My favourite read of this year so far is Naomi Alderman’s The Power. I picked this book up with the idea that it might cover some of the same territory and perhaps reproduce some of the same magic.
It’s style is haunting, dark and compelling. Three young women live on a remote island – we are neither sure where nor when, only that their mother and a male father figure, ‘King’ tell them that the outside world is dangerous – women are treated without respect and the very air itself can cause them harm. To “strengthen” their hearts and minds, they are subjected to what can only be described as mental and physical tortures. But the reader can see that these ordeals rather keep them supressed, living both physically and emotionally with so little nourishment.
Once, women used to seek refuge here. But now, they are alone. One day, King disappears. Shortly after that, two men and a boy wash ashore. What follows is a taut but slow unwinding of relationships and lies – but no real truths. I am still left wondering many things after closing the final page.
I found this lyrical and spare novel on the Man Booker Longlist – sadly it never made it to the shortlist. In a sense, I can see why. This book poses a lot of fascinating questions – enough to garner serious interest. But without answers, the reader is left wondering as to the exact purpose and message of Sophie Mackintosh.
Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven skips back and forward between the world as we know it today, and a dystopian landscape 20 years in the future where most of humanity has been wiped put by a superflu. Starting over, survivors cling to many things to give life meaning… artefacts from the past (many of which tie the narrators together) and religion especially.
It’s a land where an unraided house is a rare luxury, and the knives tattooed on your wrist signify the lives you have been forced to take. Some turn to the prophets who seem to dominate the isolated towns… others choose a life of wandering, not sure they will ever find a safe place to call home. For these, memory is painful – “the more you remember, the more you’ve lost”.
It’s hard to determine a central character… but the action centres around two things. The first is an actor who dies of a heart attack just as the pandemic becomes apparent. The second is a science fiction world portrayed in a comic book carried by Kristen, a young survivor. This world is the Station Eleven of the title – a space station that provides a haven for those who survived an alien takeover from Earth. No wonder she holds it so closely… when a safe place seems so hard to find here.
There are a lot of beautiful and poignant moments here – not the least of which is the irony of a world in which Star Trek: Voyager provides ancient wisdom “Survival is insufficient”. This is the mantra of a group of troubadours travelling and performing Shakespeare across a world that in many ways, seems to have lost hope. What incredible juxtaposition.
This is a readable but clever book that is on the VCE English text list for 2019. Worth consideration.
I never did get to this in the cinemas, and once someone mentioned to me the book was better, I knew I had to read it first.
I picked it up one afternoon as a break from heavier reads. It was slow going to begin with, even though I was impressed from the beginning by the vivid world that Cline created. It’s a geek’s heaven – where 80s trivia and video game mastery score you the ultimate cool points – and a top spot in the race for a pretty cool prize. It’s a world you see that is lived largely online – in a virtual world known as the OASIS. While the real world suffers (as it likely will), in the OASIS you can be who you want, go where you want and even take care of basic necessities like go to school or hang with friends.
When the creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves a secret prize – mastery of the whole system – hidden in an “Easter Egg” (a term gamers will be familiar with). Naturally, an evil huge corporation is after it – and even more naturally in terms of teen fiction, it is only a few heroic teenagers that stand in their way.
After about 70 or so pages, I found this incredibly difficult to put down. I got so caught up in the action of the storyline and the developing friendships between the characters. I still haven’t seen the film – but if it is half as good as this, it would have been worth a watch. Encourage young readers to get their hands on this – and not to be intimidated by its size. It’s a great read.
I was a fan of the first book in this series – the one that followed Veronica Roth’s immensely popular Divergent series.
The Fates Divide continues the love story of Cyra and Akos, although this narrative tears them apart – for a while at least. Now that Cyra has overthrown her brother, there is nothing that forces Akos to stay with her. Confused and hurt by their responses to this freedom, the pair separate, only to be told that their fates are even more intertwined than they thought. In fact, a twisted secret at their births ensures the two were destined to meet.
In the background, war is stirring. While Cyra does not condone the actions and traditions of her people, she cannot see them conquered. Not can she see them come under the power of Lazmet Noavek – the father she thought long dead.
There is tremendous character development for Cyra in this novel. Now she is no longer ruled by fear of her family, her true character comes to the forefront. She finds that she has a lot more to love for that she once thought. There is also some interesting sub-plotting around Eijeh – the next Oracle who was servant to the Noavek family and questionably loyal to the family that has tried to re-embrace him after his captivity.
I’m not sure why this hasn’t been more popular – I think it’s a well-realised science fiction world with intriguing characters and the promise of more mysteries to unfold. Worth a try.
This book has been sitting on my bedside table for months… and I have been making my way through the pile with the sneaking suspicion that this would be amazing.
It was. This is the best book I have read this year.
The Power imagines a world where women begin to demonstrate a capacity to cause pain via electric shock via touch. First a few teenage girls cause pain and injury to those around them, but gradually they discover a capacity to wake the power up in each other. Some have tremendous capacity, some learn ways to control, master, use and abuse it.
It causes a dramatic shift in the power structure of society on all levels – politics, religion, and the armed forces.
The narrative follows a few select characters witnessing and in fact shaping events that create an entirely new society – one based on female domination and complete subjugation of men. No longer the weaker sex, I would argue that women do to men all that they have been subjected to across history – and more.
It’s a frightening but completely absorbing vision that asks us to acknowledge the transformative nature of power and how absolutely it can corrupt everyone.
The ending of the story is brilliant, as is framed equally as cleverly as a work of historical research looking back at the events that framed their civilisation by a tentative male author, and an understanding female critical friend – and even in this relationship is the dynamic of men and women explored.
This is everything – smart, well-paced and incredibly readable. This is worthy of the award it received and the acclaim it is starting to get.
2015’s The Girl With All The Gifts was a breathtakingly original dystopian fiction. Sadly the follow up – a prequel – The Boy on the Bridge lacks some of the magic of the original.
We return to the world of the first novel – one dominated by “hungries”, where a small group of survivors led by an organization called Beacon, are either soldiers or scientists looking for a cure. A particular expedition is the focus, and the only points of interest are the fact that they are in the same vehicle eventually commandeered by the exceptional Melanie at the end of the first novel, and by the fact that one of the doctors finds herself illegally pregnant on a Tour of Duty.
As Dr Khan’s time of birth nears, the tension finally builds (in the last third of the novel) when they discover the same group of more conscious zombie children that have somehow managed to retain enough consciousness to function beyond the hunger that traditionally dominates the “hungries”.
We know the team piloting Rosie are doomed, but not how. A delegation to the young hungries has devastating consequences for the crew and leaves a young whizkid scientist with the key to solving the zombie virus – but it comes at an unthinkable cost.
Fans of the first novel might be interested in this, but I found it slower paced and less engaging. The mystery of the first novel has already been solved. The end is interesting – as it leaps forward several years to give us clues as to how the whole series is going to conclude. What I can say for M. R Carey though is that he is exceptional at creating characters and fleshing them out with great skill and care. You will care about the characters at the end of this book.
Stephen King co-wrote this novel with his son Owen, passing the chapters between them and re-writing each other. The result is a novel that feels very much like King himself – his stamp is all over it.
Sleeping Beauties imagines a world in which women fall asleep and begin constructing some kind of cocoon. It’s a dangerous kind of slumber – when someone attempts to wake them unnatural strength and aggression is the result. The world of men goes pretty much as you would expect – sense and reason fall very much by the wayside. King is clearly a feminist.
Meanwhile, the women wake up in an alternative setting and begin setting up their own society which, while technologically behind the times, is pretty successful. Time passes differently there, and while the Aurora virus has only taken hold in the real world for a few days, a year or more passes in the world of the sleeping women.
Behind it all is Evie Black, the supernatural force you would come to expect from a Stephen King novel. Both malevolent and insightful, its hard to cast her as either hero or villain. She clearly sits somewhere in between. Awake and safe in a prison cell, she forms much of the conflict in the text as the characters battle for what to do with her.
Nothing extraordinary here, this novel is very much “in the pocket” for King. No more than a comfortable read.