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Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

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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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Margaret Atwood is probably one of the most popular writers of dystopian fiction. For my money, The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the best and most disturbing books ever written, and it was with eagerness that I picked up The Heart Goes Last.

The story is set in America in the near future, after an economic meltdown has resulted in unprecedented unemployment and homelessness (which makes me hope that Atwood is not also a fortune teller, given the current political climate!) Stan and Charmaine, a once happily married couple, are now resorted to living in their car, eating whatever they can scrounge, scavenge or afford from Charmaine’s low-paid bar job, and constantly avoiding the thieves and violent gangs who roam the streets.

So when they see an advert for a new social experiment called Consilience, they are keen to join. The idea is that everyone who lives in the restricted community will be given a nice house, a good job, and will have money for food and luxuries. In return they will have to give up their new luxury home every second month and go into Positron, the prison in Consilience…but even that doesn’t sound so bad. They get square meals, a bed and a job within the prison. However, once they are inside Consilience they realise that there is no way out – and that their every move is being watched. Each of them develop an obsession with their ‘alternates’ – the couple who live in their house during Stan and Charmaine’s prison months and vice versa – which only leads them further into the tangled reality of what really goes on in this promised utopia.

If I’m  honest, I am still not entirely sure what to make of this book. I definitely don’t think it is up to the standard of The Handmaid’s Tale, but that was truly one of my favourite books ever, so maybe it’s asking too much to enjoy every Atwood novel quite so much. For me, The Heart Goes Last started out very promisingly. The awful situation the main characters was living in was all too believable and I could see how they could be drawn into something which would seem like a wonderful way out of their dire straits. However, as the story progressed it got more and more unrealistic – and here’s the thing…for me at least dystopian fiction has to have an element of feasibility. Not that you would want it to actually happen in real life, but you have to see how it could. This novel just did not have that. The last third of the book in particular almost seemed to descend into farce, and this wasn’t helped by the fact that neither Stan nor Charmaine were particularly likeable or relatable characters. (In fact, there were very few people in this book who I felt I could root for).

That said, I still liked Atwood’s acidic humorous writing, and she does have a marvellous turn of phrase. The book is funnier than I expected, and it was an undemanding read despite some distinctly unsavoury events within the book.

This has not put me off reading more books by Margaret Atwood, and I probably would recommend it with caution to fans of the author. However, if you are trying her novels for the first time, I would suggest starting with The Handmaid’s Tale or maybe The Robber Bride.

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