Believable Misery in Dystopian Novel, Earthseed #review #bookreview #dystopia #dystopian #sciencefiction

dystopian novel of near-futureWhatever happened in this dystopian world, it happened quickly. Old people remember the “good old days” but only a few children learn to read and write. Huddled in small enclaves, remnants of our current, doomed America hang on to whatever jobs exist, grow as much food as possible, and try to defend themselves. As with many dystopias, fighting and killing your dangerous fellow citizens is central.

There is no villain in the story, not unless you count the starving, desperate, and murderously drug-crazed mobs as a character. The hero is Lauren, a young woman who sees the end of her fragile safety approaching. When the mob breaks into her walled neighborhood, she flees. Walking north on highways now empty of cars but full of escapees on foot, she meets a few allies and many enemies.

Horrific events fill the story, but they are kept at a distance. There’s plenty of blood and action alternating with endurance and misery, but Lauren only hears about some attacks and sees others from a distance, or in the aftermath. Even when she’s directly involved, the format of the book blunts the gore. Lauren is writing in her journal, after the events she describes. This may make the book acceptable for younger readers than I’d think otherwise. The ending is anti-climactic, fitting the tone of the story.

Lauren is unusual in two ways. First, she is developing a new religion, Earthseed, based on the idea that God is Change. Chapters open with quotes from her Books of the Living. These quotes are short, repetitive, and not especially interesting. The point is more that she continues to write and think, less what she specifically writes.

Secondly, Lauren is hyper-empathic. She feels the physical pain of conscious people around her. While she suffers the results several times during the story, this remarkable trait doesn’t drive the plot or change what happens. Since this is the first of two books, maybe Earthseed and hyper-empathy are important to the second book. They’re bits of interesting background here.

What others say
Maybe I’ve just overdosed on dystopias, but I didn’t like it as much as most reviewers. With loads of reviews on Amazon and 4.5 stars, Earthseed is popular.

Here’s one testament to the book’s significance: “Had to read it for school. Reads quickly and doesn’t get boring, aside from the first two chapters or so.”

For one reviewer, it replaces 1984 as the iconic tale of where today’s world is taking us. Terrifyingly believable, a story that does not assume everyone is white. (Lauren and many of her allies are people of color.)

Development of Earthseed is gripping. This opinion puzzled me, since I thought Earthseed wasn’t a driver for the story. Maybe I missed something.

“We chose Parable of the Sower for our book club reading and it sparked engaging & thoughtful conversations.” I could see myself enjoying such a discussion about this story.

Negative reviews warned the book is not appropriate for younger readers. Pure dystopian that is weighed down with abject hopelessness.

Quick, easy read… almost seemed like a good movie script. Funny – Amazon lists that as a critical review.

Review of Earthseed Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler

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Artificial Womb is Coming – Are We Ready? #science #biology

A problem on the verge of being solved:

Extreme prematurity is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity due to a combination

Concept from 1955 – this problem’s been studied for a long time

of organ immaturity and iatrogenic injury. Until now, efforts to extend gestation using extracorporeal systems have achieved limited success.

Here we report the development of a system that incorporates a pumpless oxygenator circuit connected to the fetus of a lamb via an umbilical cord interface that is maintained within a closed ‘amniotic fluid’ circuit that closely reproduces the environment of the womb. [my emphasis] nature.com

There have been several articles about this study – I’ve quoted the researchers’ abstract. Don’t you love science-y phrases? Extracorporeal systems – so specific. Take a look at the pictures on the link – both creepy and fascinating.

This version of an artificial womb isn’t ready for use on humans – yet. But if these researchers don’t make it, someone else will. Premature babies will live healthy lives and parents will be spared tremendous grief – for them it would be utopia.

But there’s no Yin without Yang. We have some big decisions coming up. If every embryo could be raised to a healthy child, is there ever a reason to discard unused embryos from fertility treatments? Should abortions become fetus transfers? If so, who should pay for the baby – not only for birthing it, but for raising the child? Our current foster care system has a lot of problems already – I don’t see it absorbing more children.

And yet – birth rates are dropping in industrialized nations. Some governments are offering tax incentives to women to have more babies. Maybe governments would want to raise all the unwanted babies. Don’t just think of Dickensian orphanages – remember the “lying down rooms of baby houses” in the old Soviet Union. It’s the beginning of a lot of science fiction dystopias.

Dove Arising – Teens in a Double #Dystopia #ScienceFictionBook

DoveI must admit that I did not finish this book. It belongs to the “teens fighting in dystopia” science fiction genre like its more famous sister The Hunger Games. I think I’ve OD’ed on this genre for the moment, so my reaction may not be fair to Karen Bao. Her book includes two dystopias – one on the Moon and one on Earth. The idea of a Moon Base set up by people escaping conflicts on Earth is neat and I enjoyed reading about the base. The young-teen protagonist enters military service for an admirable reason: to earn money to save her family and especially her mother, who has been quarantined for expensive medical care.

Bao’s book is published by the Penguin Group, a well-established traditional publisher, so my comments refer to Penguin’s editing as well as Bao’s writing. I compared the book to a few of the bits of writing advice I keep running into.

  • First is a trend I’ve read about to avoid or at least reduce descriptions of characters. The idea here is that modern readers want to create their own vision of a character. Bao bucks this trend (if it really is a trend) by including descriptions, though they are not detailed. For example: “awkwardly tall body resembles the skinny tree,” “eyes so dark I can’t tell where the pupils and irises meet,” “eyes the…shade of onyx,” “full cheeks and black hair.”
  • A more established writing tip is to avoid saidisms – that is, avoid any words other than “said” or “asked” as dialog tags. Bao tags a lot of her dialog with action as the tip advises:”‘Ah!’ When he spots Tinbie, he hurries to the table.” Though, tips do advise avoiding exclamation marks. But she also uses quite a few saidisms: whispers, drawls, continues, cries, rasps, sobs.
  • Show Don’t Tell, a well established tip to avoid narrative explanations. Bao “tells” quite a bit, especially about how her world works and its history.

So my bottom line is: a traditionally-published author and her publisher are willing to ignore some standard writing advice and still be fairly successful – three and a half stars from thirty-nine reviews on Amazon – a record I would be happy to have. And while I didn’t finish the book, if you are looking for a book in this genre, I’d say give it a try.

More of my posts on writing tips:

Successful Novel Defies Standard Advice – Never Let Me Go

Sphere: Hit SciFi Novels Follows Some Advice, Flaunts Other

Stephen King’s Writing Advice

Maze Runner and Writing Advice

“Star Wars is the ultimate example of Rule of Cool. None of the technology in Star Wars makes a lick of sense, but we love it anyway, because it is awesome.”
http://monsterhunternation.com/2010/05/14/ask-correia-3-sci-fi-weapons/

Sci-fi “guns” http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/sidearmintro.php

Writers’ Resource: Critiques Available

Wool #scifi #dystopia

woolIn a dystopian future, everyone lives in an underground silo so large it takes three days to climb from bottom to top. Hugh Howey’s story begins as a murder mystery surrounded by questionable suicides and lost loves. The people seem to be “us”, with technology at or a little behind today: there are computer monitors displaying green letters. The first part of the book gives detailed descriptions of moving around in this contained world, and realistic descriptions of the technology, from motor shafts to green circuit boards to Phillips head screwdrivers and the smoke curling up from a soldering iron. But about a third of the way through, the story begins to expand and the main characters become more complex. At this point, I would have preferred Howey reduce the amount of detail; I was not interested in learning how transmitters work or how to brew loose-leaf tea once the battles started. But the simple expedient of reading only the first one or two sentences of each paragraph moved me happily through the unexpected twists to the satisfying conclusion. While this book could support a sequel, it has a real ending that stands by itself. A fun read.