Positron series

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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.

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

Short Stories Challenge – I’m Starved For You, Margaret Atwood (stand-alone) from the Positron series

Published August 13, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s I’m Starved For You all about?:

The gated community of Consilience isn’t your average American town, but in a near future imagined by bestselling author Margaret Atwood (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Year of the Flood”) it may be as close as anyone can hope to get.

Husband and wife Stan and Charmaine are among thousands who have signed up for a new social order because the old one is all but broken. Outside the walls of Consilience, half the country is out of work, gangs of the drug-addicted and disaffected menace the streets, warlords disrupt the food supply, and overcrowded correctional facilities churn out offenders to make room for more.

The Consilience prison, Positron, is something else altogether. The very heart of the community and its economic engine, it’s a bold experiment in voluntary incarceration. In exchange for a house, food, and what the online brochure hails as “A Meaningful Life,” residents agree to spend one month as inmates, the next as civilians, working as guards or whatever’s required.

Stan and Charmaine have no complaints—until the day Stan discovers an erotic note under the fridge of the house he and Charmaine must share with another couple while they’re back inside Positron. It’s a missive of erotic longing, pressed with a vivid lipstick kiss: “I’m starved for you!” it breathes. If Stan rarely thought about the house’s other residents before—they’ve never met them and don’t know their names; it’s not allowed—now he can’t stop thinking about them, especially the note’s sex-addled author, a woman apparently named Jasmine, so unlike his girlish wife, Charmaine. He HAS to meet her, but in this highly ordered and increasingly surveilled world, disorderly thoughts are a risk, and breaking the rules has dire consequences.

What did I think?:

We all know Margaret Atwood has written some great stories, Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale stand out for me personally, so I was intrigued to read this short and strange little story that is the first of a series placed in a dystopian future world. In this world, known as Consilience, volunteers are required for a new experiment in living. As prisons become over-run, crime is rife and people are literally “starving,” the community offers a month in dedicated housing with a specific job and income, then a spell in the Positron (or prison) working on alternate months. All a bit confusing, as you wonder why someone would voluntarily incarcerate themselves. However, the guarantee of a decent job both inside and outside, and the complete lack of brutality whilst within the Positron whilst contributing to something worthwhile, seems like a good offer and one that many gladly take up.

Our main characters, Stan and Charmaine, a married couple are stuck in a bit of a rut. Although their relationship is stable, it progresses along in a hum-drum manner and neither individual are happy with their lot. After a month in their allocated housing they both enter Positron for another month, kept apart from each other but involved in meaningful tasks like er… looking after chickens and bumping off people who form a threat or need to be got rid of for some unknown reason. An Alternate couple take Stan and Charmaine’s place in the housing for a month, but the two couples are forbidden to meet. When Stan finds a hidden note from the Alternate woman apparently to her husband which is slightly saucy, his imagination goes into overdrive and he considers breaking the Consilience rules to meet this woman and find a little excitement in his life. His wife Charmaine, on the other hand, has a naughty little secret of her own.

I adore Margaret Atwood’s writing style, and like with her other works, I felt at home with this story immediately. The dystopian Big Brother world she presents is unique and intriguing, and I’m glad this is a series of stories so I can further satisfy my curiosity. The thought of drone cars patrolling a city to keep an eye on things is eerie, and she describes the coldness and rigidity of life under the Consilience beautifully. Although Stan and Charmaine are not really likeable characters, the roles they fulfil in society are interesting and I can’t wait to delve a bit deeper in the follow-up. My only issue/criticism is that I feel it ended too abruptly, but on a positive note, it will probably make sure I read on.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: These Hands – Kevin Brockmeier, from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky.