While We Run

While We Run by Karen Healey continues the story of Tegan and Abdi. However, unlike the first book which at least tried to get readers to think about issues such as environment, immigration, race, gender, etc. this second book is really just an adventure story following the lines of some action movie. In While We Run, Tegan has turned herself in to save Marie, her guardian, and she and Abdi were taken by the government who are using them for their own agenda. The government’s agenda is to use Tegan and Abdi as PR for finishing the Ark project, by getting them to present the government’s propaganda and encourage wealthy donors to sign up to undergo the cryogenic process to fund the Ark. Tegan and Abdi each have handlers who use psychological and physical torture to make the pair do what the government wants, the torture includes having to watch the other person get punished if they rebel. This manipulation causes the former lovebirds to sometimes hate the other person who is holding out.

This second story is told from Abdi’s viewpoint, unlike the first book which was Tegan’s story. Also, gone are the chapter headings which were the titles of Beatle songs. In fact, since the pair is forced to perform Beatles songs at donor events, it has twisted their love for the music into something dark. While the rich donors seem to fall for the pair’s acting, some Australians suspect that they two are being forced by the government and there is a Save Tegan movement. However, it is not a united effort but fractured groups each with their own agenda who find it convenient to make Tegan their figurehead without her consent or endorsement. Not that either Tegan or Abdi know much about these groups or indeed what has been happening in the outside world as they are not allowed any news or contact with the outside world. Abdi is in such despair that he contemplates a rebellion that would basically be the same as killing himself as the odds are hopeless.

Abdi has forgotten their friends, friends with contacts and unique skills, who launch a plan to break them out.   As the saying goes, “it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire” as the pair discovers that in some ways they have traded one master for another as two of the factions want to keep the pair close for their own purposes and Tegan and Abdi don’t know how much they can trust their rescuers. They can trust their old friends Joph and Bethari though, who agree to run from their so-called liberators, but not without the drama of a dangerous bush fire, the enemy closing in, etc. This is what I didn’t like about this story, that is was much are chases and getaways, then about the Australia of the future and its problems. It really didn’t feel much like a dystopian or apocalyptic book and was more about the personal story of the friends than facing down the bigger issues of their society. Unusually, this was a two book series and not a trilogy which most are these days; however I am glad that the author chose to stop with just the two as the story had already significantly declined after the first book.

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Golden Son

When I was growing up I remembered an incident when child fell into a well and a major rescue effort was mounted to get her out. Afterward, the child was labeled a ‘hero’ in news reports and interviews and I remember being very annoyed. Falling into a well doesn’t make a child a hero; she didn’t go into the well to save another child. In fact, she had to be rescued. Therefore, the correct word for the girl would be survivor, but for years the media and individuals have been getting this wrong. The office workers who died in 9/11 were mainly victims, the heroes were the ones we have heard about who carried their coworker in a wheelchair down the stairs or the firefighters who ran up those stairs to try to save people knowing the chances were good that they themselves might not live. I think of the passengers on United Flight 93 rolling the service cart up the aisle to ram the cockpit door to try to take control of the plane to prevent it from being used as a weapon like the other flights and save other people. I write these things to let readers of this post know that I deplore hype and the widespread over use and abuse of certain words, words such as hero, grandeur, and epic.

Now that I have said that, you know that I don’t use the term epic lightly when describing Golden Son, the second story in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. It’s ironic that I almost didn’t make it through the first few chapters and now I am just chomping at the bit for the next book. What started out as a book about an ordinary boy on a dusty planet has morphed into a story with an epic journey such as The Odyssey, the breadth of characters and world-building as the Lord of the Rings, and the best kind of hero, the kind with a tragic flaw who constantly questions his own morals and mission, yet hasn’t set down his heavy burden.

In the Divergent series people who all started out more alike than different, were guided into different factions, but they still are the same race, the world of Golden Son took a more extreme path. Everyone started out as part of the human race on Earth, even if they were different ethnicities, however through genetic engineering and simple manipulation, the Colors were born. Each color has a specific hierarchy, strength or role to play in the society augmented by technology. The technology has created more than just different races; some like the Obsidians (Black) and the Golds are more like different species. The Obsidians have been molded into weapons, their superior size and stamina kept in check by the fact that they serve as slaves to the Golds, who also are more than men, they have the attributes of super men by virtue of their size, strength, and even intelligence. They are the descendants of the original men from Earth who first conquered other races and nations before conquering new planets.

Darrow is originally from the lowest caste, the Reds, but has been carved into a Gold. He has the harrowing mission of being deep undercover. I am guessing agents who work undercover would agree with this dilemma….how do you build relationships with people you mean to take down? You have to find something to like in them, to be able to bond with them, or they will be suspicious. Yet, you have to maintain a distance, to compartmentalize yourself, in order to keep your sanity and stay focused on your mission. In this second story, after being the Primus at the Institute, Darrow was graduated from the Academy and commands a starship for the Gold who killed his wife. The interesting characters from the first book have returned, along with some new faces who are just as intriguing.

Darrow both rises high and falls low in Golden Son, all while struggling to be the man who will save his people and remake the world at the expense of many innocent lives.

When We Wake

When We Wake by Karen Healey is certainly an ambitious book that attempts to raise questions on immigration, race, social justice, environmental issues, gender issues, religion, and scientific ethics. That’s quite a lot to bite off in a single apocalyptic/dystopian novel!   Yes, I would say it does a better job than I would have expected for such a broad range of subjects. However, because it touched on so many interesting ideas, I could have done without the teen romance nearly required of any YA book these days.

In addition to the challenge of exposing readers to so many topical questions, the book is also unusual in that the female protagonist, Teegan, is a Beatles fan, so every chapter heading is a Beatles song, which reminded me a bit of Julie Taymor’s movie Across the Universe, which used the bands’ music to move us through the storyline, though When We Wake does this to a much lesser degree.

In addition to loving the Beatles, Teegan has just fallen in love with Dalmar, her brother’s best friend at the beginning of the story. The young lovebirds join Teegan’s radical best friend Alex, at a rally for climate change. The irony is that Teegan is mostly there because of her friendship with Alex and her love for Dalmar, rather than for strong convictions, so when she is killed by a sniper aiming at the Prime Minister; it is kind of a shock. After all, how many books start with the main character being killed? So is the story told in flashback? Yes and no. You see, Teegan donated her body to medical science and after being shot she was in the right place at the right time. A new cryogenic program was launching, and so although she technically died, she was frozen and brought back a hundred years in the future when science and technology had advanced enough to repair the damage she had sustained.

Although science and technology have advanced enough to give her a second life, it comes at a high price, both literally and figuratively. The cost of bringing Teegan back is so high that the government wants to turn her into a PR story to support their program to bring back fallen soldiers. Teegan’s father was a soldier killed in action, so she is sympathetic toward the program; however, the government is trying to control every aspect of her life. In addition, her ‘revival’ has made her a target of abuse for several groups, including a religious group and a No Migrants group. The religious group sees her as an abomination who has countervened the will of God by being revived and they want her to commit suicide. The latter considers her a migrant even though she was born in Australia, in their eyes she is a ‘migrant’ from another century, which shows how extreme the issue of immigration has become. In fact, Australia has a strict no migrant policy as the world’s water and food supplies have severely diminished.   Anyone trying to enter illegally is thrown into refugee camps with appalling conditions. Teegan did not sign up for any of this, when she filled out her donor card, she thought her organs would be harvested and given to people who needed them when she died, or her body would be used to teach medical students. After all, no one was aware of the government’s special cryogenic program in her time. Plus although she is technically over a hundred years old, she is still a teenage girl with all that entails and for her it was just yesterday that she was with her family, friends and new boyfriend.

I think the book could have spent more time exploring the horror of waking up a century later when everyone you know and loved is gone. Not only gone, but Teegan reads about them online and to know their lives went on without her has to be a highly uncomfortable feeling, after all everyone wants to be remembered and deeply mourned. While Teegan is assigned a doctor, Marie, for any medical needs, she doesn’t seem to have a counselor to help her deal with not only crushing loss, but having to transition to life in another century. That’s a story I would have liked told. Instead, very little space is devoted to that, and the book is more about the social and environmental issues mentioned in the first paragraph, plus that teen romance, cutting out the romance could have left space for more interesting questions.

The best part of the book for me is when Teegan loses it during a televised interview screaming at the audience that she thought people in the future would have done more to stave off the problems that she knew from her own time. That people would have cared enough to create real change and make the future a better world. As she shouts at the viewing audience at her big TV interview, “I am ashamed of you! You are not the future I wanted. I can’t believe the same stupid shit is still happening. I wanted you to be better! Be better!”   Let’s hope that future generations do not say that of us….

Archetype

Archetype by M.D. Waters was one of the few dystopian books that focus on a future when women are marginalized. Lately most books I have read have kick-ass women bringing down dystopian worlds….Katniss, Triss, Cassia, etc. so it was nice change to read about a different type of world, one where half the women are badasses and the other half are Stepford Wives. This is because there has been a civil war in the U.S., though in this second civil war the East has split from the West.

Interestingly, the East is a place where many women grow up in work camps, which are abusive dorms, and then are eligible for marriage when they turn eighteen if they are fertile. You see, there is a fertility problem in the future. Those women who are not fertile better hope they are skilled enough to work in a trade, though they are treated more as slaves than professionals. Actually, those who marry aren’t much better off as they are expected to be obedient and bear children. In the West women have retained the freedoms of modern day and many have become guerilla soldiers in the war with the East.

Emma is woman married to Declan, the head of a powerful company in the East. She has been told she was in a bad accident, which explains her weakness and having to relearn how to walk, speak, etc. She is frustrated that she can’t remember anything, even her husband, though at night she has nightmares that seem so real, but they can’t be as the man in them is not her husband. Her doctor, Dr. Travista, seems particularly interested in her nightmares, though some instinct in her seems to be warning her not to tell him everything. She also notices something strange about the hospital she is in, all the workers are men. The only women she encounters are other patients and she befriends one woman named Ruby who must have also been in an accident as she appears to be very childlike. Plus, Ruby’s husband is nothing like Declan who has been so patient with her own recovery and loves her fiercely. Declan is protective of her and she is glad of that when in one of her nightmares the man in her dream tries to kill her.

Her dreams grow more intense and more confusing when the same man appears in her dreams as someone who loves her and she doesn’t understand what is happening to her, but by keeping all of this a secret she is able to go home with her husband and resume a life together, though in her art studio she keeps painting pictures of a beach and doesn’t understand why until one night at a gallery show of her work, when she meets the man of her nightmares, or is it of her dreams?