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Posts Tagged ‘dystopian fiction’

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The book – one of King’s most beloved works – is essentially a story of good vs evil, in a post-apocalyptic setting. It was initially published in 1978 and then reissued including parts that had been cut from the original publication (for financial reasons). In the later version, the setting was moved from 1980 to 1990. It was the later, bigger edition which I read, which came in at over 1300 pages. So a big brick of a book!

The books starts with a man made plague sweeping the earth and killing most humans, although a few remain immune. After the plague come the dreams – people dream of a faceless man who terrifies them, and an elderly lady who they see as a saviour. Two groups form – followers of the faceless man – Randall Flagg, and of the elderly lady – Mother Abagail.

The scene is set for an epic battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil; between God and the Devil or certainly at least between their emissaries on earth.

The story has everything – the supernatural, horror, human relationships and the gamut of emotions – there is love, hate, fear and despair, hope and friendship. There are unlikely heroes and tragic villains. It’s epic in every sense. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although on balance I still prefer Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King, which I read earlier this year.

The Stand is a wonderful book though which really drew me in, and I really came to care about a lot of the characters. Stu Redman was my favourite character in the whole story and I also have a soft spot for Nick Andros. It took the me the best part of two months to read, which is a LONG time for me! But it was worth it. Highly recommended.

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There can’t be many – if any! – Richard Bachman readers who don’t know that it is actually a pseudonym of probably the world’s most successful horror writer Stephen King. In the late 70s, King/Bachman released a series of novels, focussing more on dystopia or an alternate reality than the horror for which he is best known. (Another of his novels was The Running Man – later made into a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger – which follows similar themes to The Long Walk.)

The Long Walk is a yearly event which takes place in America in the near future, or possibly an alternate present; the year is never stated. 100 teenage boys come together to participate in the contest, the winner of which wins whatever his heart desires for the rest of his life. The rules are simple – if you drop below four miles an hour, you get a warning. If you get three warnings, you “buy a ticket” which means you get shot dead. The winner is the last boy still walking, and the event attracts huge media coverage and crowds along the way.

I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by Kirby Heybourne, and although it took me a short while to adjust to his narration, I ended up really enjoying both the story itself and the way it was told. Dystopian fiction is a favourite genre of mine, and no matter what, King/Bachman is an expert storyteller. In this particular story, lots happens and simultaneously nothing much happens. It’s a story of 100 boys, who all think they can beat the odds, but 99 of them are going to be wrong. It is told in the third person, but concentrating mainly on the character of Ray Garraty, and through him we learn not just about his own experiences, but the way the walk affects the others too – some grit their teeth and carry on, others lose their mind, others lose the will to live. It’s heartbreaking and compelling.

It makes you wonder what on earth has happened that such a gruesome event has become national entertainment – but then when you look at reality television programmes, is it really any surprise? After all, don’t people watch Big Brother to see people fall out with each other, to watch housemates get humiliated, to see people being cruel or underhand with their tactics? I remember reading about crowds of viewers chanting hateful things at people as they left the Big Brother house. What about shows like I’m A Celebrity….? The media and the viewers like to pick out certain people as villains, to be criticised and ridiculed. And look at shows like the X Factor, where people are clearly put on screen to be the butt of people’s jokes. Isn’t the whole concept of a public vote designed to reinforce how unpopular some people are? The Long Walk, and books like it just take that situation a few steps further.

If I had to criticise anything about this book, it would be that the ending felt sudden and somehow not really an ending at all. It’s open to interpretation certainly, and I’m not yet sure what my personal interpretation is. However, the journey itself kept me listening throughout, and for that reason I would still recommend this book very highly.

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Margaret Atwood specialises in what she calls speculative fiction (and what most of us call dystopian fiction). In this book, – the first in a trilogy – she introduces us to Snowman, a man who has survived the apocalypse and is now living in a tree with a few meagre possessions. He is somehow responsible for the children of Crake (I don’t want to explain too much about this as it will give away vital plot points), who in turn do their best to look after him. Stripped down to it’s bare bones, there is not much to the plot – Snowman decides to walk to somewhere where he knows there should be food and weaponry available to him, and then comes back again. However, in between the chapters telling the (future) present, are chapters where the story of what exactly happened to Earth is explained.

Atwood explains the role of Snowman’s childhood friend Crake, and Oryx, the woman they both loved. Their teenage pre-apocalyptic world is one of strange animal hybrids, violence and child porn as everyday entertainment, and communities divided into gated compounds, separate from the dangerous ‘pleeblands’ where everyone else lives.

I think Margaret Atwood is a genius, I really do and I have thoroughly enjoyed other books by her. But somehow this one took me a long time to get into. The story is fine – yes, not much happens, but it still has enough to keep it interesting. But I couldn’t help a small sense of relief when I reached the end, and I think it may be because I couldn’t really identify with – or even much like – any of the characters. Snowman is about the most sympathetic, as you would expect given that the story largely focuses on his point of view. Crake was a hugely intelligent, but revolting example of a human being, and Oryx was cold, cruel in her own way and too far removed from the reader for me to care much about her.

I do have the other two books in the series and will probably read them at some point, but for now I am looking forward to taking a bit of a break from Snowman’s story.

 

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The world is burning, civilisation is collapsing and the human race is in danger of being wiped out…a mysterious disease known as Dragonscale is sweeping the planet – nobody knows how it started, but everyone thinks it will end with the destruction of mankind. The disease starts out as swirling patterns on the sufferer’s skin, and eventually those with it burst into fire and are literally burnt to death. It doesn’t take long before vigilantes roam the streets killing those affected in an attempt to rid the world of the disease.

Harper Grayson finds out that she has Dragonscale at roughly the same time as she discovers that she is pregnant. Her husband Jakob abandons her, and in fear of her life, Harper flees to try and find a place of safety. She is taken under the collective wing of a group of fellow sufferers who have set up their own community known as Camp Wyndham, where they believe they have found a way to, if not cure Dragonscale, at least control it and even use it to their advantage. One of the group is John Rookwood, known as The Fireman. Enigmatic and single-minded, John protects the group and has special skills of his own for using Dragonscale to defend his community. But danger and hysteria lurk within the camp…

I had previously only read one book by Joe Hill – Heart Shaped Box – which I thought was okay but not brilliant. I would probably not have bothered with any more of his novels except that dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels always intrigue me, so I gave this one a try. And wow! am I glad that I did!!

It’s a big brick of a book, at just shy of 750 pages. Sometimes I can get a bit impatient with such long books, but I seem to have got lucky with a couple this year (earlier in the year I read Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ which I also loved), including this one. The writing is engaging and there’s always something to tease you into reading just one more chapter, and oh go on there, just one more…

Some scenes were particularly poignant – crazy as it sounds, one of the scenes that sticks in my head is when Harper gets brief access to the internet after weeks of having none. She goes to Google only to find that it is no longer there.

There’s a lot of characters in the book – some I loved, and some I absolutely detested, as I am sure was the intention of the author. Harper was a feisty heroine – the best sort actually, as she only realised her own strength of character when the chips were down.  found her obsession with the film Mary Poppins a bit odd but I’ll let it go!! The Fireman was exasperating and antagonistic, but fiercely protective of those he cared about, and his bravery knew no bounds.

The story seemed to move quite quickly for me – that is there was always something happening and it didn’t lag at all. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but I liked it although I know some reviewers were disappointed.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes dystopian novels. It’s well worth your time reading!

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Synopsis

This novel is set in present-day London during a global pandemic. People are suffering from what is being called ‘The Sweats’ and there is no cure. In the  midst of this, TV saleswoman Stevie Flint discovers her boyfriend Simon Sharkey dead in bed. Soon after, she herself starts suffering from the sweats but unlike most others, she recovers.

Stevie works out that Simon’s death was not due to the illness, but that he was in fact murdered, and she starts investigating who killed Simon and why, but when people are dying all around, it’s hard to get anyone else to care about one single death.

As social order collapses, and crime rates soar, Stevie finds herself alone and afraid, but determined to uncover the truth about her boyfriend.

My thoughts

I am really in two minds about this one. On the one hand I love dystopian fiction and I did enjoy the parts of this book that dealt with the aftermath of the pandemic – people’s terror on the one hand, and their abandonment of all societal norms on the other. However, the murder mystery aspect became the greater story with the pandemic more of a backdrop, and the mystery itself did not really grab my attention. For all that, it was still a quick read and the sort of story I could imagine being adapted for a tv mini series. I’m not entirely sure that I liked Stevie – she seemed devoid of emotion for a large part of the story – but I did kind of grudgingly admire her determination and courage.

I didn’t think it was particularly well written (in contrast to the last book of Louise Welsh’s I read, The Bullet Trick, which I thought was very well written) – Simon was supposed to be in his early 40s and reference is made to a schoolfriend in the same year who now has a son of 29. Not beyond the realms of possibility, but there is nothing to suggest that the man was particularly young when he had his son, although he would have had to have been. A lot of the story seemed to be ‘Stevie did this and then she did that’, and unfortunately the final part was something of an anti-climax.

For all that though, I did race through it quickly and while it wasn’t exactly a can’t-put-down book, it also wasn’t a can’t-bear-to-pick-up book. So a bit of a middling read for me. It has garnered very mixed reviews, with some people loving it and others absolutely hating it. I’m not sure I would recommend it to others, but I would still probably give this author another look if she brought out another book with an interesting subject.

 

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This story is set in London in the near future; it’s a London that in some ways feels very familiar, but in some ways is scarily different from the London of today.  Counties have been partitioned off, and Londoners are effectively trapped in their city.  To escape, they have to literally go underground, and risk their lives.  Women are not allowed to work – indeed, are not even allowed outside their house unless they are covered with a veil.  The fear of paedophilia is so immense that men are frightened of spending time with any child who is not their own, and even then, only with their wife present.  Theatre and books are banned, and any kind of culture is considered anarchic.

Living in the middle of all this are young couple Lucas and Angela.  Lucas works for the sinister Ministry, as a Miracle Inspector – his days are spent visiting people who claim to have discovered a genuine miracle, but so far every ‘miracle’ has been a fraud, or the wishful thinking of the claimant.  Lucas and Angela make plans to leave London, but it turns out to be much harder than anyone could imagine.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Dystopia is one of my favourite genres, and fans of such books as Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Handmaid’s Tale, would almost certainly enjoy this novel.  I found it scarily believable; a world that was all too easy to imagine, where fear of paedophilia and terrorism has curtailed people’s freedom to an extreme level.

It is not spoilerish to say that at one part, Angela finds herself outside London, as a refugee, and the story drew parallels with how asylum seekers are treated in the real world, with mistrust and fear.

The writing is very ‘clean’ – no words are wasted here – and it flows beautifully.  The different subplots tie together nicely and despite the subject, there is genuine humour here as well.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this book, and will be seeking out Helen Smith’s other books.  Definitely recommended, especially to fans of dystopian fiction.

(I would like to thank the author, who sent me this book in exchange for an honest review. )

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