Two weeks ago, we had our first day of Bleak Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian Book Goodness – and since we love this genre so much, we decided to have a reprisal. Today, we take a look at some old favorites and new titles about the end of the world as we know it…
Libyrinth by Pearl North
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: July 2009
Hardcover: 336 pages
Summary: (from amazon.com)
In her debut novel, Pearl North takes readers centuries into the future, to a forgotten colony of Earth where technology masquerades as magic and wars are fought over books.
Haly is a Libyrarian, one of a group of people dedicated to preserving and protecting the knowledge passed down from the Ancients and stored in the endless maze of books known as the Libyrinth. But Haly has a secret: The books speak to her.
When the threat of the rival Eradicants drives her from her home, Haly learns that things are not all she thinks they are. Taken prisoner by the Eradicants, who believe the written word to be evil, she sees the world through their eyes and comes to understand that they are not the book-burning monsters that she has known her entire life.
The words of a young girl hiding in an attic—written hundreds of years before Haly’s birth—will spark the interest of her captors and begin the change necessary to end the conflict between the Eradicants and Libyrarians. With the help of her loyal companion Nod, a creature of the Libyrinth, Haly must mend the rift between the two groups before their war for knowledge destroys them all. Haly’s life—and the lives of everyone she knows—will never be the same.
A powerful adventure that unites the present and future, Libyrinth is a fresh, magical novel that will draw in young readers of all genres.
Libyrinth is the story of a clerk named Haly, who has a singular skill that she hides from everyone. While she like all of those in the Libyrinth can read and write, the written word speaks to her and only she can hear it. Afraid she will be seen as a witch or punished for this ability, Haly tells no one except her best friend Clauda, a kitchen servant of the Libyrinth. But Haly’s gift has a higher purpose and will not remain buried forever; when Haly’s assigned Libyrarian, Selene, shares that she has discovered a map to the most important book on their world, The Book of the Night, together Haly, Selene and Clauda ride out to find it. They are intercepted, though, by the Eradicants, the book burning people of the neighboring realm. Selene and Clauda manage to get away and ride hard for Ilysies to beg for help, but Haly is taken prisoner as a witch when her secret ability to hear written words is discovered by the Eradicant guards. Soon though, Haly’s circumstances change radically, for her ability to hear holds an important place in the Eradicant religion. Hally is The Redeemer and through her the Eradicants plan on liberating – that is, burning – the dead words of the Libyrinth forever. It is up to the efforts of Clauda, Selene and Haly to stop the destruction, and find another way for the Redemption to occur.
Libyrinth is a futuristic, dystopian-ish science fiction novel in a similar tradition to Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 with a touch of the colony world feel of Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go. In many ways, Libyrinth is a book about books. A deep love of literature is imbued in each page of this remarkable novel, as Haly’s snatched verses from books color the story – from the beginning with E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web to the closing poignancy of The Diary of Anne Frank.
That said, Libyrinth is a hit and miss book – for all that it has some fabulous ideas and impressively creates a future dystopian world, it fails in its execution of the overall story.
In this future colony of a long forgotten Earth, three different Greek city-state like societies are locked in battle. Thesia has just been conquered by the Eradicants and as their name suggests they are in the business of eradication, namely the burning of books. The Libyrinth, a massive labyrinthine library is fearful of the Eradicants for good reason as every year they demand a payment of burned books. Thesia and the city-state of Ilysies have stood to protect the Libyrinth from destruction by the Eradicants, but when Thesia falls and The Book of the Night is discovered, the Libyrinth’s existence is in jeopardy. This is where Ms. North is at her best, with this detailed look at completely different societies and the complex scope of her new world. The brilliance of this world building in Libyrinth is that none of these societies are purely good or bad. While the Eradicants are warlike people, demand a tithe of books burned from the Libyrinth every year, and detest the written word, this is not because they abhor knowledge or are evil bigots. Rather, their religion and history is rooted in the belief that words once written “die” and serve to create an unforgivable rift between those who would hoard knowledge from the poorer who cannot read – and thus by burning, they liberate the dead words from their dusty graves. Haly learns that the Eradicants are not the monsters she and those of the Libyrinth have believed them to be and she learns of their love for words and their deep-seated belief in Singing (as the Eradicants are, understandably, an oral culture). There are the Ilysians too, a matriarchal society in sharp contrast to the male-only priesthood of the Eradicants, who have their own beliefs and plans for The Book of the Night, led by their strong willed Queen.
While the world-building and overall story is impressive, the execution of the book is unfortunately lackluster. The characters are fine enough, but nothing really special or engaging. Haly as the tentative heroine who struggles to find a balance between the knowledge of the Libyrinth and the song of the Eradicants is a decent leading lady, if lacking any read depth. Clauda, her friend, is a far more compelling character with her struggle to control her failing limbs and her busybody spying on the court of Ilysia; and Selene, in her strained relationship with her mother the Queen of Ilysia is another decent character that outshines Haly in this story. But even though these three characters are all well and fine enough, I couldn’t really find myself caring about any of them.
In this sense, Libyrinth fails to truly engage, dragging with lengthy unnecessary scenes and a slow moving plot, especially in the first half of the novel. Even as I write this review now, the story seems like it should be any bibliophile’s dream – a book rife with literary allusions, set in a far future world where books are revered and simultaneously reviled. But I could not focus on this book, as I’d get bored after a few pages and find my mind wandering.
Though there are sufficient twists at the end of the book and a dramatic conclusion that leaves room for the next installment in the trilogy, Libyrinth didn’t really do anything for me. It’s the same sort of feeling I had after reading Stephen Hunt’s The Court of the Air. Both books have grand ideas and an impressive depth of themes and issues…but they lack the spark that makes them truly good reads. Still, I recommend Libyrinth for its impressive world-building alone and will tune in for the sequel. There’s a lot of potential here, and perhaps this will be tapped in future books.
Rating: 6 – Good, Recommended
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: December 2003
Paperback: 330 pages
Summary: (from Amazon.com)
For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon – a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires. Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., M. T. Anderson has created a not-so-brave new world — and a smart, savage satire that has captivated readers with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now.
“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”
So begins the story of Titus, an average teen in a future not so far off from our own. In this future world people are installed with the Feed – an implant in the brain that connects its user to a world of instant gratification. IMs are mentally conducted, consumer profiles and recommendations are personalized and beamed straight to the customer’s brain, and spam gets a whole new meaning. On spring break, Titus and his friends go to the moon for kicks and it is there that he meets Violet – a beautiful girl who is different from anyone that Titus has ever met. She tags along with Titus and his friends for spring break until one night when they all become victims of a vicious terrorist-hacker attack at a nightclub. In the following days, Violet, Titus and his friends are sequestered in a hospital where they live a strange, shocking life: their feeds are completely silent.
After their feeds are restored life goes back to normal for the teens as though nothing even happened, but Titus and Violet deepen their relationship based on a shared bond over this event. But as Titus learns that the attack has changed Violet more than he could ever have comprehended and far more than it has affected him, their relationship grows strained and sour while the world too deteriorates around them.
You know those books that haunt you once you’ve finished reading them? The ones that you might dream about, that you cannot shake from your consciousness even days after their conclusion? Feed is one of those books.
It begins as an extreme consumerist American future, choosing to focus on the human element. Rather than explore politics or social issues on a grand scale, Feed takes a micro-approach to this dystopian future, focusing on the teens that happily lap up the convenience and wicked cool things the Feed can provide for them. The Feed is not something Titus or his friends ever question because it is as normal a part of everyday life as eating or breathing. These characters are the worst exaggeration of the vapid, self-centered airhead brat – speaking in a future slang that is nearly incomprehensible:
Link Arwaker was like, “I’m so null,” and Matty was all, “I’m null too, unit,” but I mean we were all pretty null, because for the last like hour we’d been playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming out of the wall.
And this is what is so fascinating about Feed – the fact that the main character, though he’s a little different than his friends, is an apathetic protagonist that floats through life, unquestioning and uncaring, completely absorbed with the status quo and happy with it. Violet, on the other hand, is the one that questions and pushes – first by trying to trick her Feed out of building a consumer profile for her to fit her into one of a few preset categories, then later by reading glimpses of the deteriorating world and America’s place in it. In contrast to the passionate, intelligent Violet (who is an outsider since her birth and homeschooling by her scholarly father) Titus is a something of a wanker until the end. But, this is the point of the novel – Titus and his friends are the bland, “brag” new wave; they are the generation that will live and propagate the future. Teen rebellion is no more; self-definition through mediums like clothing, music, movies are obsolete. Everything is mass-produced and consumed, with institutions like schools and governments owned by corporations.
Feed walks the line between satire and sadness; the absurd and the terrifying. Corps like Nike and Coke hold competitions through the Feeds, offering prizes to those who talk about their products (i.e. “Marty had also gotten a Nike speech tattoo, which was pretty brag. It meant that every sentence, automatically said ‘Nike.’ He paid a lot for it. It was hilarious, because you could hardly understand what he said anymore. It was just, ‘This fuckin’ shit Nike, fuckin’, you know, Nike,’ etc.”), on the absurd and satyric end of the spectrum. Then there’s the seriousness of what this consumer utopia means for the rest of the world – the oceans are black toxic pools with no fish; forests are demolished completely from the face of the continent to make room for suburbs and malls, replaced with the more efficient air machines; weather and Clouds™ are simulated and artificially created; and finally, most terrifying of all, the consequences of these acts are seen on humans. Lesions, that mysteriously (and are not given a second thought by the teens of the novel) appear on their skin, become hip and fashionable.
This apathy – no, rather, this loving and eager acceptance of the complete destruction of our planet in return for brag new, like, clothes and, like, fashionable new lesions and upcars, is the most terrifying part of this remarkable novel. The glimpses we see through Titus and Violet of their rapidly dying world, the impending unravelling of diplomacy, and the gradual and happy decay of humans themselves, Eloi who are happily plugged in and tuned out, is where Feed soars.
One of the most shocking, funny, and indescribably saddening books I’ve read – and one of my most memorable reads of 2009. Highly, highly recommended.
Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection
Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody
Publisher: Penguin (Australia) / Random House (US Reprint)
Publication Date: 1987 (Australia) / 2008 (US Reprint)
Summary: (from Obernewtyn.net)
“In my dream I was somewhere cold and darkly quiet. I could hear water dripping and I was afraid, though I did not know why. In the distance there was a bright flash of light. A high-pitched whining noise filled the air like a scream, but no one could scream for so long without stopping to breathe.”
In a world struggling back from the brink of apocalypse, life is harsh. But for Elspeth Gordie, born with enhanced mental abilities that would see her sterilised or burned if discovered, it is also dangerous. There is only survival by secrecy, and so she determines never to use her forbidden powers. But it is as if they have their own imperative, and their use inevitably brings her to the attention of the totalitarian Council that rules the Land.
Sent to the remote mountain institute of Obernewtyn where escape is impossible, she must throw off her safe cloak of concealment and pit herself against those who would resurrect the terrible forces of the Apocalypse.
Only then will she learn most truly who and what she is…
Obernewtyn is a book I discovered when I was in middle school – along with books like The Giver and Tomorrow, When the War Began, Isobelle Carmody’s vision of a post-apocalyptic future is one that I have loved since I myself was a young adult. And thus, for the second of our Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia days here during YA Appreciation Month, I had to give Obernewtyn a reread and review.
“In the days following the holocaust, which came to be known as the Great White, there was death and madness.”
After humanity nearly caused its own extinction by nuclear war, only small pockets of life dotted the planet. After the Great White, radiation fallout claimed almost all of the survivors with sickness and famine, causing death and mutation. Centuries later, peace has been restored to the land by the Council of farmers, but enforce their peace with religious zeal and unrelenting, harsh rules. Any deviation (mutation) found in beast or man – for small talents like mind-reading and future-telling have emerged – are to be met with death, or a harsh sentence of work in a labor farm (which essentially amounts to the same thing as death). So Elspeth Gordie, whose parents were burned as seditioners, must hide her ability carefully – for she can read minds and speak to animals. Elspeth is denounced, though, and she is shipped off to exile in Obernewtyn – the feared final destination for many mutants. Though the true extent of her powers is unknown by Madame Vega and the those in charge of the mountainous keep, Elspeth fears for what lies in store for her. For in Obernewtyn, she finds many others – Misfits – with strong powers like her own, and uncovers a dark scheme of experiments, secret family histories and forbidden old knowledge that lies in wait.
Rereading Obernewtyn is a comforting homecoming for me – and, as with my reread of Tomorrow, When the War Began, it’s even better this time around with my older, more experienced eye. Ms. Carmody manages to blend the science fiction post-apocalypse scenario flawlessly with magic and supernatural elements more often found in fantasy, and manages to make this a serious, immensely readable novel without ever falling into simple caricatures or cheese. Elspeth reminds me of heroines of my young adult reading world – girls like Alanna of Trebond or Mara, daughter of Nobody and his wife No one. These heroines are intelligent young ladies who embark on Adventures of their own making without ever needing to be defined by boyfriends or true tortured eternal loves. Elspeth enters the cold world of Obernewtyn and discovers a horrible plot, and she decides to fight back. I miss this kind of adventuring heroine, who though isn’t dead (see this year’s Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by another Australian author, Alison Goodman) certainly isn’t as popular in the legacy of Twilight.
The fantasy and dystopian elements are also strong, extrapolating on a world ravaged by fallout and still suffering from the consequences of nuclear war. The magical abilities of future humans in the wake of prolonged radiation is not a new concept (not even back in 1987 when this book was first published), but Ms. Carmody’s take on these mutant humans in a fanatical new world is one of the best I’ve ever read. The fear of anything different, of challenge, change and knowledge is understandable as the world reverts to a dark age and struggles for survival. Even as there are pockets of lethal radiation, such as in the Badlands surrounding Obernewtyn, there are also glimpses of vibrant life – in the farms and the animals that have survived the war. Ms. Carmody’s world building in Obernewtyn may be small of scale, but as the series progresses, her scope grows ever larger (hint: the books keep getting better).
I should also mention that Obernewtyn is one of those books that will have you ignoring phone calls, significant others, parents, and/or friends. Though it’s not particularly short at around 250 pages, it’s impeccably plotted. There is no stopping once started.
So, in short (if you couldn’t guess) rereading Obernewtyn was a true delight. There’s always that fear that over time, books lose the appeal they may have had years earlier – but this is not the case with this dystopian gem. The only drawback to my reread? Now I need to go back and read the entire series…
Rating: 8 Excellent
Additional Thoughts: Make sure to stick around, as later today Ana and I will have a joint review of Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Gathering Blue, as well as a list of other titles for the Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian fan.