisser, happy to share with all the world his ruminations in a distinctly Sheldon Cooper-esque way – that it to say: whether the world wants it or not. Doomed to view the world from his viewpoint I soon started to feel deep disenchantment with the whole endeavor; despite that, I tried to finish this book – until I realized that I’m forcing myself to do something I actively dislike.
The Heart Goes Last is one of the newest books published by a prolific Canadian author, Margaret Atwood. She had already secured a place among the classics with The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian story from 1985, currently viewed by some as a prophetic account of the US under Trump and/or alt right. The Handmaid’s Tale is once again in vogue due to a new and currently airing TV series by Hulu, which has garnered glowing critical reviews and very positive audience responses. It won the 2015 Red Tentacle Award (British Kitschies) for the best novel, leaving behind such acclaimed works as Dave Hutchinson’s Europe at Midnight (sequel to Europe in Autumn) or The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, whose earlier book, The Killing Moon, is reviewed here.
Atwood’s credentials are known. She has written dozens of books, all one way or another touching upon contemporary social issues, exploring the themes of security and freedom, equality, violence, sexual exploitation, human liberties, etc. She has a following, and even if her prose is only rarely categorized as a fantasy or science-fiction, many of the themes and ideas are similar in vein to our blog’s main interest. There’s usually a typical s-f, or at least near future, element, be it a social change or innovation, or a biological/medical one.
I should start with the old and worn saying: “never say never”. For despite my scalding review of the second installment, Golden Son, and doubts the size of Godzilla I did reach for the conclusion to the Red Rising trilogy. Availability is key, you might say, especially on long train trips 😉 Aaand a promise of mindless entertainment 😉
I’m therefore pleased to say Morning Star is better than Golden Son. As the trilogy’s finale, it has all the advantages of tying up every unfinished thread, and bringing logical and emotionally satisfying conclusion to the story, in the hopes of becoming the crowning achievement of the author.
Red Rising trilogy, just like an old-fashioned computer game, lines the problems up from the easiest – the Institute in Red Rising – to the most difficult – i.e. the whole solar system in Morning Star. The villainous bosses are also gaining weight and powers as the books flash by, and this time the main villain is the Big Bad herself, the autocratic ruler of the solar system, Olivia au Lune, and her sinister right hand, Aja. Not to mention the Jackal, the scourge of Mars, the evil twin of Mustang and the terrible alter ego to Darrow. A double Mr Hyde for the price of one! :).
All right, I finally got to the review of the second installment of Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. Golden Son was supposed to get bigger, better and more badass than its predecessor. Together with Darrow we leave the sheltered – even if a bit stifling – confines of the Institute, and are free to roam the big world outside, the whole Solar System colonized by genetically modified races of humans.
It sounds so perfect. The unfulfilled promise of Red Rising, which gave us only a glimpse of the broader world, was to be realized in its sequel, Golden Son. No longer were we to read about cruel games of privileged teenagers, Golden Son was to be the real deal. The teeth and claw of brutal reality, the multi-faceted political conflicts, the economic wars and the grey areas in between. And it even starts with a suitable bang, on a deck of a starship, in the middle of a naval fight, with very Ender-like Darrow tasting his final academic military success and witnessing as it immediately turns to ash.
But does it deliver?
Today a review of a YA novel, the first installment in a sci-fi dystopian trilogy that made quite a splash a couple of years back. I had been eyeing it for a while, sci-fi and dystopia being my constant points of interest, but the trigger to read this book was a friend’s recommendation – thanks, Dave! 🙂
I’ve read the first book and now am finishing the second. I think I can reasonably well tell you now what that fuss was all about :).
Red Rising was Brown’s debut, and has all the marks of a typical debut – the author is trying to find his voice, the writing is uneven, there are great ideas along some pretty bad ones… The story is YA-ish simple, the list of clear inspirations and allusions to genre literature and pop culture staggering. To sum it up in one sentence, I could say that Red Rising is a smooth mix of Lord of Flies/Ender’s Game/Hunger Games/Harry Potter/Braveheart/Gladiator. It would be completely true, but at the same time a bit unfair to the book. It is unoriginal; there is no point in arguing otherwise when one of the opening scenes is taken straight from Braveheart and the final ones clearly imitate Gladiator, when the whole imagined culture is a sadly trivialized version of the culture of Roman empire and the middle part is basically Ender in Hogwarts. But, surprisingly, I didn’t mind it overly much. Why, when usually I’m so awfully picky? Well, the answer to this will take a good number of sentences to explain, but in short – the worldbuilding and the characters in general, but especially the bloody-minded main protagonist.
Another fairly new book, publicized and talked about a lot, based on a short story Iphigenia in Aulis, which won an Edgar Award. A movie is being made as I write, under a title She Who Brings Gifts, with Glen Close playing one of the main roles. The book strays from my regular literary diet, being a dystopia about zombies, and it didn’t change my tastes, nevertheless I quite enjoyed it.
A dystopia about zombies… Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Thankfully, Carey knows how to play this game, mixing old and new, and, most importantly, concentrating on the characters. It’s a character novel, in essence; a road story, a Bildungsroman of sorts.