I’ve grouped 3 reviews here — all are “in the not so distant future, the world will be even shittier than it is now” stories. John Scalzi’s The Dispatcher won an Audie for Zachary Quinto’s narration, so that’s my “Award Winner!” Square.
Vox by Christina Dalcher
I don’t normally read books that have a less than 3.8 rating on Goodreads. That seems to be about my threshold for enjoying something. Vox has about a 3.6, but it was highly recommended on THIS site so I gave it a shot — and I’m glad I did. I love that Cannonball Read gets me to try books I never would have picked out otherwise.
Vox takes place in the not-too-distant future, a time when the United States has been fully overrun by right-wing lunatics who have basically made it illegal for women to speak. Women are allowed 100 words per day, a limit that is tracked by a bracelet on their wrists. Going over that limit leads to electric shocks and eventually death. Women are also not allowed to write, use sign language or communicate in any other way once they have reached their limit for the day. This book is terrifying. The premise sounds kind of crazy, until you read all of the steps that took this Society to that place. And then you realize that yeah, this could totally happen one day. Our main character,Dr. Jean McClellan, was a scientist before her voice was silenced. Now she’s trapped at home all day, taking orders from her husband and sons (who seem kind but slip into the mindset of “men rule” a little too easily). She’s also raising a young daughter in this environment, and must prepare her for how to survive in it — which kills her inside, because who could ever silence their child?
Once the background has been established, we move into the plot of the story — Dr. McClellan gets drawn back into the world of science and words when the president’s brother suffers a head injury that her expertise might be able to heal. She’s allowed to speak again, for the purpose of working, and is reunited with her former co-workers. Together, they discover a much more sinister plot involving speech — and the possibility of terminating it forever. Things go a little off the rails here, but it’s hard to put the book down at this point. I remain hooked to the end. I loved the resistance fighters (“There’s a resistance?” The word sounds sweet as I say it. “Honey, there’s always a resistance.” ) and while I feel the author tied things up a little too neatly at the end, it was definitely a gripping read.
Dry by Neal Shusterman (Goodreads Author), Jarrod Shusterman
Another EXCELLENT recommendation from CBR. This might be one of my favorite books this year.
In the not so distant future, and I mean really not so distant, the state of California has completely run out of water. Dry takes place starting right when the water runs out — a crisis known as the Tap-Out. It’s a YA novel, so the main characters are a teenage girl (Alyssa) and her younger brother (Garrett, their survivalist teenage neighbor (Kelton) and a couple of other kids we meet along the way. At first, Alyssa’s family tries to tough it out at home — they make a rather harrowing run to Costco, they melt bags of ice in the tub. When rumors begin that the government is desalinating at the beach, their parents leave in an attempt to get water. And then things get really dark. Our main characters are left on their own when their parents don’t come back. They team up with the neighbor and do whatever they can to survive. This eventually leads to some really terrifying scenarios for these kids, and Schusterman does such a fantastic job of building these characters that I was seriously stressed out for major portions of this book.
I’ve read other YA novels by the same writer, and one thing that always impresses me about him is he does not pull punches. His characters are extremely realistic and when they encounter moral issues, they face them head-on — even when the results are painful. As you can imagine, when people get together to fight over resources some tough decisions have to be made. But even outside the scope of the “disaster movie” aspect of the book, there’s also some normal teenage issues. Schusterman takes these kids SO seriously that the growth we see in these few hundred pages feels incredibly real.
Schusterman also throws in some scenes from other people experiencing the Tap-Out. Stories about families who are trying to either survive in California or escape from it. These quick snapshots were probably the most traumatic and effective for me. I’ve got two little kids, three big dogs (who don’t get along) and four cats. What would we do in a crisis — squeeze in my four-door sedan and head for the hills? What if all of the roadways are closed? The book has multiple examples of what happens when disaster strikes — chaos at the airport, roadways closed down, government facilities under siege. Alyssa’s neighbors have a bug out location, and she makes a quick change from “those people are crazy” to “Kelton, save my life”. When it comes down to it, people put so much faith on the government making things okay that they don’t bother with an exit strategy. I’m not saying I’m going to go dig a hole in my backyard for us to hide in, but this book a definitely made me think about how (un)prepared we are for any kind of disaster.
The Dispatcher by John Scalzi (Goodreads Author), Zachary Quinto (Narrator)
This was a really neat science fiction story that I wish was about 10x as long. Zachary Quinto narrates it and won the ‘Best Original Work’ Audie Award, so this is my Award Winner.
Can you imagine how life would change if it became near impossible to murder someone? In this version of the future, 99 percent of intentional deaths result in the victim basically re-spawning healthy and whole — usually naked in their beds. This leads to creativity (you can’t shoot someone, but you can let them starve to death) and massive changes to war, crime, and even healthcare. Our main character (Tony) is a dispatcher — when a person undergoes a risky surgery, he starts by waiting to humanely execute them if something goes wrong. This allows the doctor a second (or third…or fourth) chance to try the surgery. But then one of Tony’s co-workers goes missing. And he discovers that people will always find a way to harm each other. And now he has to find his friend before he experiences something much worse than a gunshot to the head.
I always enjoy Scalzi’s writing, and this book does a great job of taking one concept and spinning it out into a million possibilities.