Book Review: Red Clocks

red clocks dystopiaRed Clocks
by Leni Zumas
Feminist Dystopia
350 pages
Published January 2018

Red Clocks first caught my attention because it’s set in a small fishing town in Oregon, my home state. After that, learning that it’s a dystopia where abortion and in vitro fertilization have both been banned outright meant I HAD to read it. Of course, I got it from the library some weeks ago and had so many other books to read that I didn’t get to it until the day it was due back to the library! Luckily, I read fast!

I think the cover description oversells the book a little. I wouldn’t call Gin’s trial “frenzied” nor the drama exactly “riveting” but it did keep my attention throughout the book. I really enjoyed the relationships between the characters, and the point that none of them really know what is going on in each other’s personal lives. One moment I particularly liked is slightly spoilery, but I loved how Ro was able to put her personal feelings aside to help Mattie, her student. That was really, really hard for her, but she recognized how much damage it would do to Mattie to not help her.

I think I found Gin the most interesting – given all the reading I’ve been doing lately about autism, her entire personality screams autism to me, but she was never labeled as autistic. So I’m marking her as a possibly autistic character. (I’d love if any of my autistic readers could weigh in on that, if you’ve read the book!) Between preferring to live in the woods with animals and NOT around people, specifically, and the way she reacts to the textures and smells in the jail when she’s arrested (shoving the bleach-scented blankets as far away in the cell as possible, and refusing to eat the food), and how she stumbles over her answers in the courtroom when she’s interrogated – it seems likely.

My only actual complaint about this book had nothing to do with the writing or plot! But it refers to the ghost pepper as “the hottest pepper known to man” which the Carolina Reaper growing in my backyard would have an issue with!

Other than that very minor quibble, I thought this dystopia was pretty good. I’m always interested in Reproductive Rights-related dystopias. This isn’t as good as The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s MILES better than Future Home of the Living God. It’s good at showing the lengths women will go to, to ensure their own reproductive freedom. Outlawing abortion doesn’t eliminate abortion. It just makes it less safe.

From the cover of Red Clocks:

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom. 

Ro, a single high school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own while also writing a biography of Eivor, a little-known nineteenth-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted forest-dwelling herbalist, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt. 

Red Clocks is at once a riveting drama whose mysteries unfold with magnetic energy, and a shattering novel of ideas. In the vein of Margaret Atwood and Eileen Myles, Leni Zumas fearlessly explores the contours of female experience, evoking The Handmaid’s Tale for a new millennium. This is a story of resilience, transformation, and hope in tumultuous – even frightening – times. 

Library Loot Wednesday!

the merry spinsterThe Merry Spinster finally made its way to me through the library system! It’s a collection of short fantasy stories and I’ve been quite eager to read it. The author also recently came out as trans, so this is part of my effort to read more inclusively! There’s apparently a lot about gender in the book, too.

tolstoy purple chairI also checked out Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, which is my PopSugar pick for “favorite color in the title.” It’s about a woman spending a year dedicated to reading, so I’m hopeful I’ll find something in here for another PopSugar prompt, “a book mentioned in another book.” Also, that chair on the cover? I WANT IT.

red clocks dystopiaRed Clocks finally arrived in my holds! I’ve been pretty excited about this one, but there were a lot of people in line ahead of me. It’s another feminist dystopia – I love those – this one set in a small Oregon fishing town, so – my home state! Abortion and in vitro fertilization are both illegal in this dystopia, and it follows the stories of women dealing with that.

pretending to be normal aspergerAnd one of the books off my Autism Reading List arrived from another library system – Pretending to be Normal – Living with Asperger’s Syndrome. This is the expanded version published in 2015.

women from another planet autismIn not-quite-library-loot, I also bought the Kindle version of Women From Another Planet? Our Lives in the Universe of Autism on the recommendation of Catana, who commented on my review of Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate.

One of these days I’m going to gather some pictures of my library to show you guys my local branch. The librarians there are pretty awesome.

Book Review: The Wolves of Winter

wolves of winterThe Wolves of Winter
by Tyrell Johnson
Dystopia/post-apocalypse
310 pages
Published January 2018

First off, I love this cover. Second, I am somewhat amused that Canadian dystopias always blame the US for the end of the world. It’s always, always, because the US decided to be stupid. I can’t blame them. It’s perfectly realistic. But it is slightly amusing. In the case of The Wolves of Winter, the US carried its War on Terror too far and started nuclear war. It’s unclear how widespread the nuclear winter is; the book is based in the Canadian Yukon where it’s already cold. There’s a brief mention of farmers farther south, so there is still some warmth somewhere. What really did humanity in, though, was the Asian flu. There’s rumor that it was a biological weapon deployed by the US, that then escaped their control, but no one’s really sure.

Lynn – Gwendolynn – lives in a small compound in the Yukon with her mother, brother, uncle, and uncle’s ward. (The son of his best friend – I’m inclined to believe he’s actually the son of the uncle’s lover, but nothing was actually verified.) The only other human they’ve seen in years is their scumbag neighbor who occasionally steals deer out of Lynn’s traps.

Until one day, while out hunting, Lynn comes across the mysterious Jax and his husky, Wolf. She brings him home for food and to tend his wound, and while her family is initially very wary of him, he starts to fit in. And then, of course, the brown stuff hits the fan.

I really enjoyed Lynn and her family. In flashbacks we see them before the flu, before they had to be survivors. I got the feeling her father always saw this coming, and was preparing her for it long before it actually happened. Lynn’s memories of her father are particularly vivid and help to explain exactly how she’s become who she is now.

I really enjoyed this book and read it in a single sitting, but I really like dystopias and winter settings. Ultimately, it’s a pretty average nuclear winter dystopia.

This is the 13th book for my Read Canadian Challenge, so while I do have more Canadian books I plan to read (I just picked up The Young in One Another’s Arms from the library!) I am actually done with the challenge! This also fits the “book about the outdoors or environment” prompt for my Litsy Booked 2018 challenge.

My other Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. this book!

From the cover of The Wolves of Winter:

In a postapocalyptic tradition that spans The Hunger Games and Station Eleven but blazes its own distinctive path, this captivating tale shows humanity pushed beyond its breaking point and features a heroic young woman who crosses a frozen landscape to find her destiny.

Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world. Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she’s been forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter. 

But her fragile existence is about to be shattered. Shadows of “the world before” have found her tiny community – most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.

A stunning debut novel that delivers unforgettable images, The Wolves of Winter reminds us that when everything else is lost there are still things to fight for.

 

Book Review: Future Home of the Living God

futurehomeFuture Home of the Living God
Louise Erdrich
Dystopia
288 pages
November 2017

Well that was a waste of time. This book spends its entire length asking one real question. Will the main character’s baby survive? There are a number of smaller questions – Will the baby be born normal? Why is evolution turning backwards, or sideways? What happened to the main character’s father? What happened to her friend from the hospital? What happened to her husband? Does she ever find freedom?

THE BOOK ANSWERS NONE OF THESE QUESTIONS.

I am really frustrated with this book. Why did I bother reading it if it refuses to resolve any of its plotlines?

We’re going to get a little bit into writing theory here. It has been a classic recommendation to have the climax of your book 2/3 of the way through the book, and have the last third be denouement. Wrap-up. Show us how the climax affected the characters and the world. John Green does this well – all his books follow a standard plot line. Character A is introduced. A meets B. B changes A’s life. B leaves A’s life. (Those last two are usually incorporated in the climax of the book.) A has to learn how to live without B in a world changed by B’s existence in it. It’s a little formulaic, but it works for Green, and his books are great. Some books do not do this so well. Wheel of Time had 5-6 pages of denouement after the series climax, and nothing was really revealed about how the events changed the world for the better. Future Home of the Living God had TWO. TWO PAGES AFTER THE CLIMAX. AND THEY ANSWER NOTHING. The main character talks about missing winter.

I finished the book and almost threw it across the room. I probably would have, except for two things: I was at a friend’s house, and it was a library book. That’s all that saved it from that fate. I have stacks of books I want to read, and I feel like I just wasted a few hours on this piece of crap.

The writing was actually pretty good, and the main character is an Ojibwe Indian, so there’s minority representation, but the book as a whole was just CRAP. Wrap up your plotlines. Answer the questions you ask. (At least the ones having to do with your plot – you can leave unanswered philosophical questions, that’s fine.)

Hard pass on this book.

From the cover of Future Home of the Living God:

Louise Erdrich, the New York Times bestselling, National Book Award-winning author of LaRose and The Round House, paints a startling portrait of a young woman fighting for her life and her unborn child against oppressive forces that manifest in the wake of a cataclysmic event.

The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.

Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.

There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.

A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.

Book Review: The Power

thepowerThe Power
Naomi Alderman
Dystopia
416 pages
Published October 2017

Holy shit. I sat and stared at my Kindle for several minutes after finishing this book. The Power belongs on the same shelf as The Handmaid’s Tale and American War. It’s just amazing. The book begins in our world – but then takes a twist sideways. Teenage girls start manifesting an electrical power. They can zap people, with varying degrees of strength. It can be a pleasing, arousing tingle, or a warning jolt, or a breath-stealing, heart-stopping (literally) bolt. They soon discover that older women can also manifest the ability, but it has to be kick-started by a jolt from someone who already has it. (Even later in the book it’s revealed that there’s actually a muscle – they call it the skein – that controls the electricity, and women have, in the last twenty years or so, evolved to have that muscle.)

The book revolves between the points of view of a few different women and one man. The man is a journalist reporting on the emergence of the new power, while the women are prominent figures in the new world order that is emerging. Allie – Eve – becomes the leader of a new religion, Roxy is the daughter of a crime syndicate boss, and Margot is a mayor climbing the political ranks. Margot’s daughter also gets a few chapters.

It’s been pointed out that perhaps men are afraid of women having equal rights because they can’t picture a world in which powerful women don’t treat men the way powerful men have always treated women. They can only imagine men and women interacting as oppressors and oppressed, not as equals. Whereas feminism wants a world where we are truly equals. The Power imagines a world where women do become the oppressors, and men are forced into the feminine role. This is enforced by the framework the novel is told in – the novel itself is bracketed by letters between the “author,” presenting his historical novel, and a woman supposedly editing his work. Through the letters, you discover the novel is a slightly embellished history of their world, with about five thousand years between the events of the novel and the time of the letters. In the tone of the letters, you see the stereotypes switched – the man is apologetic and unsure while the woman is authoritative, patronizing, and a little bit sexist. “Oh, you silly boy, imagining a world where men were dominant! What a naughty idea! Don’t you think men as soldiers is preposterous? Men are homemakers, women are the aggressive ones!” I think, if feminism achieves its goals through legislation, we will find true equality. If something like this were to happen – a drastic change, giving women a physical way to dominate suddenly, the outcome might indeed be more like the novel. Enough women have been traumatized that they’ll want – need – to avenge themselves, and violent upheaval will result.

By the last third of the novel, we see powerful women and societies acting just the same as powerful men always have – I’d like to think we’d have learned from the men’s mistakes, but humans are only human. Perhaps this is more realistic.

The book is NOT for the faint of heart. There are graphic rape, abuse, and violence scenes. They’re not gratuitous – they serve the author’s point – but they are still disturbing, as those scenes should be.

I’ll be thinking about this book for a while. It’s excellent, and I highly recommend it, if you can handle the dark themes.

From the cover of The Power:

In THE POWER, the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power–they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.

From award-winning author Naomi Alderman, THE POWER is speculative fiction at its most ambitious and provocative, at once taking us on a thrilling journey to an alternate reality, and exposing our own world in bold and surprising ways.

Book Review: American War

americanwarAmerican War
by Omar El Akkad
Alternate Future Dystopia
333 pages
Published 2017

By now you probably know there are a few things I tend to enjoy in novels. Dystopias, Fantasies, Debut Novels, and Diversity tend to peak my interest, and American War is a dystopian debut novel by an Egyptian-Canadian author.

And it’s FANTASTIC.

El Akkad did an absolutely amazing job of weaving together the North/South rivalry of the US, climate change, the changing nature of energy generation, and US wars in the middle east to write an all-too-plausible novel about the US, seventy years from now.

Alternating between narrative chapters following his protagonist, and “historical documents” about the time period, he masterfully tells the story of how a terrorist is made. Because that’s what Sarat, his protagonist, is. Let’s make no bones about that. She is a terrorist. But she is a terrorist whose reasoning makes sense to us. Perhaps because the territories and the peoples are familiar to us, perhaps because we see how she grew up and what drove her to it – but the end result is a terrorist act on an unheard-of scale.

I’d like to think this book would make people look at refugees and terrorists in a new light – with more understanding and compassion and maybe with ideas to help actually combat the attitudes and circumstances that lead to terrorist acts. But I doubt it. I doubt this will change any minds that don’t already understand the underlying reasons.

My only quibble with this book is while he manages to weave together so many other issues facing our country right now, he doesn’t really wrap in racism. And I have a hard time believing our country is past racism 70 years from now.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find the protagonist is a bisexual, gender non-conforming woman of color. How awesome is that? And her bisexuality isn’t mentioned, it’s shown, her one on-screen sex scene (and it’s only barely on-screen) being with a woman. (She’s also attracted to a man in the book.)

The author was born in Egypt, grew up in Qatar, and lived in Canada, earning at least one award for his investigative reporting while working at The Globe and Mail. He’s one of the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s 17 writers to watch this year, and I see why. American War is definitely one of my favorite books of 2017.

My other Read Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. this book
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of American War:

In this fiercely audacious debut novel, Omar El Akkad takes us into a near future in which a politically polarized America descends into a second Civil War – and amid warfare, a family fights to survive.

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the war breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, her home state is half underwater, and the unmanned drones that fill the sky are not there to protect her. A stubborn, undaunted, and thick-skinned tomboy, she is soon pulled into the heart of secessionist country when the war reaches Louisiana and her family is forced into Camp Patience, a sprawling tent city for refugees. There she is befriended by a mysterious man who opens her eyes to the injustices around her and under whose tutelage she is transformed into a deadly instrument of revenge.

Narrated by the one person privy to Sarat’s secret life, American War is a hauntingly told story of the immeasurable ruin of war – in a nation, a community, a family, an individual. It’s a novel that considers what might happen if the United States were to turn its most devastating policies and weapons upon itself.