Dystopian Challenge Completed!

If you’ve followed my blog over the summer you will have noticed a large number of dystopian book reviews. Some people have started to look at me for suggestions on dystopian books and I’ve been asked to do a guest post on dystopia. Seems like I’ve become an expert in just 3 months!

No, the fact is, I was doing a Dystopian Challenge! This challenge, hosted by Parajunkee, ran from January 1st through to August 24th (the release date of Mockingjay). However, I only found out about the challenge in May, by which time I happened to have read a few Dystopian books.

A dystopia is a society after some great disaster or change has taken place (post-apocalyptic), life is not as easy as it was. The main character in a dystopian book generally does not accept society as easily as most other people do and joins up with like-minded people to try and change their situation.

There were 3 levels to the challenge: 5, 10, or 20 books. I was planning to read just 10, but when I got to 12 (as you do), I thought it would be a pity to stop now, and I decided to go for the full 20. But in the end that meant I had to read at least 1, but often 2, dystopian novels per week.

I realized that there are many YA dystopian novels but there didn’t seem to be an awful lot of adult dystopian novels, so I decided to start a list of dystopian novels for adults. With help of my blog readers, that list now contains 38 novels and is of course far from complete but it was useful when choosing the next book to read. I didn’t have too much choice as lots of the books were not available in the library.

But in the end, I got there: 20 books! I can now proudly call myself a Dystopian Junkee.

Below is what I read. I am well aware that not all books would be labeled dystopian by a purist, but many of the books were in the dystopian novels list on Wikipedia, and that is good enough for me.

  1. The Stand by Stephen King (Finished January, 30th, 2010)
  2. Gone by Michael Grant (Finished March 13th, 2010)
  3. Hunger by Michael Grant (Finished April 5th, 2010)
  4. The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall (Finished April 6th, 2010)
  5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Finished April 22, 2010)
  6. Sulphuric Acid by Amelie Nothomb (Finished May 2nd, 2010)
  7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Finished May 12th, 2010)
  8. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (Finished June 6th, 2010)
  9. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Finished June 9th, 2010)
  10. The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq (Finished June 13th, 2010)
  11. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson (Finished June 24th, 2010)
  12. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (Finished June 28th, 2010)
  13. The Running Man by Stephen King (Finished July 5th, 2010)
  14. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Finished July 12th, 2010)
  15. The Crysalids by John Wyndham (Finished July 19th, 2010)
  16. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (Finished July 21st, 2010)
  17. Feed by M. T. Anderson (Finished July 24th, 2010)
  18. Jennifer Government by Max Barry (Finished July 30th, 2010)
  19. Blindness by Jose Saramago (Finished August 9th, 2010)
  20. The Traveler by John Twelve Hakws (Finished August 18, 2010)

Finished this challenge on August, 18, 2010.

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Blindness by José Saramago

Blindness by Jose SaramagoThis book (1995) is the one-but-last read for my Dystopian Challenge. A good thing too, because the deadline is in sight: August, 24th! I have one more book to read, which will be Traveller by John Twelve Hawks and then I will never read any dystopian book in my life again.

No, that’s a lie! I love dystopian stories! I know there are lots more books around (see e.g., my list of dystopia for adults — as opposed to the ubiquitous YA dystopian novels). Unfortunately, my library does not have many of them.

Blindness is a medical dystopian story (unlike for instance the political dystopias in which the government has changed for the worse), in which people turn blind one by one. The first known case is a man that has stopped at a red traffic light, but when the light turns green, he doesn’t move his car, because he has suddenly lost the sight in his eyes. The friendly passer-by that drops him off at home turns blind very soon too, as does his wife, and other people he is in contact with.

The eye doctor he visits also becomes affected, but the doctor’s wife not. When all blind people are rounded up to go to a detention center (to avoid spreading the disease), she pretends to be blind so she can come along. She is the only seeing person in a group of blind people.

As no person of authority wants to be in charge of the blind in the detention center, for fear of becoming blind themselves, the newly blind are left to their own devices, with disastrous consequences.

The book is not a happy one. Many very unpleasant things happen. It is a very likely sketch of what people will do when they are together in a small space in completely new circumstances. It is not a pleasant view of humanity. As usual with stories, this book is no exception in having some good, decent, main characters that will not accept the inhuman situation they are in.

The book is written in a dense way, although it is quite an easy read. It’s dense in the sense that dialogues are written all on the same lines, there is no new line for a new speaker.  Something like this (not a real example):

They all went outside. – What do we do now?, I don’t know, But you’re in charge, Still, I don’t know what to do.

None of the characters have a name. When you’re blind, names are no longer important, says one of the protagonists. People have lost their identity. One of the main protagonists is the eye doctor. He, more than anyone else, has become dispensable.

A wonderful book which has some interesting ideas and a dark view on humanity when the world as we know it changes. There is a sequel, Seeing, which I will definitely read!

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Extra: See my review of The Double by José Saramago.

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

Jennifer Government

This is another dystopian story (of a kind, maybe not pure dystopian) in which corporations rule the country. In this book (2003) the USA has a limited government, with no taxes and very little say. The corporations rule. In particular, people can subscribe to one of two customer loyalty cards. These two card companies both have a large number of corporations as their members. People that buy from shops allied to one of the card companies are lured away by staff from the other card company. Something close to a war ensues between the loyalty card companies.

That’s the companies. Then there are the people: Hack Nike, who works for, yes, Nike, is asked by two colleagues to come and work in their department. Because he doesn’t read the small print on his new contract, he doesn’t realize he’s just signed up to kill 10 people. The idea is that by killing people that had just bought a pair of limited edition Nikes, others will believe these Nikes are so special, that they will also want to buy them. The ultimate marketing stunt.

Hack decides to tell the police, who then offer to carry out the killings for him, at special reduced rate given that order is for ten people at the same time. Well, that tells you about the sort of book it is. It’s odd, but funny.

Jennifer Government is a woman working for the government. She’s hired to find out who is behind the killings. She’s after John Nike, the man that hired Hack Nike, who she also knows from a previous job. She prefers to do things her way and even when her boss puts her on leave, she does not give up.

A few too many people are involved in some way (I got a little lost), but in the end, all comes together in a series of direct attacks between the loyalty card companies.

I enjoyed reading the book as the story had some interesting, original ideas. It’s dystopian because some of the main characters start to think that life in Europe, where there are still taxes, might be better than that in USA (and allied countries). They don’t act upon it in any important way, though.

Rating: 4/5

Feed by M. T. Anderson

Feed by M. T. Anderson

Feed

Feed (2002) is a dystopian novel for young adults. Titus is a rich kid who spends his Spring Break on the Moon with a few friends. He’s trying to enjoy himself, but it is not so easy. Then he meets Violet, a girl who is there on her own and they “click”.

They (and all other people Titus knows) have “Feeds” which are a sort-of computers inside the brain. Titus can look up any information he wants (like we do with Google) just by thinking about it. However, the Corporations have added commercials to the Feednet, which means that whenever Titus thinks of something he likes, he gets told how great the item is, where he can buy it, and the irresistable offers that are on at the moment.

People get the Feed information coming in at all times so they are totally influenced by it. Violet also has a Feed, but is not so brain-washed by it, and actually questions the world she lives in. Unfortunately, she doesn’t quite fit in with Titus’ friends which makes outings, such as parties, a little awkward. (Note that at parties, people may have their Feeds transmit the same music as everyone else, or totally different music if they feel like it).

When things get really difficult for Violet, Titus becomes more and more absent from her life. He doesn’t know quite how to deal with the situation.

I thought the author was very creative with the world he created, especially the Feed. In other ways, it was like some other dystopian novels. For instance, it has omni-potent Corporations, that more or less rule the world. There is no real government involvement with anything. State school has been abolished a long time ago. Instead, Titus goes to School™. Furthermore, the world is, like in many other dystopian worlds, disintegrating because of the way humans have treated it.

The story was fun and very believable. To me, Titus was a typical teenager, doing things teenagers enjoy and opting out when it didn’t suit him anymore. What I liked even better were the ideas that the author put in the book. The most memorable was: a local wood was taken down to make space for an air factory. Brilliant!

Because the story was maybe a little too simple for me in terms of writing style, I give it 4.5/5. Had I been of YA age, I would probably have awarded it a 5.5/5!

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