Dystopian fiction

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Heart Goes Last (Positron, Episode Four) by Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

Published August 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The internationally bestselling diva of dystopias is back with a new installment of Positron, her darkly comic Byliner Serial about life in a Big Brother America of the near future.

In the seemingly well-adjusted world of Consilience, it’s dawning on the residents that they’ve thrown away the keys to more than their ragged former lives outside the high walls of their gated community. When they volunteered for this new social experiment, they also gave away the keys to their destinies, even their hearts.

Ask Charmaine and she’ll tell you her husband is a dead man. Sure, marriage can be murder, but when Charmaine plunged a deadly hypodermic needle into Stan, because it was part of her job–dispatching undesirables in Positron Prison–Stan survived. His former jailer, a libidinous security chief named Jocelyn, had switched out the death drugs for knockout drugs and drafted him into a plot to undo the increasingly sinister social scheme. In so doing, she promoted him from her sexual plaything to full-blown subversive. The underground is housed in a manufacturing plant of one of Consilience’s most successful products: sexbots, made to order.

Love, however, is not made to order, and despite a Darwinian labyrinth of betrayal after betrayal, including wild extramarital encounters and, yes, murder, Stan can’t stop thinking about Charmaine. Not only because someone has requested a sexbot replica of her but because, well, she’s home in a world without homes. In The Heart Goes Last, one of Atwood’s darkest and most deviously entertaining inventions yet, the human heart proves more resilient and true than any mail-order machine.

What did I think?:

Hopefully this isn’t going to be too difficult to explain…Margaret Atwood’s Positron series is now available as a complete novel called The Heart Goes Last, however the series originally appeared as a number of “episodes,” each available separately as an e-book. This is the way I first came across them although now I do feel slightly cheated as the fifth (and I think final?) episode has been taken off the Amazon UK website and I will now only know the ending to the story if I choose to purchase the full length novel which also goes under the name The Heart Goes Last. Did that make any sense? If you haven’t read this series before, this shortened episode is definitely not the best place to start, you’re probably better off buying the entire novel and reading from the start. Also, I did find myself quite disappointed with this section of the story and feel there’s better parts of it I’ve already reviewed that I can recommend. (Please see my previous posts I’m Starved For You, Choke Collar and Erase Me).

Margaret Atwood chooses to set this story in a strange, dystopian world in a new society known as Positron. Briefly, it involves couples signing up and being fully committed to the programme, given free housing and employment but every alternate month they have to enter the prison system and work for the good of society as an alternate couple pairing takes their places in their house. Sounds good, right? Well, of course, as you might have expected from an Atwood narrative, this society is a hell of a lot darker than first made out. Although you are guaranteed a job and security for life, there are a lot murkier things going on in this world and our main characters, Charmaine and Stan become embroiled in this underworld when they are manipulated into a situation they are not prepared for.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot for fear of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t come across this work before. I do want to say that it’s not for the easily offended. It’s one of the most sexual things that I’ve seen Margaret Atwood write and she definitely doesn’t hold back with the seedier side of Positron including in this episode, specialised “sexbots” for the pleasure of both men and women. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t as impressed with this episode compared to the others in the series. I loved the snide humour throughout and didn’t mind some of the more shocking moments but, by this point in the narrative, I didn’t feel like she had enough to say that compelled me in the way I usually feel when reading her novels. If it wasn’t for the fact that I am incredibly intrigued to see how it all ends, I might not even bother to finish the story. As it is, I don’t think I’ll be rushing to complete it, especially if it involves reading an entire novels worth just to get to the same point in the story that I am at the moment.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The White Doe by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

The End We Start From – Megan Hunter

Published August 2, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z’s small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.

This is a story of new motherhood in a terrifying setting: a familiar world made dangerous and unstable, its people forced to become refugees. Startlingly beautiful, Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From is a gripping novel that paints an imagined future as realistic as it is frightening. And yet, though the country is falling apart around them, this family’s world – of new life and new hope – sings with love.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Picador for approving me to read this short but powerful novel on NetGalley in return for an honest review. The End We Start From was subject to a ferocious bidding war following the London Book Fair and I first came across it on Twitter where it seemed to be everywhere. There were even some that thought it might be long-listed for the Man Booker Prize this year. This is why I’m a bit concerned that my review might fall firmly into the realm of the “unpopular opinions.” Don’t get me wrong, the writing is absolutely incredible, so lyrical and beautiful and I was so excited by the synopsis of the book but something just fell a little flat for me. I’m a little relieved to find that I’m not the only one that felt this way (from looking at reviews on GoodReads) but I can’t help but feel that I was missing something and that it’s the sort of book I should have just loved.

We don’t know when the story is set, we are never told. We can assume it’s a dystopian future where (possibly climate change?) has precipitated catastrophic weather changes in the United Kingdom, leading to extreme flooding and the majority of the population having to flee London for dryer areas, many ending up in refugee camps until the waters subside. This is the situation that our narrator, her husband and their newborn son find themselves in. After the chaos of the floods lead to the disappearance/deaths of her husband’s parents, our narrator finds herself then separated from her husband and stuck in a camp where she must form new alliances and find a way of living. Her sole focus is obviously the survival and upbringing of her infant son.

It’s hard to describe this novel in more detailed terms. When I first began, I was very intrigued, especially when our narrator is left on her own with her son. Then, it almost became a meditation on motherhood and the stages that her son goes through as he starts to develop in a strange new world where food and shelter is not guaranteed and the future is uncertain. The characters are referred to just by an initial, so our narrator’s husband is R, her son is Z, etc. I was never quite sure whether this worked for me. It stripped the characters of all their individuality (which may have been the point!) but I never felt like I could connect with them or learn much about them as a result. The author uses quite short, snappy sentences to tell the story which are nothing short of stunning and so poetic and gorgeous but everything was just too vague and detached for me to fully invest with the narrative.

We never know what exactly has happened to the world to cause these  disastrous events, there is no dialogue between any of the characters and at no time did I ever feel really involved with our narrator and her situation. After all the hype this book has got, I have to say I’m a bit disappointed, it really wasn’t for me. The rating I have given it is purely for the beauty of the writing alone, plot wise I was expecting so much more. I’m sure there are people out there that will absolutely lap this novel up and perhaps I need to read it again and just appreciate the language used and the structure of the sentences which the author definitely does have a huge talent for – who knows? If you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you thought!

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Gather The Daughters – Jennie Melamed

Published July 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

For fans of Emma Cline’s THE GIRLS and Emily St John Mandel’s STATION 11, this dark, unsettling and hugely compelling story of an isolated island cult will get under your skin.

GATHER THE DAUGHTERS tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.

What did I think?:

Tinder Press are fast becoming one of my favourite publishers, they are bringing out some outstanding books this year so thank you so much to them and to Caitlin Raynor for sending me an advance copy of this unbelievable dystopian story in exchange for an honest review. Gather The Daughters is released today and believe me, you simply must get your hands on it because the narrative and indeed, the world that Jennie Melamed has created is truly stunning and you won’t regret a second you spend reading it.

The story is set on an island which is quite isolated from the rest of the world both physically, separated by a band of water and literally as the way of life experienced by the islanders is not exactly conventional. The society is patriarchal and there are very clear rules about what women can and cannot do, say, be exposed to etc according to “the ancestors,” whose strange rules are law and should never be questioned or disobeyed. There are strict guidelines about not touching daughters in the families until they have entered their summer of fruition i.e. got their first period. It is after then that they are married off and treated as little more than breeding machines with the sole purpose of increasing the population of the colony. However, every summer, the children are let loose on the island to run wild, play, have fun, fend for themselves and enjoy the small freedom that they have before entering a life of drudgery. It is during this one summer that one small girl, Caitlin witnesses something shocking happening on the island and from then on, nothing will ever be the same again.

Wow. Just wow. I could already tell when I read the synopsis that this was a book I simply had to get my hands on and I was over the moon when it surpassed my already very high expectations. The writing is wonderfully sublime, the world-building one of a kind and the characters – like a dream come true. We hear from multiple daughters of the island including Caitlin herself, and the brilliant Janey whose actions when she hears what Caitlin has seen have huge consequences for everyone on the island. Some of the things that happen in this novel are truly horrific, others are nail-biting and it makes for the most amazing debut piece of fiction that I have read in a long, long time. Jennie Melamed has created such a frightening dystopian society that makes you think, gets deep under your skin and has a unique style and voice all of its own. This is an author to watch out for I’m certain and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next – I’ll be first in the queue to read it although I might have to fight for my place when everyone else reads this too!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Mini Pin-It Reviews #8 – Four YA Books

Published April 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four YA books for you – please see my pin it thoughts below!

1.) A Kiss In The Dark – Cat Clarke

What’s it all about?:

When Alex meets Kate the attraction is instant.

Alex is funny, good-looking, and a little shy – everything that Kate wants in a boyfriend.

Alex can’t help falling for Kate, who is pretty, charming and maybe just a little naive…

But one of them is hiding a secret, and as their love blossoms, it threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their lives.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

2.) The Retribution Of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer #3) – Michelle Hodkin

What’s it all about?:

Mara Dyer wants to believe there’s more to the lies she’s been told.
There is.

She doesn’t stop to think about where her quest for the truth might lead.
She should.

She never had to imagine how far she would go for vengeance.
She will now.

Loyalties are betrayed, guilt and innocence tangle, and fate and chance collide in this shocking conclusion to Mara Dyer’s story.

Retribution has arrived.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

3.) Double Cross (Noughts & Crosses #4) – Malorie Blackman

What’s it all about?:

Callie Rose knows too much – too much about violence and family feuds, and too much about Nnoughts and Crosses. And knowing so much about the past makes her afraid for her future. People always seem to want revenge.

Tobey wants a better life – for him and for Callie Rose. He wants nothing to do with the violent gangs that rule the world he lives in. But when he’s offered the chance to earn some extra money, just this once, would it hurt to say ‘yes’?

One small decision can change everything . . .

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

4.) Perfect Ruin (The Internment Chronicles #1) – Lauren DeStefano

What’s it all about?:

On the floating city of Internment,you can be anything you dream – a novelist or a singer, a florist or a factory worker… Your life is yours to embrace or to squander. There’s only one rule: you don’t approach THE EDGE. If you do, it’s already over.

Morgan Stockhour knows getting too close to the edge of Internment, the floating city and her home, can lead to madness. Even though her older brother, Lex, was a Jumper, Morgan vows never to end up like him. There’s too much for her on Internment: her parents, best friend Pen, and her betrothed, Basil. Her life is ordinary and safe, even if she sometimes does wonder about the ground and why it’s forbidden.

Then a murder, the first in a generation, rocks the city. With whispers swirling and fear on the wind, Morgan can no longer stop herself from investigating, especially once she meets Judas. Betrothed to the victim, Judas is being blamed for the murder, but Morgan is convinced of his innocence. Secrets lay at the heart of Internment, but nothing can prepare Morgan for what she will find—or whom she will lose.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

COMING UP SOON ON MINI PIN-IT REVIEWS: Four books I received from Book Bridgr.

Sever (The Chemical Garden #3) – Lauren DeStefano

Published April 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Time is running out for Rhine in this conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Chemical Garden Trilogy.

With the clock ticking until the virus takes its toll, Rhine is desperate for answers. After enduring Vaughn’s worst, Rhine finds an unlikely ally in his brother, an eccentric inventor named Reed. She takes refuge in his dilapidated house, though the people she left behind refuse to stay in the past. While Gabriel haunts Rhine’s memories, Cecily is determined to be at Rhine’s side, even if Linden’s feelings are still caught between them.

Meanwhile, Rowan’s growing involvement in an underground resistance compels Rhine to reach him before he does something that cannot be undone. But what she discovers along the way has alarming implications for her future—and about the past her parents never had the chance to explain.

In this breathtaking conclusion to Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy, everything Rhine knows to be true will be irrevocably shattered.

What did I think?:

I was recommended the Chemical Gardens trilogy by my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads and I believe it’s one of her favourite YA dystopian series. After finishing the final book in the trilogy, Sever, I can definitely see why. If you’re a regular visitor to my blog you know how I dread reviewing second and third books in a series as I’m very wary of giving away spoilers but I’ll do my best to be as vague as possible. I love the world Lauren DeStefano has created in these novels and her characterisation was really on point with fantastic fictional people that you could really see growing and developing over the course of the series.

The Chemical Gardens trilogy is based in a future, dystopian society where a virus with no known cure wipes out the population – women at twenty years old and men and twenty-five. As a result, many girls are forced into marriage at a very young age and encouraged to reproduce as quickly as possible to ensure a future generation while scientists (and the obvious rogue elements that pop up) desperately work to try and find a cure. In Sever, our main character Rhine has escaped the clutches of her villainous father in law Vaughn and is living with Vaughn’s brother, the noble Reed while she tries to hunt for her brother, Rowan and the man she originally escaped with, Gabriel who she developed strong and conflicting feelings for. In this final novel, Rhine finds out a lot more about herself, her family history and about her adversary, Vaughn than she ever could have imagined. However, it is crucial that she treads carefully while seeking her wayward, rebellious brother as Vaughn is determined to imprison her once more for what he believes is the greater good.

The first book in this trilogy, Wither was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The second, Fever was a great addition to the series but I found myself slightly less captivated by it although it was still a good, solid read that I would highly recommend. I approached Sever with slight trepidation wondering if I would get answers to the many questions I had and curious as to how the author was going to wrap it all up. I needn’t have worried as once again the brilliance of Lauren DeStefano’s writing and fascinating plot shone through. I love that this book isn’t all about the romance – a young adult book heavy on romance gives me a bit of the ick factor so it was refreshing that Rhine could stand on her own as a strong young woman who didn’t really need a love interest to tell a compelling story. There isn’t as much action in this series as your average dystopian adventure story but to be perfectly honest, it really didn’t need it. The characters and world they live in are exciting enough without having battles and bloody violence thrown into the mix. If you’re a fan of dystopia and love reading about characters that go on real, emotional journeys this is definitely the series for you. I  actually cannot wait to read more from this wonderful and gifted YA author.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Passenger by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Published April 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Passenger all about?:

The Passenger follows a man who has spent his whole life on an airplane in a strange, dystopian world where a whole civilisation are born, fall in love, reproduce and die all on the plane.

What did I think?:

You know how short story collections are sometimes a bit hit and miss? There’s those stories that you absolutely love and you could wax on for ages about how talented the author is? Then there’s those stories that make you hang your head, shake it a little and wonder if somehow you might be missing something? Well, The Passenger falls somewhere in between for me. I would never compare it to The Jesus Stories, (which I might have disliked a little bit!) but at the same time, there’s better stories in this collection, for example The Ceiling, which was a magnificent piece of writing.

So where do I start? Okay, there are lots of positive things about this story, especially the premise. We are inside the mind of one male passenger on an airplane and he is talking about his mother’s death and how her body was dealt with after she died (by dropping it out of the plane of course!). I was completely confused and it wasn’t until a couple of pages in that I realised that this story was about a strange new world where all the passengers of this particular plane live out their whole lives on that plane. They don’t land, pick up new passengers etc so any new life has to be initiated by passengers currently on the plane getting it on.

Absolutely fascinating premise and there was so much potential for this story to do amazing things….however….it just ended up as a bit of a damp squib for me. Our male protagonist mentions an encounter with the woman in the seat in front of him that leads to a sexual experience and his belief that she is currently carrying his child, even if she has not spoke to him or even deigned to make eye contact since the experience occurred. What irked me about the story was that it didn’t seem to go anywhere. There were bucket-loads of questions that I wanted answered and I left it feeling so unsatisfied and disappointed. For example, how did they end up in this situation? Was there an incident on land that led to flying in a plane being the safest option? Is this incident still going on and they are doomed to fly for all eternity? How on earth do they manage to fly around without refuelling? And what about food/water supplies?

Questions like these may not matter to some people and they might be able to enjoy the wonder and mystery of it all but I really needed a reason to keep reading. I was interested for sure but then cursed myself for being so interested as I never got the answers to what I needed to know! The beauty of Kevin Brockmeier’s writing is undeniable and it was a brilliant idea for a story BUT… am I missing something? I’d love to know if you’ve read this short story and got something out of it that I didn’t. I was slightly tempted to read it again to see if I’d missed a trick somewhere but to be honest, I didn’t want to get cross with it all again! I must urge that the author is a fantastic writer – maybe this story was just too much for me.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY CHALLENGE: Fleeing Complexity by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Erase Me: Positron, Episode Three – Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

Published March 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Erase Me all about?:

In the latest edge-of-your-seat episode of “Positron,” the Byliner Serial by renowned author Margaret Atwood, the dystopian dark comedy takes its darkest turn yet, pitting husband against wife and the human impulse to love against the animal instinct to survive.

Stan and Charmaine should have known better when they signed up for Consilience, a social experiment in which it’s the lawful who are locked up, while, beyond the gates, criminals wander the wasted streets of America.

The couple understand that to break the rules in so strictly regimented a place is dangerous; but, driven by boredom and lust, they do it anyway and betray each other and the system. As comeuppance, Stan finds himself the sexual plaything of a subversive member of the Consilience security team and in no time is made a pawn in a shadowy scheme to bring Consilience crashing down.

Meanwhile, his wife, Charmaine, is being held indefinitely at Positron Prison for her own sins. How far she’ll go to regain her good name and position is anyone’s guess, especially Stan’s. When he winds up paralyzed and tied to a gurney in the prison wing where Charmaine works, injecting toxic cocktails of drugs into troublesome Consilience citizens, will she save his neck or her own? Will she “erase” him permanently?

In “Erase Me,” it’s every man–and woman–for him or herself. Erotically charged, morally complex, wickedly funny, and hailed as “shockingly believable” by “The Globe and Mail,” Atwood’s “Positron” stories remind us that when a totalitarian state gets its grip on the human heart, marriage can be murder.

What did I think?:

If you’re familiar with my blog and my reading tastes, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood. She’s one of the authors where I am desperate to read all of her back catalogue and certainly intend to do so in the not so distant future. She has a talent for writing kooky, dystopian worlds that feel startlingly familiar combined with controversy and her trademark black humour. I was lucky enough to see Margaret speak when she came to the U.K. to promote her book, Hag-Seed, a re-telling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and long-listed for this years Baileys Prize For Women’s Fiction. I’m delighted to tell you that she was just as witty and intelligent as I had hoped for and it was fascinating to hear her speak.

But, I digress! Back to Erase Me. This is the third in Margaret Atwood’s Positron series which were released serially but have now been re-vamped in a novel by the author called The Heart Goes Last. I downloaded them as e-books when they were released one by one so I’m happy to continue reading them this way and then, of course, they count towards my Short Stories Challenge! If you haven’t come across this series before, you may want to check it out – the first is I’m Starved For You and the second, Choke Collar but I’ll try and keep this review as spoiler free as possible.

It follows Stan and Charmaine, husband and wife who sign up for a revolutionary new programme that involves two communities – a town Consilience and a prison Positron. By entering the programme they agree to spend some of their time in prison (with a paid job and relative comfort) and alternately in a home in the community, again with a paid job and guaranteed happiness. However, this programme is not all it seems. In Erase Me, we see husband and wife pitted against each other and their marriage and loyalty to Positron tested in the worst possible way. Neither Stan or Charmaine are able to contact each other and are completely unaware what the other is doing, thinks, etc so have to rely on a rogue element/double agent who are fighting to overturn the system and bring back democracy. Of course, they want the couple to be a part of it. But can Stan and Charmaine be brave enough to risk everything and return to a life that they were unhappy about in the first place? Especially as when they signed up for this experiment they were told unequivocally that there was no going back.

Okay, I have to admit when I first started this series of novellas I really didn’t know what to think! It was brash, funny, erotic in places (oo-er!) and I hadn’t the foggiest what was going on. By the end of Choke Collar however, I was fully invested in the story. The eroticism has been toned down, I must say if that’s not really your bag and I’m kind of relieved as the story seems to focus more on the characters and the system that they are involved in, which of course is what interested me and made me pick up the series in the first place! We don’t really see too much of Stan and Charmaine as a couple for one reason or another but I actually enjoy this more as we get to see their lives, thoughts and aspirations as separate individuals. Once again, Margaret Atwood comes up with a cracker of an ending and I am definitely intrigued now to see what is going to happen in the last part of the series – The Heart Goes Last (don’t be confused, it is the same title as the novel that has come out under her name!).

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: On The Banks Of Table River: (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories