Post-apocalyptic & Dystopian Reads #7

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Leigh Brackett
Following the atrocities of nuclear war, the American people have taken to blaming technology itself for the devastation and have retreated into the pre-technological world, banning large towns and cities in an attempt to prevent further wars. Religious groups less reliant on modern technology have flourished, and are now dominant in society: it is one of these groups that Len and Esau come from. The boys push back at their strictly controlled society, and end up in Bartorstown, a semi-mythical hub of forbidden technology; soon they learn that it's not quite what they thought it was. This isn't a book which is lacking in characterisation - it's slow and considered (occasionally too much for my liking - I didn't warm to either Len or Esau much!), though if you're looking for women, you won't find them. It took me a while to wade through the religion, but it's worth it for an interesting coming-of-age story with a starkly realistic thread of disillusionment.

William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson
In the world created by Nolan and Johnson, society is entirely made up of young people: the population is controlled by compulsory, yet almost universally accepted, euthanasia for citizens once they reach the age of twenty one. Most citizens willingly turn up to the 'Sleepshops' to be executed, but occasionally some try to escape - and it's Logan's job to hunt them down, until he becomes one of them himself. The novel isn't fantastically thought out in terms of logistics; a lot of questions are left unanswered, and some of the answers we are given just don't make a whole lot of sense. The book is short, and so the story unfolds at a blistering pace in some areas, which leaves some elements feeling underdeveloped. However - I really enjoyed it anyway. For its flaws, the world created is vivid and intriguing, and despite its messiness, it was just fun.

Ray Bradbury
Another classic in the dystopian world, which I'm surprised I didn't pick up until recently. Fahrenheit 451 deals with a world where books are banned, and the ban enforced by 'firemen', whose job is no longer to prevent fires but to start them in order to burn the possessions of those caught reading. But what happens when a fireman himself is overcome with curiosity? I was torn about this book. I see people referencing it when they want to complain that 'modern society is so vapid, no one reads books!' (untrue and infuriating) and this made me stubbornly keen to dislike it. And yes, Bradbury is pretty much yelling 'television will ruin your mind!' He's gone on to emphasise this perspective in interviews; it's not the government censorship which killed books, he says, but the fact that everyone got distracted by technology! It's a common fear, but one which is clearly unfounded. Saying that, Bradbury does have a way with words - despite my problems with the premise, the reading was enjoyable.

Hugh Howey
By now I've read a lot of this genre, so it's not often I come across a new work which has an original perspective: in Wool, Howey has it. His story is set in the Silo, a huge underground bunker descending nearly a hundred and fifty storeys below the surface of the earth, now a toxic wasteland entirely hostile to life. The thousands in the silo are born, live and die underground, their population controlled by a reproduction lottery and their curiosity about the outside world suppressed by strict laws and the preachings of the silo's priests. Crime is infrequent, but severely punished. The most severe infractions result in being sent to 'cleaning' - being made to clean the sensors which transmit the view of the inhospitable world outside to the residents of the silo, and being left to succumb to the poisonous gases. Starting off as a short, self-published story, the novel expanded as readers showed interest, and does sometimes feel a little long-winded. However, Howey creates a really compelling mystery to the dark(er) reality of the silo, and I'm looking forward to see where it goes.

Adrian Barnes
Barnes tells a story of chronic sleep deprivation; a world suddenly separated into the Awakened, permanently sleepless, and Dreamers, who retain their ability to rest. Misanthropic Paul, our protagonist, is one of the Dreamers, and quickly finds out just how dangerous the new world can be for him, unless he finds a way to fit in to the new order of chaos. It's, perhaps understandably, a fairly grim read. I was expecting to really enjoy this novel, but none of it came together for me. I'd already read Kenneth Calhoun's Black Moon, another novel whose premise lies in sleeplessness (published after this one) and whilst Barnes takes his novel in a different direction, I felt it was nowhere near as successful. Barnes got a lot of praise for his experimental style, and some of it really works, but it also feels like the storyline development took a backseat. In an interview, Barnes said that he would 'invent people and places that are bizarre' and 'try to force them' into the novel -  and that's exactly what it feels like; forced.

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

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