Post-apocalyptic & Dystopian Reads #6

Tuesday 6 June 2017

M. K. Wren
In a near-future America, nuclear war has destroyed much of civilisation and disease decimated many of the survivors. Mary and Rachel spend their days doing the things necessary to survive in the new world, but they're also determined to preserve some of the old one: they save books. As the years move on and a new community is built at their subsistence farm, cultures clash, putting Mary's work at risk. The ending of the book seemed a little heavy-handed in comparison to the rest of Wren's writing, but overall I really enjoyed this book - it was particularly refreshing for the undercurrent of the book to be focused on deep friendship between women. Wren's descriptions are lovely and (aside from a slightly flat antagonist) the characters mostly compelling.

Aldous Huxley
I first read Huxley's famous utopian dystopia when I was in my early teens, and it didn't stick. Ten years later, I found the writing simultaneously compelling and irritating. Published in 1932, the novel's setting is a eugenics-enabled totalitarian feudalistic society, with its members conditioned into contentment with genetic engineering, hypnosis and drugs. Aspects of the novel are fascinating and horrifying from a theoretical standpoint, but on my re-reading, I found myself wondering if Huxley really thought eugenics was all that bad, especially given the involvement of his circle (including his brother) in the eugenics movement at this time. Rather, it seems that it's the consumer culture and perceived shallowness of society which was his real concern. In an edition following the second world war, Huxley did criticise this aspect of the novel (a seeming choice between sedated, sanitised utopia vs a clearly racialised, 'primitive' society), but his rendering of the 'savage reservation' is astoundingly dehumanising, and provides nothing towards the criticism of the mainstream society which the narrative supposedly aims for. The society which Huxley envisions as having grown from eugenics is clearly racialised, a fact more conspicuous through its lack of recognition. It might be a classic, but I just didn't enjoy it.

Jeff VanderMeer
My reading of the first part of the Southern Reach trilogy a while ago left me disappointed with the execution, but interested enough in the premise of the story to continue reading and see if it developed. Authority is set back in the inhabited area outside Area X, focusing on 'Control', the new director of the Southern Reach facility. It's quite a different read to Annihilation, and I found myself tiring of keeping up with Control - I just didn't like him very much, and the narrative was draggingly over long. Acceptance was an improvement: it provided some of the answers I was hoping VanderMeer would provide, though in a convoluted way. There's more of the eerie landscape which I enjoyed in the first book, and more of VanderMeer's beautiful prose (a relief after the second book) but it just didn't quite come together for me.

John Wyndham
In David's world the 'Tribulation' is has long since occurred, but its effects (presumably radiation-based) are still being felt. In an attempt to prevent another apocalypse, David's religious community shun even the slightest deviation from prescribed norms; destroying crops and farm animals, and sterilising or excommunicating human 'Blasphemies' to the Fringes. David is trying to work out his place in the world and his own beliefs, and soon has experiences which challenge the ideals his community espouses and changes his life forever. The Chrysalids was my first introduction to Wyndham, and I enjoyed it just as much this time round. Wyndham has created a vivid world and one where I was truly invested in the characters and their future; but what I liked most was how clear it becomes that every pocket of society have their own idea of what normality and deviation means.

George R. Stewart
Stewart's novel is a sci-fi classic and a fairly straightforward read. Ish Williams awakes in the mountains following a snake bite and a bout of illness, soon realising that he's among a small group who've survived the new disease. He takes himself on a road trip, taking in the extent of the devastation and living a largely solitary life; however, he soon finds himself building his own community. I really enjoyed some of the technical aspects of this story: questions which are often glossed over for dramatic effect in post-apocalyptic literature are explored here. How long would water continue running? What happens to the food chain when humans are mostly removed? In some ways, I felt this a more 'realistic' catastrophe than others I've read, refreshing for how quickly human society changes post-apocalypse even within Ish's lifetime. However, if you're considering reading this book, it's worth bearing in mind that aspects of the book (namely the treatment of race and gender) do firmly root the book in its time, 1949.

See all my reviews of Post-Apocalyptic & Dystopian Reads here!

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