Serena’s Review: “Your One & Only”

33413958Book: “Your One & Only” by Adrianne Finlay

Publishing Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, February 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Bookish First

Book Description: Jack is a walking fossil. The only human among a sea of clones. It’s been hundreds of years since humanity died off in the slow plague, leaving the clones behind to carry on human existence. Over time they’ve perfected their genes, moving further away from the imperfections of humanity. But if they really are perfect, why did they create Jack?

While Jack longs for acceptance, Althea-310 struggles with the feeling that she’s different from her sisters. Her fascination with Jack doesn’t help. As Althea and Jack’s connection grows stronger, so does the threat to their lives. What will happen if they do the unthinkable and fall in love?

Review: There have been a few YA clone books released over the last five years or so to varying degrees of success. Somehow I’ve not read any of them, even though the concept of clones has always intrigued me.

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I liked “The Island,” I don’t care what you say!! (source)

So I was excited when I received “Your One & Only” from Bookish First, a story set sometime in the future in a city populated only by clones. Althea310, one of 9 varieties of clones, is shocked and disturbed when her teacher introduces a new class member, a boy named Jack who is strange and frightening. He’s not a clone, but instead a member of an extinct species: humans.

Jack’s introduction doesn’t go well, with several of the other clone groups reacting with fear, suspicion, and even anger. The story jumps forward in time a few years at a time, and at every point, we see the stark divide between Jack, the sole human in this insular world, and the clones that have created him and people it. The clones exist in an orderly system comprised of “generations” for each of the 9 prototypes, with 10 clones in each group. These groups, like the Altheas that Althea310 is a part of, are able to commune with each other, sharing thoughts and feelings through some sort of telephatic connection. To them, Jack’s inability to commune and the fact that his doesn’t have 9 other brothers makes him seem terribly alone and, in a way, unreal, like a chair or piece of equipment. They feel nothing from him, so how can he himself feel anything?

The creative and detailed world-building was one of the strongest aspects of this book. The world of the clones is incredibly well thought out, with their society structured around their system of orderly reproduction (via growth of new clones), life (during which each of the clone types possess a unique talent, like aptitude towards science or leadership), and death. Their only fear is falling out of alignment with their fellow clones, an unclear process but one which ultimately results in the clone needing to be exterminated as they are seen as no longer functional.

Throughout the story, we are given increasing glimpses into the history of this society. What exactly happened to the rest of the world? Who were the founders who served as the source DNA for these 9 clone types and what was their goal with creating them? We also begin to see that something isn’t quite right with the clones and the way their lives, seemingly so peaceful and orderly, are playing out.

With the story alternating between Jack and Althea310, we begin peeling back this world. Jack’s story is heartbreaking to the extreme. He is essentially an experiment that is being conducted by the clones, and his life is one of isolation, loneliness, and the feeling that he can never belong in this world. Through his eyes, we see the great degree of difference that exists between him, a “natural” human, and the clones. The best example come in the form of his love for music and playing the guitar. To the clones, this “music” is jarring noise and they can’t comprehend of his reasons for doing it.

Althea310, on the other hand, gives us a closer look into what it means to be a clone, how the communing works, and her own views on her society, especially once she begins to question things when more exposed to Jack and his differences.

The story does an excellent job of exploring large subjects, like empathy, family, and what it takes to be “human.” A tender love story is laid out next to a building sense of horror and dread as the story picks up speed towards the end heading towards what must be a catastrophic collision of views. When the curtain is finally fully pulled back, what is left is both tragic and horrific. But, for all of this, the story is one of hope and resilience.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a short, quick read but manages to pack in tons of world-building and two solid lead characters, all while creating a suspenseful plot and exploring complicated aspects of humanity. If you enjoy science fiction and dystopian fiction, definitely give “Your One & Only” a go!

Rating 8: Jam packed with heart, you’ll be left thinking about this book for many days after!

“Your One & Only” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Best Sci-Fi/Futuristic Romance” and “Genetics in Science Fiction.”

Find “Your One & Only” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Thunderhead”

33555224Book: “Thunderhead” by Neil Shusterman

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it!

Book Description: Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

Previously Reviewed: “Scythe”

Review: Looking back, I’m kind of surprised that “Scythe” didn’t find its way onto my Top 10 reads for the year list. Just goes to show that I read a lot of amazing books last year, so even great ones that I completely enjoyed reading failed to make my Top 10. But reading “Thunderhead” just hit home again how much I enjoy Shusterman’s writing and the complex, nuanced, and entertaining world he has created in this series. If anything, I think “Thunderhead” takes this entire series to a new level.

Starting off a year after the events of the first book, Citra has settled in to life as a scythe and Rowan has fully committed to his rogue existence attempting to weed out the corruption that he sees within the organization. But beyond these two, we get two new voices. One is the Thunderhead itself who oversees the action of this story with increasing dismay and almost tragic realizations. And the other is a boy named Greyson Tolliver who has practically been raised by the Thundhead and who wishes for nothing more than do commit his life to helping it. But between them all, will they have the power to halt the terrifyingly fast descent into corruption that is taking over the Scythedom? Especially when new power come onto the scene with their own plans for the future of scythes?

As far as characters go, I was always fully on board with Citra and Rowan, and their arcs in this book just further reinforced my love for them. As a new scythe, Citra has come up with her own gleaning methods: she chooses to let her targets know she has selected them, but then gives them a month to come to terms with it and select the method with which they’d like to go. This seems perfectly in line with Citra’s morality and was also a fun surprise as it answers a moral question that we had at bookclub when we reviewed the first book, about the fact that some of the methods of gleaning were more gruesome than others and it would be rough having that completely left up to chance. So it was fun to see Citra recognize that same concern and solve it in her own way.

Further, this choice, as well as the way that she side-stepped having to glean Rowan in the first book, have lead her to become somewhat of a celebrity and leader among the younger and newer scythes. Citra is reluctant to take on this role, but throughout the book, she learns the importance of providing leadership, even if it’s not something you crave. Perhaps especially if it’s not something you crave.

Rowan’s arc is a bit less predictable, and I can’t get into many of the details of his story without resorting to spoilers. But I like the fact that his rogue existence is presented as incredibly challenging. The scythedom isn’t just sitting back and letting him do this. However, there is a lot of confusion about the fact that the Thunderhead, particularly, IS essentially just sitting back and letting him dot his. This complicated power balance between the Thunderhead and the scythedom is key to this story, and the path that Rowan walks is just one example of it.

When I saw that this book was titled “Thunderhead,” I knew that we were going to get a lot more information about the benevolent AI that runs the world in this series. In the first book, I remember particularly enjoying the fact that the Thunderhead was presented as a completely positive force, so I was worried that in this book we were going to fall back on the rather trope-y “but OF COURSE the AI is evil and trying to take over the world!” That doesn’t turn out to be the case…at least so far…dun dun DUN.

I was particularly pleased to see the interlude sections between chapters that before were made up of various scythes’ journal entries were completely given over to the internal musing of the Thunderhead. It was fascinating reading through the “eyes” of this being and exploring its own thoughts on humanity, its own awareness, and the balance that it has created between them. Further, the Thunderhead has its own role to play, and I loved the creativity and emotion that was given to a being that could have simply been a glorified computer system. By the end, I was completely invested in the Thunderhead as a character itself and upset on its behalf with regards to certain things that were happening. The ending, in particular, leaves some huge question marks about the Thunderhead’s future, and I can’t wait to find out where this is all going.

I also very much enjoyed the introduction of Greyson Tolliver. Through him, we get to see a lot of the inner workings of the rest of the world, outside of the scythedom and their work. For one thing, there is an entire organization that is centered around doing work for the Thunderhead, and this is where Greyson Tolliver first dreams of working. We also explore the lives and society of the “unsavory” members of the population, those who fight against the norms of the world. This could have so easily become a stereotypical portrayal of rebellion and anger, but instead it went in directions that I never would have expected. We also get to see more of the motivations and society of the Tonists, the sole remaining religious organization of the world.

In so many ways, this book took what now seems like a very insular little story in the first book, and blew up it up by ten times the magnitude. This world is so much more complex and complicated than I first thought! With the unsavories themselves, the “free states” like Texas where the Thunderhead is experimenting with letting humanity have more free reign, the ways that the Thunderhead has attempted to move society past any point where they might romanticize the past, and the history of the scythedom and the creation of the Thunderhead itself. There’s just so much!

Through all of these things, Shusterman explores what it means to be human, what makes certain choices and expressions of emotion important to some and not to others, and how corruption can creep its way into even the most perfect of societies. By the end of the story I was both compulsively reading, unable to put the book down, but also absolutely dreading what could happen on the next page. Shusterman has definitely raised the stakes with this one, and while you should absolutely check this book out RIGHT NOW, be warned that you’ll be left completely ruined while waiting for the next one!

Rating 9: A fantastic sequel that expands this world exponentially and leaves readers craving more!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Thunderhead” is still a new book and so isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Best artificial intelligence books.”

Find “Thunderhead” at your library using WorldCat

Book Club Review: “Scythe”

28954189We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Scythe” by Neil Shusterman

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, November 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: Giveaway from ALA 2017!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 600s (Medicine and Technology)

Book Description: Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Kate’s Thoughts

This book had been on my list but had never quite made it to my pile, so imagine my delight when Serena picked it for book club! I love Shusterman and his writing, and the premise itself is just like catnip to me. A future where people have conquered death, but still have to cull the population somehow, so they recruit ‘Scythes’ to do it? YES YES YES!

And it really lived up to my hopes and dreams and expectations. I liked that Shusterman thought outside the box for this book, giving us less dystopia and more utopia, but with the consequences a utopia would have. The idea that a person can regenerate to their younger physical self while maintaining everything else in their life is rich with possibilities, and I feel like Shusterman really did a good job of world building. From the Thunderhead to the small cultural things (like ‘splatting’, which sounds like the planking fad but with jumping off buildings because you can be rebuilt), he really made something that I wanted to explore to its limits.

I also really loved the characters. You have your veteran Scythes, Curie and Farraday, who both have their own approaches to ‘gleaming’, the process where they remove people from the population by killing them. Both Farraday and Curie end up as two of the mentors to our protagonists, Citra and Rowan, and their philosophies show that great care and reflection can be taken towards their jobs. An overarching theme in this is that people who are Scythes don’t want the job, and because they don’t want the job means they are the ones who should do the job. Both Farraday and Curie have these deep emotional moments surrounding that philosophy, and they were very likable and incredibly poignant. Between our protagonists I liked Citra more, but I think that’s because her arc was more about finding that balance between the job they must do, and how they can do it in the most thoughtful way possible. Rowan fell into a more used trope, as he is ultimately trained by a renegade Scythe named Goddard whose love for Scything is deeply disturbing, and his methods reflect that. I liked Rowan, I especially liked him with Citra, but where he ends up and where it looks like he’s going to go is less interesting because I feel like, as of now, we’ve seen it before.

I will say, though, that their relationship and their innate pull towards each other is going to make for a VERY interesting path in future books.

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Frankly, I’m hoping for a Veronica/JD from “Heathers” dynamic. (source)

Speaking of, I cannot wait for “Thunderhead” to come out. I’m so far down the list at the library, but oh MAN will it be worth it!

Serena’s Thoughts

I chose this book for bookclub even though I had already read (and reviewed) it. But that’s how much I enjoyed it! And it fit perfectly with my designated Dewey section which had a focus on medicine and technology. The whole story is about the effects that a perfected medical system, one that allows everyone to live forever, has on society. And for technology, we have the Thunderhead, the seemingly neutral AI that directs much of this world’s systems.

I won’t recap my entire previous review, but much of what I said then remained true in my appreciation of the book a second time. The sheer scope of creativity and attention to detail is what makes this world stand out as so fully realized and believable. Every minute aspect of society is touched by this one essential change. Without death, how would family life change? How would one approach day-to-day things like going to work or school? Would our friendships and marriages remain the same when the people we are befriending and marrying will now likely be around for centuries and “to death do us part” means a whole new thing?

Shusterman succeeds in one of the most challenging aspects of writing a dystopia/utopia storyline. Reading books like “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent,” it’s immediately clear to the reader that these worlds are terrible and it’s often confusing to see how they got to be where they ended up. How were people on board with that very first Hunger Games system where their children died? How did that overly complicated and nonsensically limited system of dividing people ever even get traction in “Divergent?” But here, it’s so easy to see how the world could end up in this place. Per Shusterman’s goal, the question can still be posed about whether this is a utopia OR a dystopia? Life seems pretty good for most of society and the steps that would move the world in that direction are easy enough to spot even today!

The second book has the rather ominous title of “Thunderhead,” so I’m excited to see where he is taking the series next. Will more of the curtain be pulled back and reveal a nasty underbelly to this seemingly well-ordered world? Is the Thunderhead truly a benevolent system? I’m excited to find out!

If you’d like to read my full, original review, here it is.

Kate’s Rating 9: Such a creative and engrossing novel! I love the characters and the world that Shusterman created, and cannot wait to see what happens next.

Serena’s Rating 9: I loved it just as much reading it again six months later! So much so that I went ahead and pre-ordered the sequel that is coming out any day now.

Book Club Questions

  1. Shusterman set out with the goal to write a true utopia. Did he succeed? Would you want to live in this world? Are there aspects that appeal to you and others that seem particularly challenging?
  2. There are a lot of advances to medicine and technology presented in this book. Do any of them seem more plausible or likely to be invented? Any that are unbelievable?
  3. Between Citra and Rowan, were you more drawn to one or the other’s character and story? Which one and why?
  4. We are presented with several different approaches to performing the work of a Scythe. Did any particular approach stand out to you? What are you thoughts on the various method of culling that are used? Are any more or less ethical?
  5. The Thunderhead is presented as a benevolent AI and plays an unexpected role in this story. What did you make of it? Any predictions, given the next book is titled after it?
  6. If you were a Scythe, what name would you choose for yourself and why?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scythe” is on these Goodreads lists: “Fiction Books About Grief, Death and Loss” and “Grim Reaper Books.”

Find “Scythe” at your library using WorldCat

Next Book Club Pick: “Book of a Thousand Days” by Shannon Hale

Kate’s Review: “Sleeping Beauties”

34466922Book: “Sleeping Beauties” by Stephen King and Owen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In this spectacular father-son collaboration, Stephen King and Owen King tell the highest of high-stakes stories: what might happen if women disappeared from the world of men?

In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place. The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied, or is she a demon who must be slain? Set in a small Appalachian town whose primary employer is a women’s prison, Sleeping Beauties is wildly provocative and gloriously absorbing.

Review: Happy Halloween, friends!!!! I hope that you are all doing (or have been doing some great things to celebrate the holiday!! I’m unfortunately working today, but then tonight I’m going to watch some gory horror movies and hand out candy to the neighborhood children. I have been saving an epic book for my Halloween review, and what better book than the newest one by Stephen King and his son Owen, “Sleeping Beauties”. Clocking in at about seven hundred pages, this book is a bit of a behemoth, but the timing was such that it ended up being the book with which I close out my HorrorPalooza reviews (though fear not, lots more horror reviews to come in the near future).

Stephen King has always known how to write a tense and dark disaster tale, be it “Under the Dome”, or my personal favorite “The Stand”, and when he teams up with Owen King they bring us a dark and dreamy tale of a world without women. Well, mostly. The human women of the world have started to fall asleep, and a gauzy film grows over their faces as they refuse to awaken. If you try to remove the film, the woman will violently and graphically attack you before going back to her slumber. This is definitely the stuff of nightmares, but in this book it never really treads fully into pure horror territory. Tense, yes. But there is also a dreaminess about it that makes you feel more like you’re living within, well, a dream. The cast of characters is huge, and we see perspectives of many different people. At times it was hard to keep up with them all, but they all mostly had connections to each other within the small town of Dooling and the Women’s Prison that is nearby. The characters come from a number of different backgrounds, be it Clint Norcross, the Prison psychologist, or Lila, the Sheriff of the town and Clint’s wife, or Jeanette, a prisoner who is trying to do good so she can do right by her son, or many many others. I liked seeing how all of them responded to the sudden crisis, and the places that the Kings took the reactions, from the sad, to the disturbing. My favorite character by far, though, was Evie, the mysterious woman who shows up in town just as the ladies start falling under the mysterious spell. She is both menacing and whimsical, frightening and utterly charming, and I loved that we got to know her, without getting to know much at all.

I also liked the setting of this book. Stephen King has always done a very good job of creating a small town and exposing it’s underbelly, but along with Dooling we get to see where these women ‘go’, when they are ‘asleep’ (though not all of the women characters fall asleep; some stay awake through either drug induced interventions). A sort of post-apocalyptic world comprised entirely of women is a fascinating concept, and where they are is a little “Y, The Last Man” and a little “The Stand”, but without the carnage and tragedy and violence. Sure, it kind of raises some hamfisted musings about how if women ran society it would be a peaceful place because they are just so so good, but I liked seeing a new society built up without the usual bickering and power plays that come with a story like this when dudes are in charge. Especially given some of the stuff coming out about violence and sexual mistreatment of women across our present society. Did I think it was a bit cloying and kind of ‘madonna’-esque? Sure. But man, it did kind of sound nice, if only for a short while.

I do think that this book was kind of long and filled with so many characters it was hard to keep up. The Kings provide a handy dandy chart at the beginning of the book giving us all the characters and their roles in town. This was a nice resource to have, but damn, if you need that resource maybe there are just too many characters you’re trying to juggle. I think that some of the subplots were kind of unnecessary, and it could have probably been trimmed down by a hundred pages or so. But I also understand that when you have two writers, both of them from the King family, there might be lots of ideas that are ultimately going to want to make the final cut. And when you’re part of the King family, who is to say no to that? I just found myself having to go back and remind myself of various things because there was so much to keep straight, and that’s not always a good thing when you’re trying to be absorbed in an otherwise well thought out story.

Overall, I thought that “Sleeping Beauties” was a well done collaboration between father and son. They blended their voices together well enough that it did feel like one voice and contributor, and that can be hard. This may not be the usual fare that one may expect from Stephen King, but hey, the guy is expanding his horizons, and it’s nice to tag along. It also makes me interested in picking up more of Owen’s work, to see if I can pinpoint his influence.

Rating 7: An epic and dark fantasy that explores gender, human nature, and societal roles between the sexes. It was a little convoluted, a little hamfisted at times, and a little long, but Stephen and Owen King mostly achieve a book that raises some legitimate questions and examines the human condition.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sleeping Beauties” is included on the Goodreads lists “ZZZZZzzzzzzzz”, and “Stephen King Books” (in case you didn’t already know).

Find “Sleeping Beauties” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Giveaway: “Lost in Arcadia”

33291571Book: “Lost in Arcadia” by Sean Gandert

Publishing Info: 47North, July 2017

Book Description: The brainchild of reclusive genius Juan Diego Reyes, Arcadia is a wickedly immersive, all-encompassing social-media platform and virtual-reality interface. Although Arcadia has made the Reyes family fabulously wealthy, it’s left them—and the rest of the country—impoverished of that rare currency: intimacy. When Juan Diego mysteriously vanishes, the consequences shatter the lives of the entire Reyes clan.

As matriarch Autumn struggles to hold the family together, siblings Gideon, Holly, and Devon wrestle with questions of purpose and meaning—seeking self-worth in a world where everything has been cheapened. Outside the artificial safety of Arcadia, America has crumbled into an unrecognizable nation where a fundamentalist ex-preacher occupies the Oval Office, megacorporations blithely exploit their full citizenship, and a twenty-foot-high Great Wall of Freedom plastered with lucrative advertising bestrides the US-Mexican border.

In a polarized society now cripplingly hooked on manufactured highs, the Reyes family must overcome the seduction of simulation to find the kind of authentic human connection that offers salvation for all.

My Notes:

Kate here! A few years ago I was a bridesmaid in the wedding of my best friend from high school, Blake. One of Blake’s groomsmen was a guy named Sean Gandert. After a weekend of socializing and dancing together, we hit it off enough to friend one another on various social media platforms and to get into various twitter threads together (one of which about “Room 237”, the movie about various “The Shining” conspiracy theories. Oh, the jokes Sean, Blake, and I made that day!). Sean is a freelance writer who has contributed to Paste and LitHub, and now he has a book out called “Lost in Arcadia.”

A mix of futuristic dystopia with political satire, “Lost in Arcadia” is not only a thrilling read, it also sounds like one that becomes more and more relevant with each day of this nightmare of an administration. A futuristic AI dreamscape is used to tantalize and distract the people who live in a world where a madman is president, corporations have taken over, and a giant wall is built along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Timely indeed. And I have some good news: I want to give a copy of “Lost in Arcadia” to one of you so you too can enjoy Sean’s work!! For those interested in more information and an excerpt of this book, click HERE to see an article written by Paste Magazine. And for those who want to read some of Gandert’s other writing, THIS is a link to an article he wrote about political satire in the age of the Trump White House. Gandert is a talented writer and I am so excited to share his writing! – Kate

Click Here to Enter the Giveaway! 

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Scythe”

28954189Book: “Scythe” by Neil Shusterman

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, November 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: Giveaway from ALA 2017!

Book Description: Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Review: Confession: I had never really heard of Neal Shusterman before attending the YA Coffee Klatch at ALA with Kate and hearing her get excited cuz apparently he’s a big deal. So big miss for me! What’s worse is the day before I had walked by a line where he was signing this book and passed it up, not knowing who he was! But after hearing from Kate that he was quite good and hearing his own synopsis for “Scythe” when he came around our table, I tool the time to seek out a copy of his book later that day. Alas, no signature, but these are the trials.

Shusterman described his book as growing from the question “What would happen if the world solved all of its problems? What would people do in a true Utopia?” “Scythe” is his answer to that question. There are so many interesting concepts presented in this book that I don’t even know where to start!

First off, the basic premise of the story is incredibly original and ripe for exploration. Immortality has been reached, but for reasons only briefly touched upon in this book, space exploration was a failure, so humanity is stuck with the world it has. This being the case, overpopulation is a real concern. To solve this problem, the Scythe organization came into existence. Their task is to randomly (emphasis on random) cull the population by killing a certain number of people per year. The family of this person is then granted immunity from culling for the next year. There are so many interesting ideas packed into this seemingly straightforward concept that I can’t begin to cover them all: the methods by which Scythes choose their victims, the methods by which they kill them, the combination of hero worship and fear they inspire in the population, the punishment for defying being chosen to die, and the fact that the odds are incredibly low that you will be chosen, though Scythes are a visible presence in the world. So much great stuff!

As mentioned in the synopsis, the central conflict of the story revolves around our two protagonists, Citra and Rowan who have both been chosen to be apprentices to a Scythe. The story alternates between these two and each character was well-drawn and presented a unique reason for why they were selected and how they approach the challenges of killing people for a living. Essentially, neither wanted the job, and that’s why they have it. Through their eyes, the layers of the Scythedom are peeled away and we begin to see that for all of its advancement, when left to their own devices for long enough, even the most well-intentioned organization begins to grow rot. There are deviations and factions of the Scythedom, all fighting for control and to shape the direction of the future. Should Scythes remain on the periphery of society, chosen for their distaste of their work but equipped with a strong sense of moral obligation? Or should a “new guard” take over, one that relishes in its task and in the glory that is allowed to all Scythes?

All of this and I still haven’t touched on half of the creative and unique world-building aspects of this book. There is the Thunderhead, a rare example of a benign A.I., that essentially runs society. There’s Rowan’s friend who loves “splatting,” jumping off high places only to inevitably be brought back to life each time. There’s Citra’s and Rowan’s training, and there are the well-drawn Scythe elders who alternatively take them under their wing, or force them forward down paths they wish not to tread. Throughout it all, Citra and Rowan form a tenuous alliance, each experiencing very different paths through their year of apprenticeship. The final act was tension filled, and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see how the many conflicts laid out throughout the story would be wrapped up. The end was satisfying, but did its job and left me all too eager for the next!

I honestly can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a story that was so totally engrossing, perfectly balancing an action-packed plot, complicated characters with clear story arcs, and fully realized world-building. Definitely check this one out of you are interested in sci-fi or dystopian fiction!

Rating 9: One of the most unique and creative reads of the year so far!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scythe” is on these Goodreads lists: “Fiction Books About Grief, Death and Loss” and “Grim Reaper Books.”

Find “Scythe” at your library using WorldCat

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.6): Gouge Away”

22422Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.6): Gouge Away” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), & Rodney Ramos (Ill.).

Publishing Info: Vertigo, February 2002

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Despite — or perhaps with the aid of — drugs, drinking, and paranoia, Spider Jerusalem and his filthy assistants are hot on the trail of the horrifying truth behind the newly-elected President’s campaign. Features three stand-alone stories: “Nobody Loves me, “The Walk” and “Dancing in the Here and Now,” and also includes the three-part “Gouge Away” storyline.

Review: I bet some of you were wondering if I had just given up on “Transmetropolitan”. Well guess what? NOPE!! I just took a break from it because, as much as I love it and have really enjoyed re-reading it, it’s both a bit manic and a bit too real for me at the moment, a theme I’ve noted a few times during my re-read. So I just needed some space from Spider, his Filthy Assistants Channon and Yelena, and the ugly world that they live in.

But I have achieved that space and I decided that I was ready to tackle it again. When we left off, Spider had just found out that his story and voice had been squashed thanks to White House interference, and a story about police brutality got swept under the rug. When we join him, Channon, and Yelena again, we see that Spider is still without a voice, and has become something of a joke to the world thanks to propaganda run thanks to The Smiler and the Administration. But is that the kind of thing that’s going to keep a good journalist down? Hell no. So Spider starts to figure out how to get his voice heard again, and starts to hop from source to source and scumbag to scumbag to try and get another strike at The Smiler and the White House. If the last collection left us with despair and fear, “Gouge Away” comes back with a whole lot of hope and tenacity that acts as a catharsis to the nonsense going down in the world today. I liked that we went back and revisited a number of characters that we’ve seen previously, and that they managed to come together and make a pretty satisfying counterstrike that Spider could use in the fight for truth and journalism. I had mentioned that a couple of the previous issues felt like “The Empire Strikes Back”, and this one kind of feels like “Return of the Jedi” at the end. It could have been final. It could have been the end of the series altogether. I don’t know how I feel about how final it felt, knowing that it’s going to go on. But, that said, there are still stories to tell, and maybe there isn’t room for ambiguity in Spider’s world.

But along with the main storyline that we got, I felt that the best part of this collection was the story that was devoted to Channon and Yelena, Spider’s assistants. I think that it could be tempting to give Spider two lady assistants, one of whom he is sleeping with and the other of whom is a walking sex pot, and to just leave them as unexplored characters. But Ellis gives Channon and Yelena their own thing to do that isn’t only about Spider (even if they realize, to their dismay, they ran away from him for a spree but are now talking mostly about him). I love that the two of them have a friendship that exists outside of Spider, and that they play off of each other while acting as each others’ confidants. And really, a girls night with them that involves running away in a taxi, a shopping spree, a gun range, and then stopping a government agent from following them via force, now THAT is the kind of thing I like to see in comic books when it comes to the ladies.

transmetgirls
Source: Vertigo Comics

It’s also welcome and/or upsetting to see The Smiler back on the pages of this story, in his full sociopathic glory. We are given reminders throughout this collection of what he has done in the past, not only to his enemies, but also to his supposed allies. We are reminded of Vita, who was a spin doctor for The Smiler, and was murdered by his campaign just to give him higher approval ratings in the wake of tragedy. Her folk saint status has almost completely exploded with a full on permanent shrine in her memory, and honestly, seeing it made me smile, albeit sadly. Vita is still one of the few people in this series who Spider had a complete reverence for, and it’s very satisfying seeing him slowly but surely take revenge on the man and the campaign who murdered her for votes.

I know that with four more issues there are still parts to be played and conflicts to happen, even if I don’t remember all of them. But it was really nice seeing Spider finally declare all out war against The Smiler, via journalism, integrity, and being a psychotic pain in the ass. Ya can’t help but cheer for him. I am thinking that I may not wait four months to pick up the next collection of “Transmetropolitan”, because I missed it so much.

Rating 8: Though it’s sometimes exhausting to read this series, “Transmetropolitan: Gouge Away” continues a strong and incredibly relevant meditation on the freedom of the press and the signs of fascism in a corrupt system.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.6): Gouge Away” is included on the Goodreads lists “Bibles for the Revolution”, and “Best Graphic Novels and Comic Books”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.6): Gouge Away” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”“Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”“Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard”“Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum”. and “Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City”.