Graduation Day

I remember how surprised the world was when Obama got elected; how African Americans said they never thought this would happen in their lifetime. What I was thinking was, “I can’t believe elected an African-American (well half-black, half white) to the country’s highest office before we have elected a woman President. I mean women have had the right to vote for over a century now and in many other countries women have served as the leader of their nations. Why not here?

As I continue to dive into dystopian fiction I can’t help but notice an obvious pattern of teen girls as the main character in these stories who display such strong leadership skills that they can topple a dystopian society or help save an apocalyptic one. Is this trend wish fulfillment on the part of writers who frustrated with the dearth of women leaders in government and even corporations have sublimated their biggest hopes for women into the pages of these books? From Katniss, to Tris and in the case of The Graduation, Cia, why is it these women are only given these opportunities to lead on the pages of a book?

In this final book of The Testing trilogy we learn that the Committee planned to fail Cia and not accept her into The University as she is ‘too emotional’ and they are not sure she can make the tough decisions that leaders must do, yet in the end of the series doesn’t she prove that it’s her very emotions and instincts that help her take down a corrupt and twisted system? What would our own world be like if we had a woman leader? If a woman was leading the country, and indeed more women filled the House and the Senate, would we have the current pissing matches between House and Senate and between parties that currently exist? Are women better able to come to a compromise and is that always a bad choice compared to a stalemate?

I am not saying there would not be possible cons to having a woman lead the government, but I would rather take that risk than to see our government and society continue on the path it has been on for a long time now.

Even in Graduation Day the female leaders such as Professor Holt and President Collindar do not always display the better qualities of female leaders. Indeed, Professor Holt while intelligent is also cold, calculating, manipulative and borders on ruthless. President Collindar also pushes aside the notion that a woman leader may fail at some of the tougher decisions. However, Cia is the counterbalance, she is smart, able to reason through options and make a decision, yet her biggest strength appears to be her ability to create alliances and build consensus. Her fellow male students follow her and not the other way around.

When a woman finally rises to the top office in our country, there will be extra pressure on her beyond the regular pressures of such as office to show what ‘female traits’, if any, she will display and how that will affect not only how she is viewed, but what the effects will be. Maybe in an effort to not be scrutinized for those very ‘traits’ she will swing as far away from such comments.

I can’t really say what having a female lead the country will be like; I just want to see a woman be elected so I can watch what unfolds. That’s what I liked about this book, a glimpse into what those possibilities might be….

The Culling

Ok, yes The Culling by Steven dos Santos has shades of The Hunger Games, The Testing, etc., but what adds a new spin to this particular subgenre of apocalyptic/dystopian competitions is that the main character is gay. Yes, it shouldn’t be surprising in today’s society to have a main gay character in this genre, but for whatever reason it’s the first time I have come across it. In fact, initially I thought “Lucky” was Lucille or something, not Lucian.

However, rest assured that all the angst that Katniss felt for Peeta is here, just in the form of Lucian and Digory. Like the former pair it’s hard to care for someone when they are your competition in a brutal competition where only one can win. As frightening as the scenarios were in The Hunger Games, this book adds a brutal twist. It’s not just that only one participant will win the game, but the competitors who lose have to choose which one of their loved ones will die; every Recruit has two ‘Incentives’ to make sure they compete to win.

In the case of Lucian, it’s his four-year old brother Cole, his last living relative. It’s also not just that the person who takes last place in each trial has to choose which one of their Incentives dies, but that the Incentive dies in an excruciating and terrifying way. It was an odd juxtaposition to have such darkness in a story against the background of the growing love between Lucky and Digory.

While I think the idea of the Incentives was very inventive, as were the ways they would suffer before dying, I wish the author had been able to devote as much focus to building the characters. I would have liked to have known more about the Prefect, Lucky’s childhood friend and first love who survived his own Recruitment. Instead of making him the one dimensional bad guy, it would have been far more interesting to get hints about his own competition and how it changed him.

I also think that the competitors put up with their fellow competitor Orphelia too long which doesn’t make sense when she did nothing to earn their empathy and everything to earn their enmity. The relationship between Gideon and Cypress could have been better explored as they were very opposite types and it would have been interesting to understand what drew them together.

So I would have to say my overall feelings on this book were quite mixed…an ‘A for a competition even more brutal than The Hunger Games, but a ‘C’ on the characters. Hopefully Mr. dos Santos will focus more on the latter in the sequel, The Sowing.

Dustlands

There are books, and there are epics, Dustlands is an epic. The final story in the Blood Red Road series finds Saba, Lugh, Ellie and the remaining Free Hawks and eager to cause DeMalo and the Ton Ton some trouble after the epic battle at Resurrection. Their reduced numbers means that Saba and her allies have a new strategy, guerilla fighting, however when their first act kills not only Ton Tons and Stewards, bu innocents, Saba starts to believe in a different path.

Her ideas about rights for all to live in New Eden where there is good land are further shaped by an encounter with DeMalo and her secret meetings with Jack, presumed dead by the others. It’s not easy being a warrior princess who no longer believes that violence will lead to the goal she wants to achieve. It’s even harder to sort out what to do when her hearstone reveals her intense feelings for the two strong male figures in her life. Add to that the coldness between her and Lugh, her beloved twin, and the awkwardness between her and lovesick Tommo and it’s no wonder she is heavily sleep deprived. Being a leader is a difficult and often thankless task, much is expected of one, and much is criticized.

There is a style to this series reminiscent of a Western, which is funny because I have never been a big fan of westerns. The feel is that of a century or more ago, yet Saba’s world is the future. It’s the earth after the Wreckers, us, destroyed it with our technology. This is handled so subtly in the story, such as one of the refuges being an old bowling alley, that I forget this is not a story of the past, but the future. It’s that feeling of an old Western that is partially responsible for that epic feel, but it’s also the portrayal of Saba herself, like the sheriff of old who strides into town with a white gallon hat to set everything to rights, dispensing justice and fairness to the townspeople. However, this heroine is also very human, and a girl, and her realistic struggles to live up to people’s expectations is what I enjoyed most about her.

It’s the flawed person who makes the best hero a story because it shows that succeeding isn’t easy and we admire them all the more for it. Saba also has to face the consequences of her actions and decisions, and in this final chapter, those consequences prove devastating, but again it takes some tragedy to create a true epic.

More than just a gripping and entertaining read, this is the type of story that makes you think hard and grapple with the bigger questions such as do the ends justify the means? What is the birthright of all citizens? Is there a place for the weak in society? When, if ever, is violence justified? How do you create a society? Most of all, Dustlands makes us hope that inside of all of us resides someone who can take up the mantle of leadership if called upon.