Category Archives: dystopia

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

ready-player-one As a child of the 80s (having been born in 1979), this book felt so much like coming home.  All of the references to 80s pop culture, especially geek culture, were just so spot-on!  I was not an arcade kid, since we didn’t have an arcade close enough to my house, but I definitely played more than my fair share of video games on personal gaming consoles like the Atari 2600 and NES.  I also have fond memories of playing puzzle and sim games on the Commodore 64 and Mac Classic in “computer class” at school.  I also watched waaaaaay too much TV and too many movies, so most of Cline’s references felt like a conversation with an old friend.  It’s beyond obvious that Ernest Cline was a fellow geek and that he loved all the cheeseball 80s stuff just as much as my friends and I did.  For real…  If you are a fanboy/fangirl of geeky 80s pop culture, you NEED to read this book!

Even better than the reminiscing, though, was the foreshadowing of what could come to be if we (citizens of the world) don’t change our reliance on fossil fuels and unplug a little from the world of “social media” to actually interact with the people and the world around us — in real life!  Imagine, if you will, a future in which most people around the world are so immersed in a virtual reality “utopia” known as the OASIS that they rarely leave their houses.  Since most people no longer have their own vehicles or even the financial means to utilize public transportation, the OASIS was the closest thing they would ever get to traveling.  Kids even started to attend school in the OASIS because the virtual world created it’s own schools to let pressure off of the failing public school system.  When I read one quote, I wondered if Cline was really just that attuned to the forthcoming changes in our society back in 2011 or if he somehow traveled through time to 2016 before he finished his story — “Now that everyone could vote from home, via the OASIS, the only people who could get elected were movie stars, reality TV personalities, or radical televangelists.”

One of the creators of the OASIS, James Halliday, had very few friends and never married or had any children.  By the time of his death, he had even been estranged from his former business partner and one-time best friend for about a decade.  So, before he died, he crafted an elaborate “Easter Egg” hunt within his virtual world to determine who would receive his fortune.  Halliday’s last will and testament was announced to the world with a video chock-full of 80s references and explained that his heir would need to use their knowledge of Halliday’s favorite things to puzzle out the location of three keys and three gates/trials he had programmed into the OASIS.  Everyone went nuts at first, but excitement waned after the first five years and only hardcore Gunters (a condensation of “egg hunters”) like Wade kept up the hunt.  When Wade finds the first key and his name shows up on the leader board, though, the OASIS is suddenly hopping again and the competition stirs up adventure, danger, and even romance. I can’t wait to see how the movie of this book turns out…

Happy Reading!

 

The 100 [series] by Kass Morgan

the-100To be very honest, I originally read the first book in this series when it was published back in 2013 and somehow forgot to review it back then.  (I  seriously checked and  couldn’t believe it wasn’t on here yet!)  I really liked it and thought that it was an interesting concept, but I didn’t really realize that the series had become a whole *thing* until I was recently talking to some people who mentioned the CW television series.  I am one of those weirdos who doesn’t really watch TV — I know, it’s hard for most people to comprehend — so I didn’t even know the television series existed until after they had started airing the 4th season!  Yeah…  That whole “not working with teens in the public library anymore” thing probably played a large role in my oblivious nature as well, but I digress.  I decided that I was going to “binge listen” to the audiobooks and, as it turns out, my lack of knowledge about the continuation of the series has paid off nicely.  Instead of waiting a year or more after one book ends, I can literally head on over to OverDrive and download the next audiobook from my local public library  as soon as I am ready (as long as it is checked in — and I was extremely lucky in this instance).

So, who were The 100?  They were 100 juvenile delinquents who were scheduled to be executed on their 18th birthdays but, instead, were allowed to be guinea pigs for re-settlement of Earth.  Why did they leave Earth in the first place?  Well, *they* didn’t.  But about 300 years prior, when a “cataclysm” (i.e. nuclear war) left Earth uninhabitable, a few hundred people were herded onto The Colony — a space station of interconnected ships that orbited the Earth — to keep the human race from dying out.  For centuries, people lived and died in The Colony and could only dream of a day when the radiation would wear off enough that it would be safe to live on Earth once again.  After it became clear that The Colony’s life-support systems would not last much longer, though, it was decided that The 100 could be sent to Earth as advance test subjects.  When I heard the premise of this book, all I could think was “futuristic Lord of the Flies” and I was sold.  If you enjoyed Across the Universe and/or These Broken Stars, you should definitely check out this series.

Happy Reading!

The Young World by Chris Weitz

young-worldEver since I read The Girl Who Owned a City [back in fifth grade], I have been fairly obsessed with dystopian fiction.  There’s just something so intriguing about seeing that the world could be *even more* messed up than it already is, you know?  The thing about this story that instantly brought me back to The Girl Who Owned a City, of course, is the fact that the entire adult population in this story has been wiped out.  In this case, though, all the little kids have been wiped out too.  It’s only the teenagers who have survived — and it must have something to do with the particular blend of hormones that exists in teens, because even the survivors die off once they reach full maturity.

This is not just a random disease that struck and went away, by the way.  This is something that, if left unchecked, will wipe out the entire human race.  Yeah.  Let’s hope there are some super-genius teens out there who can figure out what to do to fix it all, right?!?  Enter the kids of Washington Square.  This story is told from the perspectives of various characters, including an “average” girl named Donna and a guy named Jefferson who has “inherited” leadership of Washington Square now that his older brother has turned 18 and died.  Oh yeah…  Jefferson is also secretly in love with Donna and just so happens to be think he might have found some information that could lead to a cure.  Jeff just needs to convince his friends to join him on a dangerous trip through the city to find more information and, you know, a lab where he can do some research.  Witty banter and fast-paced action make this a fairly quick read.  I recommend this book to fans of series like Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Monument 14.

Happy Reading!

Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger

fuzzyI have several lenses through which I view the education system in our country.  First, as a former student.  Second, as someone who has completed a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in library and information sciences with a concentration in youth services and public libraries.  Third, nevertheless, is the role that has provided me a completely different [admittedly, more biased] view — mom to two children in public school.  Based on my own experiences, the training I have received, the literature I’ve studied on best practices, the work I have done in schools and public libraries, and the ways I have seen my own children navigate the system, I feel extremely confident in my ability to speak about both the successes and shortcomings of recent educational reforms.  And while I feel as though most of the reform in the last couple of decades was well-intentioned, I am both concerned about and disappointed by the general trend toward extreme standardization and hands-off learning because of the focus on high-stakes testing.  This book spoke right to my heart!

Imagine that the school you attended had an all-seeing, computerized Vice Principal who could track every single student’s educational progress and behavior in real time.  For Max, this is her reality.  Every time her grades slip, every time she is late to class, and every time she breaks even the tiniest of school rules, the Vice Principal (aka computerized student tracking/evaluation system) Barbara updates Max’s student record.  That might not be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that Barbara also constantly notifies Max’s parents, who are stressing big time and pressuring Max to turn things around before she ends up kicked out of her regular middle school and enrolled in a remedial program.  School is nothing but stress for Max… but then Fuzzy shows up.

Fuzzy is a new student at Vanguard One Middle School.  The thing that makes him different, nevertheless, is that he is not human; he is a robot.  Sure, the school already had robots who perform routine janitorial and cafeteria work, but Fuzzy is something very new.  Instead of being programmed for only a few specific jobs and functions, he is programmed with “fuzzy logic” so that he can attempt to adapt his code to the demands of being a middle school student.  To help him with his mission, Max has been recruited as a student partner with whom he can interact.  She agrees to help Fuzzy better understand the intricacies of navigating middle school, both literally and figuratively, and Fuzzy “decides” he wants to help Max as well.  In a world where it seems like administrators would rather their students behave more like robots, you would think that Fuzzy would be welcomed with open arms.  But it seems that Barbara is not a fan of the new Robot Integration Program.  Perhaps it’s because she’s afraid Fuzzy will catch on to the fact that she seems to be so obsessed with better test scores that she may be taking liberties with student evaluations?

Happy Reading!

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

house-of-the-scorpionMatteo Alacran was not simply born; he was implanted in and later harvested from a cow that was designed to incubate clones.  And not only was Matteo a clone, but he was a very special case.  Most clones were lobotomized at birth and simply existed to provide organ transplants to the people from whom they were cloned.  Matteo was the clone of a man called El Patron, the dictator of a land called Opium.  El Patron was born to a poor family in a very poor town and lived a decidedly difficult life, but he worked his way up to be one of the richest and most infamous people in the world.  Though he couldn’t go back in time and change his own childhood, El Patron was able to provide Matteo with tutors and music lessons and to watch a version of himself have the things he never did.

Matteo was so sheltered that he didn’t even know that he was a clone until he was nearly a teen, but then he felt somehow protected from the fate of the other clones because of the time and money El Patron had put into raising him.  After all, who would waste all that time and money on a clone they only planned to kill later?  Even setting that fear aside, though, what else is impacted by his status as a clone?  Can Matteo possibly attain any sort of personal freedom, or will he always “belong” to El Patron?  And, if he does, in fact, belong to El Patron, is he entitled to set any of his own goals or focus on his own happiness?  Readers who enjoyed thought-provoking books of the Unwind Dystology should definitely check this one out.

Happy Reading!

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

unwantedsChildren in the land of Quill are raised in a perpetual state of fear.  They are expected to live by very rigid rules and too many instances of rule breaking could get them labeled as an Unwanted.  Being told that you are “unwanted” may sound cruel in and of itself, but it’s actually much worse than that.  There is an annual Purge, and the 13-year-olds are separated into Wanteds, Necessaries, and Unwanteds.  All of the Unwanteds are then rounded up and sent to the Death Farm.  So, what are these infractions that are worthy of getting a child sentenced to death?  Anything creative, for starters — drawing and singing are absolutely not allowed.  It is also particularly bad if a child displays any curiosity or, worse yet, questions authority and/or the status quo.  After all, “Quill prevails when the strong survive.”

Alex has known for a long time that he was an Unwanted and that his twin brother, Aaron, was a Wanted.  Though he knew that Aaron could have been labeled Unwanted right along with him, he accepted the blame for his brother’s drawing to keep him safe.  Imagine Alex’s surprise, then, when he got to the Death Farm and discovered that it was actually a ruse.  Mr. Today pretended to be the executioner of the Unwanteds, but he was actually a wizard who created a hidden land, Artime, in which the Unwanteds were encouraged to find their happiness and express their creativity.  Had he only known the truth, he would have turned his brother in and actually saved him!  Sadly, he is now forbidden to have any contact with his brother.  They are ALL forbidden from returning to [or even contacting anyone in] Quill because it would surely endanger the entire land of Artime and all the people living there if the leaders of Quill learned that they had been fooled.  But, how can he simply leave his brother in that terrible place?  Especially knowing that another boy in Artime is looking for a way to sneak back into Quill to get revenge on Aaron.  Surely there must be a way to save him…

Happy Reading!

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

Vivian-AppleAlthough Vivian Apple never really believed in the teachings of the Church of America, she was forced to re-evaluate when her beliefs when her parents disappeared — especially after she found holes in their bedroom ceiling the morning after the predicted “Rapture.”  She always thought that The Book of Frick (named after the man who created the Church of America) was a bit over the top — especially considering the fact that it touted conservative behaviors and traditional gender roles but claimed that God loved America best because of its capitalistic tendencies.  At times, it was hard to tell if this book was intended to be a parody or simply an exaggerated to make a point.  What I know for sure, nevertheless, is that I’ve never read anything quite like it.  A strong female character who is examining her beliefs while navigating through changing friendships, a developing romance, and the end of the world?  Sign me up!

Happy Reading!