The collision of past and future

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

I just finished this book to write Battle of the Books questions for it. It’s also on the OLA’s White Pine list this year and I really recommend it, although it’s not exactly light, escapism if that’s what you’re into.

It takes place in a future when civilization has collapsed through a complicated series of negative events starting with extreme environmental devastation and climate change that triggered massive wars and the collapse of society. In this world, people have lost their ability to dream and it makes them violent and depressed. The solution was found in the bone marrow of Indigenous people. The book opens with Frenchie, a young Metis boy and his brother fleeing after their parents’ disappearances. The book follows Frenchie and his new found family’s journey through northern Ontario and eventually their decision to fight back.

There’s a lot to like about this book (but I’m not going to get into too much of it because spoilers!) but I’ll focus particularly on two things – Indigenous people in north America and the portrayal of LGBTQ people in the book.

This book, while maybe a little didactic, does a great job of drawing on the history of violence and colonialism in the collective Indigenous identity, as well as the generations of trauma that has effected both the individual people and the collective group of people. The dystopian future really draws on historical event and, while it’s extreme and alarming, also feels very real in the context of colonial oppression. No one wants to think about their government rounding up a minority in their own country and trapping them in schools. But it happened in history, and in this book it happens in our future as well. The idea of paying bounties on innocent civilians is distressing, but again, happened in our past and could happen again. Although the current political struggles are not touched on, it contextualizes them.

There is also a fantastic LGTBQ character in this book, and what I loved most about this character is that his sexual orientation was just one part of his overall character. His entire existence is informed by the lose of his husband, but this is treated exactly the same as any other lose in the book, and there are many. The fact that he’s a gay man isn’t even mentioned, its just understood. Also, there’s some serious trope inversion here (Spoiler: Kill All Your Gays) is thwarted in the last few pages in a way that truly warmed my heart.

I think this reads like a first novel (it is) and I’m sure everything Dimaline writes from will improve on what she learned from this great book. It feels a bit like Cormac McCarthey’s The Road  mixed with a curriculum accompaniment (for high school students – there’s violence, including sexual violence and some pg-13 sexuality) but I really enjoyed it and believe it’s a great piece for high school students across Canada to be reading this year.

Last movie I watched:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. When I first read it, I didn’t mind Harry’s … lack of emotional regulation. Then it started to bug me, I think as I stopped being a teenager. But now I don’t mind it so much again because I think he’s got PTSD for most of this book and with that reading, his anger makes a lot of sense.

Last TV episode:

Death Comes to Pemberly although I am literally 5 minutes into the first episode and therefore have no opinion at this time.

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Genre Mixing

Hunter (Hunter #1) by Mercedes Lackey

We’re getting pretty close to books that I’ve read in recent enough memory that I might be able to manage some thoughtful discussion of this book. Probably not much, but a bit.

Hunter takes place in a dystopian future after an unknown apocalypse when the humans of the world are terrorized by magical beings that can crossover from another mythical realm to hunt humans. Humans have responded by living in major cities, protected by Hunters – people with magical abilities and a connection to mythical beasts called Hounds who are public figures, as well as protectors. Into this complicated world, Joy is asked to leave her quiet mountain home for Apex, the biggest city in North America with nothing but her training, her hounds and the occasional communication from her high ranking uncle to keep her alive. It is the first book in a trilogy. I think. There’s at least a second.

One thing that was really interesting about this book was the blending of science fiction and fantasy. On the one hand, Joy is tracked all the time by mechanical bracelets, cameras and trending but on the other she has a telepathic connection with mythical, shape shifting animals.

Overall, I found the pacing a little off with some stretches dragging and then a lot of action for a long time, but I will definitely be reading the next one.

Last movie I watched:

No idea.

Last TV show I watched:

Supernatural still. I’m going to get through this season without thinking about it too much.

The YA dystopian fiction that actually deserves all the hype it’s not getting

Legend by Marie Lu

Okay, some time ago I accidentally listed to Prodigy, the second book in this series, thinking it was the first one. It wasn’t. This one is the first one.

And it was as amazing as I imagined it would be. And I strong recommend everyone goes forth and reads it, in the correct order.

Legend is the story of two teenagers. One is Day, a Robin Hood like rebel, living on the streets and fighting against a government he doesn’t trust. The other is June, the only child in the Republic to ever score perfect on the mandatory government testing and is destined to be a commanding officer in the war against the Colonials. Their paths cross one night through June’s brother Matthias. And while they start out the story on opposite sides, their search for the truth and their quest to protect their loved ones will bring them together.

This book might be riding the wave the Hunger Games started, but in my option is one of the better ones. Unlike some of the others, it’s distances itself by having society divided up through strange, arbitrary rules, going instead  by class (arguably not that different from real life now), doesn’t include the test that determines your life in the book (you know about it because it’s mentioned, but it’s not actually written about) and it doesn’t feature a civil war. Just a regular war. I guess it’s good to mix things up? DO NOT START A CIVIL WAR just to keep things interesting. Also the whole story is narrated from alternating perspectives and not in a cheap Allegiant kind of way, used at the last minute to make the plot possible. It’s also relatively low on extreme violence. June’s soldier training is mostly already established, Day makes an effort not to kill anyone, not even his enemies, so compared to other recent titles in the genre, this ones pretty clean.

The book is quick paced, driven and although it’s a little predictable, Day and June both are both sympathetic and interesting characters and now that I’m all caught up, I’m very excited to read the third one!

Last movie I watched:

Jupiter Ascending. Such an interest idea. So what went so wrong?

Last TV show I watched:

Smallville! Ahh, early Smallville. If Lana says “honesty” or “trust” one more time this episode I’m going to lay down on the floor and cry.

 

Ethics, Apocalypses and teenage angst

Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson

This young adult novel really depends on a lot of big reveals (like maybe three of them) so I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to say without revealing these details, which I don’t want to do because it was a really, really good book and I seriously recommend reading it.

Jenna Fox is seventeen and she wakes up from a year long coma in a new house in California. She doesn’t remember the accident that put her there, she doesn’t remember well, anything really. Her life is in a future when the overuse of antibiotics created a bubonic-esk plague that has devastated the global population and left the survivors at risk from every little infection.  Her father is a leading doctor, her mother used to renovate brownstones, back when they lived in Boston. They tell her everything’s all right now, that she will regain her memories, and get her life back. But there are things they won’t tell her. She slowly pieces together  her old life and a hundred questions, but the biggest one always remains: how did she survive the accident?

For the purposes of this post, my title will be my thesis.

This book had a pretty complex discussion of medical ethics. After the loss of antibiotics thanks to a reckless medical industry a regulatory body called the FSEB has gained significant power and they fight to oversee and limit what the medical professionals can do. Their agenda is personified in Allys, Jenna’s friend, who lost her arms and legs to infection. But on the flip side, there is Jenna, saved by illegal procedures. One girl killed by medical arrogance, one saved by it and in the face of questions like that how are we supposed to decide our own best practices? Certainly right now scientific developments are happening at alarming rates, promising solutions to out most serious problems, but also at a human cost.

As far as apocalypses go, an drug resistant super bug is both a pretty real one and a pretty scary one. Like, right now it’s relatively possible and that’s super, duper scary. This book doesn’t spend a lot of time world building. That’s okay and kind of makes the super threat, which is mostly abstract since it happens well in advance of the book actually starting, kind of scarier then it already is.

The last thing this book was very good and very real I thought was Jenna’s feelings of frustration as a teenager. She’s trapped between wanting to be the perfect child, to succeed, to be perfect, be everything that her parents want her to be and being a young adult, following her passions and bucking those expectations entirely before she can set up her own. The contrast is exemplified particularly by Jenna’s conflict with her post accident self, new Jenna and her recovered memories, old Jenna. I think teens, as well as most other people will enjoy this story and the tension Jenna feels. And that’s not even touching on her complicated feelings about herself and her identity after a terrible accident, something that lots of people who have experienced that kind of trauma might relate to.

It’s a great book, and I have recently been informed, part of a trilogy, so that’s something to look forward to. I strongly suggest picking up this first book at least and just seeing what you think. Obviously, I had lots of thoughts and yours will probably be better.

Last movie I watched:

Full Monty. HILARIOUS GUYS. You don’t think a bunch of out of work steel workers in the north of England who take up stripping could be this funny, BUT IT IS.

Last TV episode I watched:

The last ever Charmed. It was worth the whole dumb 8th seasons for that episode.

To read in order, or not to read in order, that is the question

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

This book is the second in a series. I haven’t read the first one. I didn’t mind at first. The way Lena talks about the events of the first book kind of made me feel like I probably wouldn’t have liked it that much. Lena talks mostly about Alex and the events of the last book like they were a fairly standard love story, and therefore one I probably won’t love because I’m snobby about love stories. And this book was really interesting. It had a love story too because YA books always do, but I liked the political aspects of it so much that I was by far more interested in the secondary characters and plot and could have skipped the romance entirely.

But I have been assured by people who I trust that actually that the first book is awesome and that I totally would like it for the same reasons I like the second one.
So I also regret not reading it.

I suppose it’s my own fault.

Here there by spoilers for Delirium at least.
The book is told in two times, both stories running parallel for a while until they catch up and merge into the present story line. Lena lives in a world where, at 18 everyone is Cured, that is, their ability to love and feel other strong emotions is taken away from them, to allow for a more ordered, peaceful society.

The past story line is Lena waking up in the Wilds in a homestead under the care of a young woman called Raven, who has lived in the Wilds for many years and runs a ragtag group of escapees and rebels. Throughout it Lena grieves for Alex, who she believes died trying to leave the city, and learns to survive in this much harsher world. I really loved the cruelty and detached feel of the writing with moments of really beautiful, tender language mixed in. The death and the anger and the helplessness come through in the stark description of life. But also the surprising moments of beauty and comradery were super moving, particularly in contrast to the rest of the story.

The present is the story of how Lena, Raven and Tack have infiltrated New York City for the rebels and their mission there. Lena’s mission is Julian, the teenage son of the leader of the DFA, the organization that advocates the Cure for children. Maybe a little predictably, the more Lena gets to know Julian the harder it becomes for her to consider him her mission.

Now, the internet is furious that Lena is in love with Julian. Because I never knew Alex, I think it’s a great match and I hope that she will stay with him, despite the giant, very predictable twist at the end, that really completes one of the more annoying YA tropes: The love triangle.

My favourite thing about this book was the big questions it asks. About the cost of revolution, of fighting and what it takes to motivate people to resist a bad or broken system. Maybe it just seems kind of relevant at the moment. If the cost of freedom is the deaths and abuse of innocent people, when is it worth it to resist? If not resisting is safe for individuals, why wouldn’t people chose not to resist? What does it take for someone to decide to resist? What is the roll of individuals in a revolution? All real questions that I hope I’ll never have to answer for myself.

And of course the really big question: Are we beings of reason or emotion, and which one makes us stronger?

Last movie I watched:

Something Christmasy with Anna Kendrick. We watched it all the way through, even though we didn’t have to, but I’m not going to call it a re-watch. Points for the discussion of how writers talk about sex and for the super cute baby.

Last TV episode I watched:

Pokemon! I consistently fail the name all 150 Indigo League pokemon and now there are 150 new ones! Panic!

Oh Marie Lu, how much do I regret accidentally spoiling this series for myself?

Prodigy by Marie Lu

I had heard that this series was good, really, really good so when I saw one of them on shelf I was like “hey! this one looks like the first book, let’s listen to it on the drive to work.”

It wasn’t the first book.

On the other hand, it was really, really good.

So I strongly recommend anyone who liked Hunger Games or Divergent pick up this series immediately if not sooner. Also anyone who likes smart writing. Or cool heroes and heroines. Or really books. If you like books you should hunt down this series. Right now.

It’s basically impossible to talk about this book without spoiling it, and also the books that come before it and it’s bad enough I spoiled that for myself, I don’t want to ruin it for everyone.

Instead then I will mention a bit about why I think this world is so cool.

The Republic and the Colonies make up the former United States in this book and their distinct cultures really made sense. The Republic is militarism taken to an insane level, a country where the military doesn’t just fight enemies but it is literally the only thing you can do with your life. The Colonies take consumerism and drive it to an oppressive level. I thought this was amazingly cool. Two huge factors in American society, culture and identity ,which are  kind of at war with each other in the lives and policies of American people and political structure driven to a place where they are both destructive and crippling for the people who live in them. Neat, complex and really what futurist fiction should do – drive us to question the present.

I also loved the international community’s view of the former United States. As rogue nations that continues to wage war on each other with no interest in peace and a dependency on foreign aid.  It’s hard to consider, once you’ve got to know and love people in the Republic, what our attitudes towards other countries are when they are in similar situations and not feel a little guilt and confusion. Again, great fiction is meant to make us think about our lives and our society and our choices.

And of course, mixed in with this is an awesome story of two people trying to find their way through a world they don’t understand. And that’s awesome too.

Now, go forth and read this series.

Last movie I watched:

Despicable Me 2!! Or as I like to call it, Minions. It was adorable

Last TV episode I watched:

Charmed. BYE BYE PRUE

A lovely, lovely, love story

The One by Kiera Cass

Okay straight up, I have to admit two things. 1) This story had plot holes I could drive a convoy of elephants pulling all the trucks that cross the Ambassador Bridge through. 2) It was such a lovely sweet love story that I couldn’t bring myself to care.

These two points will be my thesis for the blog post. Because I like to write blog post essays. ‘Cause I’ve been out school for long enough I’m starting to think about writing essays as an enjoyable activity. Oh god, what have I become?

This book had huge plot holes (here there be spoilers). Really, really big ones, the kind that I would only associate with poorly thought out science fiction, and dramatically increased by the fact that the author was more interested in writing a love story then a political novel. Some of the obvious problems include but aren’t limited to 1) what happened to the Southern Rebels? Am I honestly expected to believe that, now that Maxim is king they’re just going to back off and go about doing nothing? The last three books built them up as horrible monsters, and in the final battle it was pretty clearly proven by the brutal murder of Celeste, but now that they’ve killed the old king they’re just gonna let his son have a happily ever after? I highly doubt that and even with the support of the Northern Rebels, it’s not like that fight’s just ended. Plus everyone took the murder of their friends and family pretty lightly didn’t they? No one wants revenge on the cold blooded murders who put bullets in the brains of innocent girls, brave women and countless soldiers? Everyone’s so excited that Maxim is in charge now that they’re just going to forgive and forget? I don’t see it. Other questions include 1) America had a big revelation about realizing no one knew where the Southern Rebel, but then we never learn where actually get them. Unless they’re slowly killing off soldiers, but that doesn’t track with the first few books, or at least, not as I remember them. 2) Are we just going to accept that Anne went missing? People die in war, I get that, but her loss wasn’t moving or upsetting or anything. It was downplayed and kind of unfair for a character who was pretty important to the story. 3) What happened to Paige? We went through a lot of personal details for a character who was only in it for a chapter. 4) Why was Koda such a prick? That served almost no point in the story, he just continued to be unfortunate with no resolution and no real purpose. Sometimes you can leave holes for legitimate literary reasons, I get that too. But these just seem to be the author got distracted by writing a beautiful love story, so she ignored them all.

Having said that, I loved the love story. Maybe the difference in my level of enthusiasm between book two and book three is I fell in love between reading the them. America and Maxin do all the amazing messing things that I got to do. Fifty thousand miscommunications, lost opportunities, moments when the absolutely wrong thing was said, or the right thing left unsaid but still the incredible drive to be with each other. No matter how much they screw up and fumble through their relationship because no matter how many times they make each other cry or scream or hurt, they still have to find a way to make it work. Lots of movies and fiction kind of gloss over how bumpy the start of a relationship can be. And then there’s also the amazing, heart exploding happiness as well. This book did an amazing job of that feeling too, and I just related to it so much that I am comfortable overlooking all those gaping plot related mistakes to giggle about how happy I am, and how nice it is that America and Maxim are happy too.

Last movie I watched:

Still Children of Dune (FAVOURITE MINI SERIES EVER) or About Time (FAVOURITE LIFE LIKE MOVIE THAT INVOLVES TIME TRAVEL)

Last TV episode I watched:

Charmed. I’m pretty sure that Leo and Piper are going to temporarily break up this episode and it’s stressing me out.