Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (30 July — 1 August)

Oh, Brave New World. I was all prepared to come here and write about how weird this book is and how I didn’t like it all that much, but then I got to this quote near the end of Chapter 17: “You can’t play Electro-magnetic Golf according to the rules of Centrifugal Bumble-puppy.”

And then I realized that, while this book is preachy and antiquated and kind of boring, well, so was The Handmaid’s Tale, in its own way. And so was The Stepford Wives. And definitely so was 1984, and I count that among my favorite books. So. One set of postulates it is.

Brave New World is a dystopian novel about a far-ish future wherein people are decanted rather than born and it is decided in the test tube whether each person will be an Alpha-plus intellectual or an Epsilon-minus one-of-ninety-six drone worker. Everyone is conditioned to like being at their own level and like being part of the greater society. This is all well and good, but some improperly decanted types, like Bernard Marx, feel that they could do something more with their lives than be happy.

Yeah, that’s kind of the whole novel. Huxley brings in a “savage” in the middle, a man actually born outside of this happy society, and he remarks on how ridiculous it all is for a while, and everyone else remarks on how ridiculous he is for a while.

There’s not really any sort of conflict in the novel, which I guess makes sense when everyone is happy, but it makes the going rather slow. And this future isn’t really terribly dystopian; even the people who don’t like the society get to have their own place to live in the end. I’m really lukewarm on this. If you’ve got more fiery comments to make about the book, please do so!

Rating: 6/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (4 July — 5 July)

I was on vacation at the beach for four days last weekend and brought only two books with me. A serious mistake! I was done with them by the morning of the third day. Luckily, Scott’s family are voracious readers as well, and the beach house (which they own) was stocked with books. While I could have read A Very Naughty Angel (no really, I did find such a book on the shelf!), I chose to go with something a little deeper. I had been meaning to read The Handmaid’s Tale anyway, so good job, me.

Let me just start with this: this book is disturbing. Seriously disturbing, in that way where the premise seems implausible but then you start to see how it could maybe be plausible and then you think it might be a good idea to rally against a cash-less society because it could lead to you becoming a handmaid. Yeah. Think 1984 or The Stepford Wives if you’ve read them. Disturbing.

All right. So this book is, as you may have guessed, about a handmaid. But in this (disturbing) dystopian world, a Handmaid doesn’t do, you know, maid things. See, the American birth rate has dropped below a replacement rate, partly because pollution is causing “shredder” (deformed) babies. So a Handmaid is brought in to a household when a Wife can’t provide her high-ranking husband with a child, because children are very important, unless they’re girls. Once a month, the Wife sits behind the Handmaid as Mr. Man-pants does his thing, and the Handmaid hopes beyond hope that Mr. Man-pants’s man-parts work and that she gets pregnant and that she never gets sent away to the Colonies as an Unwoman who gets to clean up toxic waste. Also, women aren’t allowed to read or own property, and Handmaids don’t even get to use their own names.

It takes a while for the story to get that far. Atwood sort of eases the reader into Offred’s (read: of fred’s) world, interspersing the dreary present with the past that looks suspiciously like America in the 1980s (when this book was written) and the interim in which Offred is taken away from her life and her husband and child. I wasn’t thrilled with the first few chapters, but since I knew better was coming I held on, and then the book got really good and really, you know, disturbing.

Rating: 8.5/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)

Specials, by Scott Westerfeld (29 May — 30 May)

So you know I liked Uglies and Pretties, the two previous books in this series. And I did like this one, too, but really only because it finished off the storyline and was as engaging as the others.

Because seriously, there was just soooo much in this book! I was okay in the first book, believing in operations and people running away and other people wanting to maintain the status quo at all costs. Sure. Fine. And in the second, believing in “nanos” that can fix brain lesions and tattoos that move and that cutting yourself can make you “bubbly”… well, that last one was a bit much, but okay. Sure again. But in this book, I had to still be okay with cutting and then also with nanos that simply eat things and sneak suits that camouflage and unbreakable ceramic bones and people turning their pinky fingers into snakes and more cures for brain lesions and Tally switching alliances for the umpty-seventh time…. It was just. Too. Much.

Right. Anyway. Basically, Tally is now a part of Special Circumstances as a “Cutter” — the youth brigade. And she wants Zane to be with her, and Shay wants to destroy the New Smoke, so they set out together to lead Zane to the Smoke and kill two birds and whatever. And they get there and find out that part of what they did to get Zane to the Smoke caused a war between two cities, which is bad because war hasn’t happened in forever and also that one city didn’t do anything to deserve getting itself blown up. So Tally, perpetually ruining things and then fixing them, goes off to fix it. Yay.

If you’ve read the other books, you will read this and really should read this, but I wouldn’t go starting the series just to get to this one. 🙂

Rating: 6/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Pretties, by Scott Westerfeld (12 May — 13 May)

Pretties is the second of Westerfeld’s crazy dystopian series, following Uglies, which I read last month. So, you know, there are spoilers if you haven’t read that other one.

In this go, Tally has turned herself pretty and is, in fact, a total pretty-head. She’s about to be voted into a clique called the Crims, short for Criminals, which Shay (now her bff again) is already a member of. But on the night of the vote, Tally runs into a Smoky called Croy that she vaguely remembers knowing once and who promises to leave her a note before he and the other Smokies run away from Special Circumstances.

The note, which Tally finds with the help of the lead Crim, Zane, is the one that Tally wrote to herself in the last book. It also includes two pills for curing the operation. Tally is too nervous to take them herself but won’t let Zane risk his life, either, so they each take one just seconds before the Specials break into their hiding place.

Now cured, Tally and Zane set to work on getting as many Pretties as possible to realize the ridiculousness of their situation and to breaking out of New Pretty Town. It sort of works, sort of doesn’t, and Tally finds herself in all sorts of trouble all over again. Whoo!

I love how fast these books go and how incredibly engaging they are, and you know I’ll be rescuing Specials from the library just as soon as it comes back.

Rating: 7.5/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld (15 April — 17 April)

Oh, YA brain candy. Fun!

Uglies is a dystopian novel about a world where everyone surgically becomes pretty (or at least, conforms to specific ideals of beauty) at the age of 16 so as to eliminate silly things like not liking people ’cause they look funny. Of course, up until that age the kids are known as Uglies and have the aforementioned ideals beaten into their heads. Lovely. Who wouldn’t want to become Pretty after all that?

Well, some people. Like Tally’s new friend Shay, who, even after Tally espouses to her the wonders of Pretty-ness, runs off to find an enclave of people who have avoided the surgery. Shay leaves behind a note in case Tally wants to follow, but that note ends up in the wrong hands and Tally is forced to go after Shay if looking Pretty is to be in Tally’s future.

And then, of course, there’s adventure and commentary on society and it’s all really fun! I read most of this book in one sitting because I just had to know what happened next, and even predictability and the giant cliffhanger ending didn’t peeve me like such things usually do; I’ll just go grab the next book and devour it, too! Excellent.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (11 April — 14 April)

This is one of those books that I tried to read years ago but never got around to finishing, and picking it up again definitely reminded me why that happened. There are just too many words in this book! I mean, not really, because it’s only 170-ish pages long, but really really, because Bradbury writes sentences in which silent trains run soundlessly along their tracks. So that’s what silent means.

That’s not to say that the book isn’t good… it just takes a disproportionate amount of time to the length of the book to figure out what the heck Bradbury’s saying.

So anyway. If you don’t know, Fahrenheit 451 is about a world in which firemen are employed to start fires that burn up book collections, because books are bad and rooms made of four wall-sized TVs are good. One fireman, Montag, meets a girl who doesn’t pay attention to the propaganda, and her influence helps push him on a path to try to overthrow the system.

I wish I had read this book during an English class, because it needs a lot of discussion. Bradbury makes some interesting points about how people perceive books and how outmoded they are in this day and age (the book is set sometime around now, from what I can tell) which are almost true, 50 years after he wrote them. We may not have flying cars, but we do certainly have apathy toward books.

Rating: 6/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)