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Zone One

Title: Zone One

Author: Colson Whitehead

Genre: dystopian zombie fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: an Afrofuturist book

My first introduction to Whitehead was through The Underground Railroad which was great. Then I read The Nickel Boys and was blown away. It was the best book I read in 2020. When I heard that he also wrote a dystopian book, which is my favorite genre, I knew I had to investigate. Bummer that I just didn’t love this one.

From Goodreads: In this wry take on the post-apocalyptic horror novel, a pandemic has devastated the planet. The plague has sorted humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead.

Now the plague is receding, and Americans are busy rebuild­ing civilization under orders from the provisional govern­ment based in Buffalo. Their top mission: the resettlement of Manhattan. Armed forces have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street—aka Zone One—but pockets of plague-ridden squatters remain. While the army has eliminated the most dangerous of the infected, teams of civilian volunteers are tasked with clearing out a more innocuous variety—the “malfunctioning” stragglers, who exist in a catatonic state, transfixed by their former lives.

Mark Spitz is a member of one of the civilian teams work­ing in lower Manhattan. Alternating between flashbacks of Spitz’s desperate fight for survival during the worst of the outbreak and his present narrative, the novel unfolds over three surreal days, as it depicts the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, and the impossible job of coming to grips with the fallen world. And then things start to go wrong. Both spine chilling and playfully cerebral, Zone One bril­liantly subverts the genre’s conventions and deconstructs the zombie myth for the twenty-first century.

Admission: I listened to this book, which isn’t my preferred choice. That said, I have listened to plenty others and loved them, so I don’t think that was why I never connected. The story goes back and forth in time, which was a bit confusing. You follow Mark Spitz in those three days of his job, but you also learn about how the outbreak started, what people were doing on the “Last Night” and how Spitz got to this job to begin with. I was engaged in the story, but I guess I was expecting it to be more. More emotional, more powerful….something. But it was a good story, which I’ll take any day.

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Vox

Title: Vox

Author: Christina Dalcher

Genre: Dystopian

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: a book where the main character works at your current or dream job (current job… stay-at-home mom)

I appreciate what this book tried to do. Published in 2018 during the previous administration, the plot is about men taking over and censoring women. Literal censoring. Women are allowed 100 words a day. They wear counters that keep track and any over 100 a shock will be administered. The more over 100, the worse the shock. The main character, Jean, unwillingly abides. When she is given the opportunity to remove the counter in exchange for helping the president, she jumps at the chance.

From Goodreads: Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed to speak more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her. This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard. But this is not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

This book’s premise is important and, thankfully, no longer an issue since we have a new administration, but it didn’t work at all. The characters are great, the concept is great, but the writing was subpar. I lost track of how many times the plot went from A to C without explaining B. I’m a smart gal, I can make inferences, but this book was just so full of holes. Not plot holes necessarily, but just holes in explanation. A good editor could have eliminated those. As much as I wanted to like this book, it just frustrated me more. Bummer.

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The Handmaid’s Tale

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I first read this one ages ago. Maybe over ten years. After I read 1984, I devoured dystopian books. I still do, but I’m starting to run out of options. I definitely have burned through the classics in this genre. Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, The Giver, We, Anthem, and Animal Farm all come to mind. And I remember being just baffled by this book. I loved it, but it was so horrifying that I could hardly wrap my brain around it. I wanted to revisit this before I read The Testaments, and thankfully, this passes the Bechdel test, so I’m using it for the Popsugar Reading Challenge.

The story follows an unnamed woman, but we know her as Offred. Meaning she’s “of Fred,” essentially she belongs to this man, Fred. She’s a Handmaid, specially selected to birth his children. Most women are barred, so Handmaids are very important to the society of Gilead (formerly somewhere in the US, probably in New England). Offred is expected to participate in a Ceremony where both Fred and his wife are present, but Offred is raped. She is a Handmaid to live. She doesn’t like this role. She doesn’t have a choice, though. She has a husband and daughter but is unsure of their whereabouts or even if they are alive. Margaret Atwood wrote this back in the early 80s (published in 1985), and it’s really shocking how prescient she was. Of course, we aren’t close to living in a world like Gilead, but there are eerie hints, for sure.

Then Hulu produced the amazing series, and I got sucked back into Offred’s world. The first season is much like this book. I couldn’t think about Offred without imagining the brilliant Elisabeth Moss. Of course, a few changes were made, and a few characters were more developed in the book, but the season is a really well-done, faithful adaptation of the book. I’m curious to see what The Testaments brings, once it finally gets to me on library loan.

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The Book of M

Holy smokes, this book. I am a dystopian snob. I have read dozens of them and most are fair or good. But this one was absolutely amazing. Downright excellent. I felt like I was reading Stephen King, Robert McCammon, and Jeff VanderMeer in one book, but it was still its own unique concept.

The Book of M tells the story of what happens when you lose your shadow. One day, a man in India turns around and his shadow is gone. Then a few more people. Then an entire marketplace. Then entire cities. No one knows why this is happening or why some people lose theirs and why others don’t. But once you lose your shadow, your memories begin to fade. You forget parts of your past, people you know, who you are, how to read, how to talk, how to breathe. And while you are forgetting, you know it’s happening. It’s like a modern-day version of Flowers for Algernon, in some sense.

However, there’s a man who can possibly help you. His shadow is quite unique due to an unusual meeting, and if you can find your way to New Orleans, there will be refuge and hope. However, you have to battle various groups of people who are misguided, shadowless, and hopeless. This book absolutely floored me in the end. I was holding my breath and just had to put the book down when certain things were revealed.  This one is a must read.

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Chaos Walking

I love this series. Let me just say this from the get go. This was my second time to read it all the way through without reading other books in between, and it is just as great as the last time I read it. Of all the YA dystopian series I have read this is one of the top few I’ve read. For the record, The Hunger Games, Legend series, and Red Rising are the others.

This story is one of the most creative I’ve come across. Instead of humans being the victims of a society disaster, they are the perpetrators. Convoys of ships landed decades ago on an uninhabited planet. The settlers were supposed to start building cities, farming, making life sustainable for other settlers. Much to their surprise, the planet did have life in the form of Spackle. Think people, but bigger and more reptilian like. The war against the native creatures began and the Spackle were destroyed. Another big surprise was that all the mens’ thoughts were heard by everyone else. So whatever thought a man had, every other man and woman in his proximity could hear it. The “Noise” was unexpected and very difficult to deal with.

Our main character, Todd, lives in Prentisstown with his adopted fathers Ben and Cillian. Todd’s mother died after he was born, committing suicide like all the other women in the town. The 100+ men left in the town are the only remaining settlers on the planet. With no way to reproduce, they are facing imminent demise. Then, Todd finds a crashed ship and a girl and quickly learns that all he has been told might not be exactly true. This is simply the first few chapters of the first book. The entire trilogy continues much more into Todd’s revelations, the girl, and the truth about the settlers and Spackle.

I really can’t recommend this series enough. There is a movie coming out in 2019 (I think) with Tom Holland (Spiderman) and Daisy Ridley (Rey) as Todd and the girl. I CANNOT wait to see how they film the Noise and how far into the series this movie goes. There’s plenty of time to read the series before the movie comes out.

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Parable of the Sower

I’ve had Octavia Butler on my radar for awhile. Several friends have recommended her. And, at some point, her books were really cheap on Amazon, so I stocked up on some ebooks. So when I had to read a book written by a person of color, I immediately though of her and chose Parable of the Sower, knowing absolutely nothing about it.

The story is in my favorite genre, dystopia, and even though I’m a bit burned out on these books, I still appreciate a well written one. Butler isn’t a YA writer, but her book falls mostly into this category. It doesn’t explain how the world is the way it is (takes place in the years 2025-2027) but the world has fallen apart and life is hard. She makes some adjustments to the world by creating fictitious illegal drugs. One drug makes people obsessed with fires. Another leaves people with hyperempathy. Lauren, our main character, has this ‘sharing’ because her mother took the drug while pregnant. Lauren feels others’ pain. When a person is shot, it feels like she has been shot.

Lauren’s family lives in a cul-de-sac in California, and even though they have a gate and guard their property, one night, several homes are set on fire and all the homes are robbed. Lauren is lucky to escape, but most aren’t so fortunate. She and a few survivors travel north, looking for a place to resettle and gather other travelers along the way. Lauren, even though she has never lived outside her cul-de-sac, is very street smart and knows not to trust others. However, the people she meets along the way prove just how desperate they are for help as well.

Lauren sees God as Change. And through her religious teachings, her God evolves into something not good or evil, but as simply the natural process of the world. She calls this new belief Earthseed. While traveling, she tells her group about Earthseed and her beliefs.

Butler skillfully tackles important issues like gender, feminism, sexuality, and motherhood with such creativity and honesty.  Every decision the characters made felt authentic and sensible, given their situation. There is a sequel to this book, and I’m really excited to revisit Lauren and her fellow travelers.

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Borne

It’s rare these days that I read a book as soon as it is published. I usually wait awhile, grab it from the library when I can, and go from there. However, when Jeff VanderMeer publishes a book, I will be first in line. And thankfully my library already had it on order and I was first in line to reserve it. I’ve read book the Southern Reach trilogy (fantastic) and the Ambergris trilogy (not so great), so I was curious to see where Borne fell within my judgements of his work, and wouldn’t you know, I’d say it is smack dab in the middle, maybe leaning a little closer to Southern Reach.

Rachel and Wick live in the Balcony Cliffs in a world that is governed by a giant flying bear named Mord. Yep, you read that right. However, when Mord sleeps, Rachel can climb on him and scavenge for things. And one day she found Borne. The size of her fist, appearing to be plantlike or some sort of anemone, she names him Borne because, although she didn’t give birth to him, he was “born” under her watch and care. And of course Borne doesn’t stay small. Rachel soon noticed that he’s growing quickly and never producing any kind of waste. Eventually Borne begins speaking and learning and their relationship is pushed to the limits. Wick doesn’t approve of Borne because he has no idea what Borne truly is (neither do we, but Rachel accepts him) and tensions arise.

There is a side story about the Company which is a, well, company that created Mord and assorted biotech. There is also a woman named the Magician who unofficially rules the lands where Rachel and Wick live. I promise this book is easy to follow; I’m just not good at explaining how crazy the world is.

Overall, I liked the book. It was compelling and you really get sucked into the world, even with its implausible giant bear. There are definitely remnants of Area X in this world, unintentional I’m sure. At one point, Rachel and Wick are traveling a long dark corridor and I kept wondering if some crazy language would be written on it, like in Annihilation. I feel like this world and Area X reside next to each other in alternate realities. I definitely recommend this book, especially because it’s just a stand alone book and well written, but if you really want his best work, go with the Southern Reach trilogy.

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1984

This is my all time favorite book. I read it years and years ago and knew it was a book to change the mindset of people. There are certain books that are important because they  bring attention to the plight of people. There are certain books that are important because they highlight issues in our society. But very few books can alter the entire perspective of a person. When I read this book originally, I was blown away. Mostly because George Orwell saw our future perfectly. And when I read this book over a decade ago, it scared the crap out of me, but I never really thought I would see these changes take place in my lifetime.

But here we are.

We are in a world where “fake news” and “alternative facts” are readily believed. We are in a world where people no longer believe in modern science. We are in a world where people lead hypocritical lives on a daily basis and are blissfully unaware. We are in a world where we are asked to spy on others, where our Internet history can be used for profit, where the general thought process is looked down upon. We are in 1984. Not to the extreme in the book, but we are headed that direction. Unless we RISE UP and take a stand.

It’s odd to say this is my favorite book, considering it’s the most depressing book I’ve ever read. It’s also the most horrifying, especially today. However, I still love it because it moved me the first time I read it, the second time, and finally this third time. My heart broke every chapter even though I knew exactly where it was all heading.

This is simply the most important book ever written. It is a must read for each and every person.

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After the Cure

I get free books daily. Some aren’t really worth reading, but I download them anyway, because maybe someday someone in my house will read them. But ones that sound mildly interesting, I keep on my Kindle to read at some point. If you remember, I’m using a lottery system to pick my books right now since I have so many that I’ve been meaning to read for years. And the lottery selected this one.

I really liked the premise. Most zombie books are about the initial outbreak and how people survive. But this one takes place after the Infected are cured. The world is divided into two halves, the Cured and the Immune. The fun twist is that the Cured remember what they did while they were Infected. And many can’t live with their actions, even though they couldn’t control themselves. Many of the Immune shun the Cured and refuse to interact with them.

The main plot line involves a trial involving the scientists who created the virus and are now being held responsible for the aftermath. Our main characters are an attorney (a Cure) and a psychologist (an Immune) and their relationship, the discovery of some secret information, and how to handle said info. The story was a bit disjointed (at one point a character is near death and in the next scene the character is up and chatting), but overall, the premise was worth the lack of cohesion. Some of the dialogue was a bit cheesy for my taste, but that’s just my personal preference.

There are 5 books in this series, but only the first is free on Amazon. The others are reasonably priced, though, and I plan on reading the rest at some point. I enjoyed this book and its unique premise.

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The Moon Dwellers

I might have hit the wall with YA dystopian. Not necessarily because of this book in particular, but I just don’t really enjoy it anymore. Stuff is too watered down and predictable. The two of the three series (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games) that revolutionized YA and opened new doors for writers are worth reading. I hated Twilight, but I admit that it did shake things up in the paranormal romance dept. And each series just has so many spin offs (some worth reading, most worth skipping) and I feel like I’m done with this particular one. Maybe because I’m not a young adult.

The Moon Dwellers isn’t anything new. Set in the future, a young girl doesn’t know what has come of her family, but she has an electric connection with a young man who is the president’s son, but the son doesn’t want to be like his dad, so he runs away to find this mystery girl, so on and so forth.

A few YA dystopian books come to mind that *are* worth reading: The Legend series, The Chaos Walking series, and the Red Rising series. Other than that, the rest are just mediocre spin offs that are good for quick mindless reads. There is a place for these kinds of books. Sometimes I just want something simple to escape into. And, again, I’m not a young adult, so maybe the appeal of this kind of book is different for the target audience.

I have the rest of this series on my Kindle, as well a few other YA books, but for the most part, I think I’m on a YA break for awhile.