Tag: dystopia


Meh Monday: The City of Mirrors

Posted 15 August, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Meh Monday: The City of MirrorsThe City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
Series: The Passage #3
Published by Ballantine Books on May 24th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 602
Goodreads
two-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

"The world we knew is gone. What world will rise in its place?"

The Twelve have been destroyed and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon the world has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew and daring to dream of a hopeful future.

But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy – humanity's only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him.

One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

Praise the lord and pass the ammunition, this trilogy is over. Honestly, the only reason I’m actually writing a review for The City of Mirrors is because I have this need to make things complete. I’ve reviewed the other two so you, lucky Reader, are going to get to hear me bitch about this one. Because that sounds so inspiring, let’s get to it!

There are large (novel-sized) chunks of this monster that are just downright dullThe City of Mirrors, much like the previous two novels, jump around in space and time. The reader is forced to slog through hundreds of pages of sappy writing about a poor Harvard undergrad who falls in love with his roommates girlfriend to get the genesis of Zero. Familiar characters like ‘Lish and Peter have long epic sojourns where not much of anything happened and I wanted to weep with boredom at times.

My biggest problem with this novel however, was the heavy handed Biblical allegory. Don’t get me wrong I love good Biblical allegory. Good being the key word. Cronin hits readers over the head with a slab of Adam’s ribs with the allegory that he tries to create in The City of Mirrors and for me it was completely ineffective and distracting. You have Michael working to fix his ship, like a post-apocalyptic Noah. Of course there’s Amy, who is the Christ figure. There’s Peter (PETER!) the disciple. Which brings me to the name of the characters: Caleb, Sara (very motherly in the Bible, very motherly here)… it doesn’t hold true for all the characters, but throughout the trilogy it held true for enough.

There are sections with lots of action and violence, but the literary mixed with the fun that was so appealing in The Passage has completely evaporated in The City of Mirrors. The end of the book is probably the most satisfying part of it, I don’t mean that in a snarky way the last hundred pages or so take a total right turn to the rest of the novel, and while there are certain believability and ‘what’s the point, then?!’ problems with the end, I’ll leave it there for the sake of not spoiling. If you want to discuss it in the comments – let’s do it.

For a not quite as harsh, but naturally better written, and of course spoiler-y review, I liked the one at The Washington Post. The Discriminating Fangirl also breaks down some of her problems with the novel here.

Soooo Reader. Insert big sigh here. How did everyone else feel about this? Has anyone else taken the plunge and read it? Anyone more forgiving than me?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Mmmmkay Monday: The Only Ones

Posted 1 February, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Mmmmkay Monday: The Only OnesThe Only Ones by Carola Dibbell
Published by Two Dollar Radio on March 10th 2015
Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 344
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Inez wanders a post-pandemic world, strangely immune to disease, making her living by volunteering as a test subject. She is hired to provide genetic material to a grief-stricken, affluent mother, who lost all four of her daughters within four short weeks. This experimental genetic work is policed by a hazy network of governmental ethics committees, and threatened by the Knights of Life, religious zealots who raze the rural farms where much of this experimentation is done.When the mother backs out at the last minute, Inez is left responsible for the product, which in this case is a baby girl, Ani. Inez must protect Ani, who is a scientific breakthrough, keeping her alive, dodging authorities and religious fanatics, and trying to provide Ani with the childhood that Inez never had, which means a stable home and an education.

The Only Ones for Carrolla Dibbells’ first novel is actually quite good. I want you to think of a cross of The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night meets clones and dystopia.

Inez’s first person prose reminds me very much of what I have come to expect from authors attempting to recreate voices from the autism spectrum. The way that The Only Ones is unique is that it takes that sub-genre of mental health literature and catapults it into a near future scenario where  pandemic flus and diseases are common and ‘dome’ communities are typical.

Quite frankly, I found The Only Ones is an interesting commentary on parenting, the way Inez refers to herself as ‘I.’ feels highly symbolic (maybe as parents we’re all struggling to do the best we can and should stop judging the way each one of us does it?)

On motherhood and other mothers:

So that’s it. They just wanted to watch what I do and tell me what is wrong with it.

C’mon, who among us with kids hasn’t felt that way in the presence of ‘superior’ moms?

The Only Ones is very different from your standard dystopian/epidemic/apocalypse novel. It’s about a society that is functioning, if barely and the grit, determination, and sacrifices that it takes for one poverty stricken woman to subsist in it, with a child no less.

Science minded readers might also be interested… or infuriated. I don’t know enough about genetics or cloning to know how viable (ha! get it?) the science behind it is.

Surprisingly, I found that I really enjoyed this book, Readers. There were points where it lulled just a bit but for the most part it is extremely readable. Has anyone else read it? Anyone else interested?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Maggie Monday: The Heart Goes Last

Posted 23 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Maggie Monday: The Heart Goes LastThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 29th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Fiction, Humorous, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Goodreads
three-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.     At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

So I know that Atwood’s latest, The Heart Goes Last was disappointing to some people. While I’ll agree it’s not her finest novel, it’s far from twaddle either. The story of Stan and Charmaine escaping an economic collapse by signing on to the Consilience project was compelling to me, though I’ll readily admit it was because I was already invested in the characters as this book was originally started as a serial novel by the defunct Byliner publisher. The most intriguing parts of The Heart Goes Last were those that she had already written in serial format and incorporated into this finished novel. NPR reviewer, Tasha Robinson might put it best:

The Heart Goes Last is packed with the kind of morally and socially complicated ideas that usually intrigue Atwood, and it’s impossible not to wonder what she would have done with these ideas in a more heartfelt book, or one that used the serial-installment model to stretch out and explore more of this lightly sketched world. (Full Review)

This is so apt for this book. Atwood sketches out some excellent ideas and important concepts but by the end of the book there’s a little bit of a failure to launch.

We discussed all the spoilers over at The Socratic Salon, come talk with us!

Other reviews of The Heart Goes Last

Monika at A Lovely Bookshelf

Shannon at River City Reading

What about you, Reader? Did you love this Atwood or love to hate it?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Four Books for Four Different Palates

Posted 1 December, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Bellweather Rhapsody by: Kate Racculia
Genre: Suspense/Coming of age

Why I picked it up? Rory’s at Fourth Street Review review.

Quick synopsis: (Goodreads!) A high school music festival goes awry when a young prodigy disappears from a hotel room that was the site of a famous murder/suicide fifteen years earlier, in a whip-smart novel sparkling with the dark and giddy pop culture pleasures of The Shining, Agatha Christie, and Glee.

Thoughts: I found this book to be utterly delightful. Partially because I was one of those All-State band kids all four years of high-school, partially because I love haunted house stories. But do not fret my scaredy cat friends! While this book is suspenseful (and I know referencing The Shining is scaring you away) there’s lots of humor, mystery, and a beautiful coming of age novel that takes Bellweather Rhapsody out of the ‘horror’ genre and makes it something else entirely. Definitely worth the read for everyone, but people who grew up in and around the music all-state scene will find it especially nostalgic. 

Dear Committee Members by: Julie Schumacher
Genre: Epistolary fiction

Why I picked it up?  Recommended by a <gasp!> non-blogging friend.

Quick Synopsis: A curmudgeonly, yet lovable English professor at a second rate school tries to save his department as demonstrated through a series of letters of recommendations.

Thoughts: This book is funny, witty, and sharp and while Professor Jason Fitger can come off as bit of a passive aggressive ass, I found him to be lovable. There are moments of laugh out loud absurdity in this novel such as when Fitger battles technology to give letters of recommendation in e-format that won’t allow him to use his usual style of meandering on and off the topic of the person he is actually recommending. I also particularly enjoyed the letters on non-recommendation that he sent out. This is an epistolary novel that flew far too far underneath the radar this year and probably should have its own review. Again, everyone can enjoy this novel, but those working in college academia or in a position where they are called upon to provide endless references or letters of recommendation absolutely must read it.  

The Hundred Year House by: Rebecca Makkai
Genre: Literary fiction

Why I picked it up?  I heard Makkai speak on a panel at The Decatur Book festival (so I had to get a signed copy) and it came highly recommended by Shannon at River City Reading (among others).

Quick Synopsis: A generational saga, told in reverse that covers the lives of the Devorhs. Zee of the current generation (set in the nineties) living in the carriage house of a huge estate owned by her mother, Gracie, to the house being an in residence artist’s colony and  finally the story of her great-grandmother, Viola, who was rumored to have met some sort of untimely end.

Thoughts: An absolutely brilliant book. The format at the style make it something that is completely unique and worth reading. Makkai uses this backwards format skillfully and in the hands of a lesser author the book would have been a train wreck. Instead the device pushes the momentum forward (or backwards, if you prefer) leaving the reader desiring to uncover just one more secret before she puts it down. While the characters in the novel never get the whole story, you, lucky reader do – and it’s phenomenal. Read it.

Lock In by: John Scalzi
Genre: Near-future speculative fiction

Why I picked it up: Again, I heard Scalzi speak on a panel at The Decatur Book Festival and Michelle at Reader’s Respite told me I’d be totally missing out if I didn’t see him speak. She was right.

Quick Synopsis: A virus has swept the globe, leaving 1% of the population ‘locked in’ to their own bodies, awake and aware but unable to move, speak, or respond to stimulus. But then two new technologies emerge, a virtual-reality environment in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not, and the invention of ‘threeps’ robots that can be controlled by those ‘locked in’ to interact and participate in the outside world. Plus. A murder.

Thoughts: This book sounded like a fluffy speculative fiction murder mystery when I picked it up, which admittedly is right up my alley. But Scalzi does more with this book than just that. He explores what it means to be human, the deeper prejudices that we harbor and why. I totally enjoyed every part of this book, the world building was well fleshed out and believable enough. The characters were interesting and complex enough to keep up with the higher ideals that Scalzi seemed to be aiming for. Plus. Murder mystery is always fun. It should also be said that this is my first Scalzi novel, which I have heard is quite different from the rest of his body of work. I intend to read Redshirts next. People who enjoy speculative fiction are going to enjoy this most, but I think there’s something for everyone here.

All of these books were purchased by me for the express purpose of free-range reading.

Annabel asked me last time I used the ‘Must Read Monday’ title if this was new meme. It’s not really, but what the hell. If you have a book that you need to share your feelings about with the world, go ahead and link it up! We’ll see how it goes (and probably watch our TBRs grow exponentially).

Anything here look tempting, Reader? Have you read any of these? Do you have any must – reads for me? Link them up! 


April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Six Degrees of Separation: 1984

Posted 15 October, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in memes

Six Degrees of Separation time, y’all! Hosted by the indomitable Annabel and Emma

1984 has been one of my favorite books since I read it… in high school? Middle school? Anyway, it’s been forever since I first read it – and I’ve read it a million (okay maybe five or six) times since. If you’re a dystopian writer and haven’t read both 1984 and

Brave New World by: A. Huxley (I can never spell his first name right and I’m too lazy to check my spelling right now…) then you’re doing it wrong. I love Brave New World (also a dystopia for the woefully unknowing) almost as much as I love 1984. I first read Brave New World my senior year of high school, it was challenging because some chapters were told in an unconventional format. Which leads me to…

Solomon the Peacemaker by: Hunter Welles – also a dystopian novel, but with such a fascinating premise I ABSOLUTELY MUST INSIST THAT YOU READ IT RIGHT NOW. It’s also told with an unconventional narrative structure. A ‘terrorist’ is in police custody and being interrogated, but all the interrogation questions are redacted. The reader must pay careful attention to the answers, in order to glean the questions. It’s successful in slowing down speed readers like myself and also leads to more questions. It’s a brilliant book, but unfortunately (like many brilliant books) largely ignored. SO! Brilliant books (somewhat) ignored in unconventional formats leads me to…

Dear Committee Members by: Julie Schumacher – an epistolary novel written in the form of correspondence and letters of recommendation from (and a few to) a delightfully curmudgeonly tenured English professor in a completely dysfunctional university. I want to be Jay. Speaking of epistolary novels…

The Divorce Papers by: Susan Rieger – another unique epistolary novel – except that instead of just correspondance from/to the main character we also get statutes and legal memoranda from the same state. As an unemployed attorney I really enjoyed it. There were also legal issues between the divorcing couple in the novel about their kids which brings us to…

The Children Act by: Ian McEwan – (god, how behind on reviews am I?) a family law judge in England is confronted with a suit on whether or not a 17 year old Jehovah’s Witness has the right to refuse lifesaving treatment. It’s an excellent character driven novel on law, relationships, and hammers home the fact that lawyers and judges are real people too. With feelings. I connect this with…

Steal the North by: Heather Brittain Bergstrom – a coming of age novel set in the background of religious extremism and the need to understand and appreciate other cultures and religions. In this novel it’s extreme fundamentalist Christianity needing to understand the Native American ‘religion’. This is a beautiful and emotionally difficult book, it’s satisfying to see the protagonist shed multiple layers of herself. The beauty of acceptance and diversity in this novel really shine through.

So! From 1984 (also set in ‘England’ [my favorite country – the real England, not the dystopian one…]) to Steal the North in six easy steps. Do you want to play? I know you do. Here’s how:

So, Reader, where do you go from 1984 ? Don’t dare tell me you haven’t read it! But, it’s okay if you haven’t… as long as you’re not writing dystopian fiction. Check out the other chains. So wildly different and creative! 


April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Station Eleven (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 13 October, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: Station Eleven (A Tournament of Books Selection)Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 9th 2014
Genres: Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 352
Goodreads
five-stars

2014 National Book Award Finalist. Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.   One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.   Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.   Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

I picked up this book after reading Catherine’s review (The Gilmore Guide to Books). I have been a long time enthusiast of apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian novels… dare I say it, before they were cool. So while I find myself a little bored with the massive number of YA books in this genre that carry all too familiar tropes, I always jump on adult novels in the genre (maybe with the noted exception of zombie apocalypse novels). 

This book is beautifully written. It’s character driven, which may sound like an odd combination with the apocalyptic setting but St. John Mandel pulls it off beautifully. It’s elegant and literary. There are points with action, but it never overtakes the characters or dumbs the book down. I especially enjoyed the shifting perspectives in time, people, and places. It’s like a beautifully crafted jigsaw puzzle that you put together in your head, seeing where each character fits.

The characters are well fleshed out and believable (I kept seeing Arthur as Richard Gere, no idea why). There were a few times where a character had been gone for so long from the narrative I had to check myself with a ‘wait, who?’. Other than that, this is a fantastic book. 

I highly recommend it to literary fiction lovers, even if they feel ‘done’ with this particular genre. This book is everything I wanted Lighthouse Island to be, and more. This is not just a genre novel, it’s incredibly literary with deeper themes, symbolism and plot devices that could be great for a book club discussion.

For a more spoiler-y professional review that I agree with, pointing out some of the weaknesses of the novel, I direct you to none other than the New York Times.

So, Reader, have you been ‘done’ with this genre for awhile? Do you have any suggestions for literary novels within this genre for me? I will eat them up.

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Wednesday Wasteland: Lighthouse Island

Posted 13 August, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wednesday Wasteland: Lighthouse IslandLighthouse Island by Paulette Jiles
Published by HarperCollins on July 29th 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Dystopian, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 416
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A beautiful and captivating dystopian tale resonant with love and hope from the acclaimed poet and New York Times bestselling author of The Color of Lightning, Stormy Weather, and Enemy WomenSee the rain forests . . . northern beauty, misted nights. Come to Lighthouse Island . . .In the coming centuries, Earth's population has exploded and covered the planet with endless cities. It is an unwelcoming world for Nadia Stepan, abandoned at age four and left with only a drawing of the Big Dipper and her mother's parting words: "Look to the North Star, and we will always be there." Nadia grows up dreaming of the vacation spot called Lighthouse Island, in a place called the Pacific Northwest where she believes her long-lost parents must be.In the meantime, this bright and witty orphan finds refuge in neglected books, and the voice of Big Radio that emanates from an abandoned satellite, patiently reading the great classical books of the world.When an opportunity for escape appears, Nadia strikes out in search of a dream. She faces every contingency with inventiveness and meets a man who changes the course of her life. Together, they head north toward a place of wild beauty that lies far beyond the megalopolis: Lighthouse Island.

I was thrilled to be reading a literary dystopia. I’ve always loved literary dystopias and quite frankly, I’m more than bored with the drivel coming out of the YA leg of the genre. Lighthouse Island is beautifully written but unfortunately it’s only relatively enjoyable.


The characters are likable enough, but during the novel, some of the situations that they get themselves out of feel a bit unbelievable. I feel like Nadia should have died at least twice during the first half of the novel. 

Jiles brings up much to think about in this novel: global warming, government surveillance, the insane ubiquity of televisions. It could be because I just finished Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl which doesn’t so much as suggest themes, choosing instead to slap you in the face with them – but I felt like the themes (all good ones!) in Lighthouse Island are a bit underdeveloped. Then again, they might just be subtle, my mind coming from a different place.

I think that my biggest problem with it is that the world building leans heavily on Orwell’s 1984, and while it’s true that no one should be writing dystopias who hasn’t read that – the overall feel of the first half of the novel felt like Jiles sat down and outlined her world with her copy of 1984 open and threw in the current issue of global warming and called it world building.  

My other major gripe, is actually something I think that was done intentionally – it’s difficult to tell the passage of time in the novel. Nadia changes her name many times throughout. The novel opens when she’s four – suddenly there’s a jump and she’s in school … and so it goes. Jiles has built a world where calendars are no longer kept in an effort for the government to break up the continuity of its citizens, I’m pretty sure that the difficulty in telling how much time has passed (has it been hours or years?) is a device being used to pull the reader into the book further – but personally, it put me off a bit because I had to come out of the world of the novel and think, “Wait, wasn’t she just in school?”

The second half of the book is completely incongruous with the first, it’s a bit weird – but the first half becomes pedantic after awhile so I feel like the change of pace was one of the things that actually saves this novel. 

I liked the incorporation of great literature and poetry in this novel. There’s a bit of delight in being able to pick out passages and poems that you know. This will appeal to literary geeks, like me.

Overall, this book is a solid three. It’s an enjoyable read, especially for lovers of literary fiction and dystopia. It’s also refreshing to see another woman, other than Margaret Atwood tackle speculative/dystopian literary fiction. Definitely worth a trip to the library.


So, Readers, how do you feel when the world building just seems too reminiscent of another book (classic or otherwise)? Does it rattle your chains a bit, or are you glad to revel back in the world of an old favorite with fresh eyes and characters? 








I’m excited to be participating in the tour for Paulette Jiles’ Lighthouse Island, be sure to check out the entire tour schedule here, it runs through 28 August and there have already been some fabulous posts on it. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Fabulous Friday: The Word Exchange

Posted 4 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fabulous Friday: The Word ExchangeThe Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on April 8th 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Technological, Thrillers
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A dystopian novel for the digital age, The Word Exchange offers an inventive, suspenseful, and decidedly original vision of the dangers of technology and of the enduring power of the printed word. In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are things of the past, and we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but also have become so intuitive that they hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order takeout at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called the Word Exchange.

Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), where Doug is hard at work on the last edition that will ever be printed. Doug is a staunchly anti-Meme, anti-tech intellectual who fondly remembers the days when people used email (everything now is text or videoconference) to communicate—or even actually spoke to one another, for that matter. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL offices, leaving a single written clue: ALICE. It’s a code word he devised to signal if he ever fell into harm’s way. And thus begins Anana’s journey down the proverbial rabbit hole . . .     Joined by Bart, her bookish NADEL colleague, Anana’s search for Doug will take her into dark  basements and subterranean passageways; the stacks and reading rooms of the Mercantile Library; and secret meetings of the underground resistance, the Diachronic Society. As Anana penetrates the mystery of her father’s disappearance and a pandemic of decaying language called “word flu” spreads, The Word Exchange becomes a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology.

Guys, GUYS! If you read one new frontlist book this spring let this be it.

Graedon does magical things with words. This book is both beautiful and terrifying all at once. I can hardly believe that this is a debut novel. For a very serious bibliophile and someone with a casual interest in linguistics I found this book to be nearly flawless. The writing is lyrical and the vocabulary used throughout was challenging. (Yes, I realize there was irony in me looking up unfamiliar words on my Kindle version of the OED … though I feel like I navigated the word flu pretty well.)

“The end of words would mean the end of memory and thought. In other words, our past and future.”

The premise is brilliant, but more importantly it’s wonderfully executed. Graedon’s world building is believable and complete. She unfolds the story with expert pacing the reader is held at arms length for just long enough to get acclimated into a world where technology can predict what you want almost before you know you want it. It’s easy to envision Doug as your crazy tin-hat wearing neighbor who won’t get on ‘The Google’ because they’re afraid of technology. (Except Doug is right. It leads you to reconsider the neighbor.) My one minor complaint is that I couldn’t completely buy into the physical transmission of the word flu.

For lovers of print books, journals, and all things analogue, this book is for you. You will feel vindicated. For people think that our technology is outpacing our morality and corporations are exploiting this, this book is for you. For those that feel our privacy has been sacrificed at the altar of convenience and that the world is a bit too connected these days, this book is for you.

When I got my first iPod I hated having to click through songs that I wasn’t in the mood for, in my youth I used to dream about the days that technology would just know what I wanted. The Word Exchange turns that dream into a very frightening reality.

“It was only when I finally gave it up for good that I realized just how much I’d ceded to the Meme: of course people’s names and Life information (numbers, embarrassing stories, social connections) but also instructions for virtually everything […] Getting rid of it was like cutting off a hand or breaking up with myself. Only later did I feel truly horrified that for years I’d invited something to eavesdrop on me. And not just my gainful breathing apparatus but the careful, quiet thicket of my thoughts.”

God. Does that sound like social media or what?

This book epitomizes why I hate (and the imminent danger of) expressions like “totes adorbs”. Seriously folks, are the extra syllables really that taxing on you? Western society is increasingly lazy, allowing machines to think for us, and if we fail to inoculate ourselves against the rising tide of internet acronyms, ‘easy speech’, and emoticons – something close to the world laid out in The Word Exchange will inevitably fall upon us. (Super guilty here on excessive smiley faces in casual text and online conversation.)

“How could we miss words? We were drowning in a sea of text. A new one arrived, chiming, every minute.”

Now it’s no secret that I do like my tech gadgets – especially when it comes to reading (most days I’d rather read an eBook than a real one…) but I do still read books.

True story: My ability to spell has declined embarrassingly since I bought a MacBook that underlines every spelling mistake that I make – I just right click that misspelled word and have the computer correct it for me… if I’ve come close enough for the computer to even recognize it. While I don’t have aphasia yet … let’s not even go there, it’s too scary.

I want this on all the Best of 2014 lists. This might be the best book I’ve read in years. This is the kind of book that I want to hand out on street corners. Go try it. Don’t be afraid of footnotes, they’re really not that copious. Don’t be afraid of the vocabulary – that’s part of the point. Just read it, then come back and tell me what you think.

Have you read The Word Exchange? I’m interested in other thoughts, even if you don’t agree with me! 


 


P.S. Dear Doubleday: My birthday is very close to your release date. A signed first edition would not hurt my feelings. 🙂

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

Posted 17 March, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

Hosted by Sheila at Book Journey
Is that graphic a little much? I was just amusing myself. Forgive me. Anyway, this isn’t normally a meme that I participate in because you can always see what I’m reading right there on my sidebar but this weekend I started a book that I’m really. really. really. excited about! 
The Word Exchange has started very promisingly. It’s a near future dystopia that’s both extremely literary and extremely entertaining. So far it’s an incredibly well written piece of literature that I predict will end up on the ‘best of 2014’ lists at the end of the year.
What books have you excited today, Reader?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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