Dust

Back when I was a renter I avoided even looking at basement apartments even though they are usually much cheaper to rent. Oh, I tried once when I lived in Costa Rica. My place was not a basement apartment per say, but it was a 2 level apartment with the kitchen and living room on the ground floor and the bedroom and bathroom below ground level. I thought in a warm tropical climate like Central America it would not be an issue — it was. Despite how warm it was, the minute I descended into the depths at bedtime I could feel a chill with each step I took down to my basement bedroom. Not only did I feel the chill, but it was dark even when it was still light outside. I hated the feeling of being underground, there is probably something primal about that.
Therefore, I can understand the people in Hugh Howey’s Wool trilogy who volunteer to clean, the desire to get above ground and go outside in the natural light.

Dust is the final story in the trilogy and it reveals the wider world beyond Silo 18. Juliette’s determination to dig through to her friends in Silo 17 creates unrest in her silo, but she doesn’t care as she doesn’t have any plans to be a career politician, she never wanted to be Mayor anyway. However, after so many of her friends and colleagues died in the recent uprising, Juliette isn’t really showing enough empathy to others, and in fact her actions will have deadly consequences.

After all, Juliette and Lukas haven’t shared with their silo what they know about the other silos and that they have enemies. Is Donald from Silo 1 one of those enemies or an ally? It was really jarring to read about Silo 1 and read references to the Iraq war. Most apocalyptic books occur in the immediate aftermath of some disaster or far into the future, by introducing Silo 1 it blends the origins of the silos and our current reality with that of the rest of the silos, the future societies created by choices made today, and I thought that was a good hybrid and a technique not deployed much.

After all, when we envision the future we tend to envision the society of the future getting progressively advanced beyond the previous generations, but it’s the opposite in Dust. The people in Silo 18 live like an earlier era, the few computers in the Tech department notwithstanding. Yet there are elements such as the War Games feel of the servers assigning each silo a number, only one silo will ‘win the game.’ Then there is Silo 1 where the inhabitants take ‘naps’ that are basically putting people in a cryogenic freeze, very futuristic sci fi contrasted with the Blue Lagoon type story line of Hannah and Rickson and the cult like elements of Father Remmy and his flock. There was a lot going on in this last story, maybe a bit too much as these other elements were not completely explored, rather only briefly glimpsed.

I did think that rather than ending the series that there could be additional stories about the other silos and how each society may have evolved to be very different. That would be very interesting in my opinion, it’s like those studies about twins separated at birth and the old nature vs. nuture argument It would be very interesting that even with the same origin/birth, each silo may have evolved completely differently in terms of their form of governance and society.

I particularly would have liked to have heard the story of Silo 40. Silo 40 had a silent revolution and had hacked both the camera feeds and ‘sorted the gas lines’ as well as communicating with their neighboring silos. The collapse codes were hacked by the silo. Supposedly, Anna hacked the detonators to bring the silo down, but we learn that instead she was sabotaging her father’s plans, so what really happened to Silo 40? Usually I don’t like spinoffs on TV, but as book series I think there’s more to tell about this world. Particularly if the inhabitants from the other silos ever get a chance to meet face to face on the outside…are you listening Mr. Howey?

Red Rising

Usually when people talk about books you hear how they ‘couldn’t put it down.’ My experience with Red Rising by Pierce Brown was the opposite; I ‘couldn’t pick it up.’ I wasn’t really very interested in the book for a number of reasons. First, I thought it had been mislabeled; it appeared to be a sci fi book, not a dystopian book. No offense to fans of sci fi, but that’s not my jam. I think there are enough potential interesting stories to be told about this planet without going farther out. I like how dystopian and apocalyptic books build a world in our own backyard and because the stories are here, we can still recognize and relate to them despite the constructs of a dystopian society or the aftermath of an apocalypse. Red Rising takes place on Luna, what we would call Mars and it starts off slow, a sort of Grapes of Wrath interplanetary style. Don’t get me wrong, the latter book is a classic, so I didn’t think setting it on another planet would add much to something that has already been done. Also, I have gotten used to the kick ass, take no prisoners type of main character in these books and Darrow seemed a reluctant protagonist far too willing to compromise and concede while his family and his love suffered. I didn’t want a Joad, I wanted a Norma Rae! However, maybe the best heroes are the reluctant ones, the ones who are conflicted about the part they will or must play.
Also, far from the book being about an alien culture, it turns out that Darrow and his people were originally from our own planet Earth. His ancestors were sent to Mars to mine a substance that will make the planet inhabitable for future generations, so his labor under poor living conditions comes off as noble more than apathetic. Darrow lives with his perpetually hungry family, minus the father who was hung for a non-violent protest of the conditions they live in. He works as a helldiver in the mines, a position both respected as well as dangerous, and comes home every night to Eo, his childhood friend grown into his love and wife. What happens to Eo is the catalyst that expels Darrow out of his family, his tribe, and his home to fulfill her dream.

Up until that crossroads I kept pushing this book aside to read other books and was truly at the point of giving up on it, something I almost never do. The same book that I reluctantly would pick up and force myself to read a couple pages of suddenly became a book I could not put down. Yes, it takes place on a another planet, and yes there are technologies and even some creatures not of this earth, but those more sci fi elements stopped bothering me when I discovered the dystopian story within. It turns out that Darrow’s world was much bigger than he or his people knew and his mission becomes much bigger than his own tragedies. In fact, he wrestles with his own desires and whether they will help or hinder him in his new role. Is he motivated by love, anger, revenge, or a higher purpose? He continually shifts among these motivators as he makes his way through a world where he is an interloper, a world he must embrace in order to succeed in his mission, at the same time that he loathes it. That becomes a cornerstone of his struggle, when does pretending to feel a certain way become an actual emotion? When does an enemy you pretend is a comrade become a true friend? Can he convince others that he is someone he is not, without becoming that person?

I wasn’t 100% certain whether this was a standalone book, or if it was a series, so I checked it out online. At that point I came across a heated discussion about how he ‘stole’ from The Hunger Games, which stole from Battle Royale, etc. Frankly, I don’t care, after all isn’t there a line about ‘ there is nothing new under the sun’? Maybe I would care if a work was very similar to something else AND poorly done. However, I thought this book had as much in common with The Testing series as it did The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Flies and dozens of other stories. That’s only because it shares universal story telling elements such as man vs. man, man vs. society and man vs. himself, and it does it in such an exciting and thoughtful way that I am glad I didn’t stop reading it.

The Girl With All The Gifts

My review of The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey is going to give you a sense of déjà vu if you read my other review for One Safe Place. That’s because in my opinion both of these books rushed too quickly to reveal their big secret about what happens to the children.

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t yet read The Girl With All the Gifts you should come back later as I can’t really write this review without discussing the big reveal.

Ok, if you are still reading either you have already read the book, or you are just a masochist. I don’t understand why less than a quarter through the book, actually more like one-eighth into the book the author chooses to reveal who Melanie really is, plus even before it was said there were giant hints. C’mon M.R., tease me a bit, tantalize me until I am bursting with curiosity instead of leading me by the hand to the secret. The first few pages were great and disconcerting as you wonder who this child and her teachers are, what kind of school educates brilliant minds but doesn’t allow them to also be children or have feelings?
I like apocalyptic and dystopian stories that make me feel unbalanced in the initial chapters. Don’t tell me what’s going on, just leave some crumbs, and challenge me to start putting the pieces together. In this fast food world we leave in, everyone wants everything now, whereas I prefer to savor, especially when it comes to stories.

Trying to make sense of Melanie’s world is what drew me into the book and so I don’t understand the rush to fling open the doors so quickly to reveal the ugly truth of her existence. Did this author think I wanted fast food?

I do imagine that maybe it would be hard for M.R. Carey to walk the fine balance of leaving enough clues so that readers stay engaged, but not so many that they figure out this world too soon, yet it has been done successfully by other authors, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery is a classic example of the art of giving readers a hint of unease without giving away the truth until the very end. It’s the reason this story remains on reading lists at schools and why years after reading it, the short story still stands out in my mind. Yet, maybe you would argue that as a short story, the challenge wasn’t as difficult to not reveal the world the character inhabits as it would be in a novel. The Adoration of Jenna Fox did so successfully and I think this book would have been stronger for extending the main conceit yet still having plenty of pages to address the development of Melanie into someone more human than the humans she is surrounded by. I did like that there wasn’t any miracle cure and the role reversal between Melanie and Ms. Justineau from student to teacher.

The Infinite Sea

The aliens in The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey are the scariest I have ever encountered. It’s not because of a terrifying appearance or superior fighting skills, it’s the way they use people’s humanity against them. After all, when there’s nothing left, when most of the people you know are all dead, when you can’t go back to your life and every day is just a struggle to survive, what’s left?

Is what’s left your will to survive? Survive just so that you can watch another wave of people die? Is revenge what’s left? Make those who rained down the apocalypse first through a deadly virus, followed by violence, pay for destroying your life and the lives of billions? Is love what’s left, love for any family or friends you have left, or the fellow survivors you meet? Is hope what’s left? Hope that you can rebuild your life, your world or even create something new. Is using the time you have left to make up for previous mistakes or shortcomings how you will use what’s left of the time you are alive?

It’s these questions that the survivors of the sequel to The Fifth Wave continue to ask themselves throughout this novel. Different characters each represent a motivation for survival and in fact the story’s chapters are told through the voice of alternating narrators, readers will find out which characters among Cassie, Sam, Ben, Ringer, etc. tell part of the story about what has happened since escape from the base. The technique of alternating narrators is something I wish more authors would do as the reader gets a richer picture of the storyline when told through the viewpoints, experience, and emotions of more than just the main character. I also liked that this second book did something else that’s fairly rare, it moved the spotlight over from Cassie to an equally strong female lead character, Ringer, and did it so successfully that I almost forgot that Cassie was the lead in the first book.

Any apocalyptic books is frightening by its sheer nature, but Rick Yancey takes the horror to an even deeper level than most do by his description of the insidious plan to use people’s humanity against them, he breaks a taboo even other books in this genre don’t dare. While there is blood and physical violence in the book, that’s secondary to the real horror. The real horror is that in order to survive people would have to turn away from the very heart of what makes them human, to go against their most sacred instincts…to be more specific would be a spoiler.

I am excited to see how the consequences from this book will play out in the final book of the trilogy.