Topical Books: It Can’t Happen Here and The Handmaid’s Tale

I read It Can’t Happen Here and then immediately started The Handmaid’s Tale. I am now in a heightened state of paranoia and will immediately read some light-hearted beach reads. Here are quick overviews of both books:

It Can’t Happen Here was written in 1935 by Sinclair Lewis. It tells the story of a popular politician, Buzz Windrip, and his meteoric rise to President. Buzz owes his success to the fact that he makes ludicrous promises to the American’s who he is trying to appeal to: the working class (sound familiar?). This similarity to modern times has created an interest in the book today (I was one of 62 in a queue to get the book out from my local library). Once Buzz takes over, he quickly forms his own army, called the Minute Men, and thus he is able to exert full authoritarian control. The main protagonist, Dorms Jessup, is a journalist who tries to flee to Canada and then joins the revolutionary forces opposing Windrip. Honestly though, this book was so boring I can’t even remember how it ends. I finished it less than a month ago…

 

The Handmaid’s Tale was written by Margaret Atwood in 1985. There is also a brand new Hulu series which is amazing (but very disturbing). In the Handmaid’s Tale, it has been three years since an unknown group of radical Americans shot and killed the President and all of Congress. They then remove the constitution in the name of safety for the populace. The heroine, Offred, used to be a normal woman: living and working in Boston with her husband and young daughter. The revolution brought numerous restrictions to women’s lives. Women could no longer work or spend any money. Offered is taken away from her family and sent to a stranger’s home to act as the womb for a powerful couple who cannot have children.

Margaret Atwood wrote the foreword to my copy of The Handmaid’s Tale in February of 2017. I think I shall let her finish out this post:

“In this divisive climate, in which hate for many groups seems on the rise and scorn for democratic institutions is being expressed by extremists of all stripes, it is a certainty that someone, somewhere-many, I would guess-are writing down what is happening as they themselves are experiencing it. Or they will remember, and record later, if they can. Will their messages be suppressed and hidden? Will they be found, centuries later, in an old house, behind a wall? Let us hope it doesn’t come to that. I trust it will not.”

-A

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Zoo

Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge; 2012

All I can really say about Zoo is LOL.

I was looking for something easy to read one night before bed, so I checked out Zoo from the library, figuring I could watch the show after reading it. Zoo is by James Patterson AKA probs really Michael Ledwidge.

In short: all over the world animal attacks are growing in frequency and brutality. Lions begin coordinating their attacks in Africa; household pets go missing; dog bites increase with alarming frequency. Enter Jackson Oz, a GENIUS who has dropped out of his fast-track PhD program because of his radical views on evolving animal behavior. As animal attacks increase with more cunning coordination and brutality, Oz must convince the world leaders that it is, in fact, REALLY HAPPENING. Sounds like a cool idea, right?

Most ridiculous parts:

  1. Oz is supposedly a “genius” yet it takes him many years to figure out the cause of the strange animal behavior, even though it ends up being something relatively straight forward (straight forward for a genius biologist that is). He also acts and thinks like a twelve-year-old (for example, when grizzly bears are attacking his car: “I assumed he wasn’t from AAA.” ha ha.) AND thinks nothing of keeping a chimpanzee in his apartment as a pet even when he is trying desperately to share his message with the world about changing animal behavior and is confidently waiting for animals to run rampant. K.
  2. The “science.” This book essentially consists entirely of half-formed ideas and explanations with little to no scientific backing. Here’s an example: “We’re calling the unfortunate new experiment Z-O-O…those letters stand for something, but f*** if I can remember what.” If you were wondering, they NEVER remember what those letters stand for. Before reading this I thought Congo was the most ridiculous book, but at least it had some convincing science behind the absurdity.
  3. The quantity and violence of animal deaths and the lack of remorse toward them. Ditto for human deaths.
  4. The end. This may be interpreted as a spoiler for some, but I feel that it is my duty as a reviewer to reveal that there isn’t a resolution to this book. There isn’t a resolution as in there isn’t a complete explanation or solution for dealing with all of these animals gone rogue. It ends SO abruptly that I am convinced Ledwidge/Patterson was just like ‘K I’m done here’ one day when he realized he couldn’t figure out how to tie up all of his loose ends.

Pros: I laughed a lot while reading this.

In other news, I started watching the show on Netflix and it already makes a million times more sense than the book.

I Am Legend

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson; 1954

A friend agreed to read Station Eleven on my recommendation if I read I Am Legend in exchange. Otherwise, I probably never would have approached this one, if only because of lingering trauma from the dog in the Will Smith movie version. This is probably not news to anyone else, but Richard Matheson’s book is completely different from the blockbuster. So if the movie was holding you back, feel safe enough to proceed to reading the book.

It’s 1976 and Robert Neville is the last living man on earth. But he’s not completely alone. A vampire plague has destroyed civilization, and at night every other remaining human terrorizes Neville while he barricades himself in his home; by day, he hunts the living dead one by one. It’s less a book about vampires, and more about loneliness and survival. It’s also a kind of grim character study: there is only Robert. The language is simple and to the point, no frills. The last page gave me chills. Best of all, this book is super short – 160 pages – which was the most wonderful breath of fresh air after finishing City on Fire last week.

It reminded me so much of ‘Salem’s Lot, which I read earlier this year, that I went back and poked around. Stephen King cites Richard Matheson as one of his greatest influences as a writer, so all of that makes sense. I love seeing firsthand how books influence one another. I Am Legend wasn’t as terrifying as ‘Salem’s Lot in my opinion, but it was definitely haunting and very grim.

I realized that I’ve unintentionally read a lot of sci-fi in the last six months, and I’ve enjoyed all of them (well, with the exception of Congo). I think I might embrace this sci-fi trend and explore the genre a little further. But first, off to embark on Fates and Furies – FINALLY!

-M

 

The Maze Runner

James Dashner; 2009

Here I am again, trying my hand at YA. Even though The Maze Runner is now a movie franchise, I still managed to not know anything about it other than the obvious: a maze and a boy running in the maze. The story starts off with the main character, Thomas, entering a place called The Glade in a box. He doesn’t know where he came from, and only has vague memories of the world before he entered The Glade. The Glade is in the middle of an enormous maze, and the Gladers devote their days to finding a way to escape.

The Maze Runner starts out really strong; it’s exciting, fast-paced, and mysterious. It was a little frustrating to not understand anything that was happening, although the gap in knowledge perfectly mirrors what Thomas is feeling. I couldn’t take the slang/invented curse words seriously at all – i.e. shank, slint-head, shuckface, etc. They got a laugh 99% of the time, which I’m not sure was the goal. I got a little bit bored towards the middle, and some of the plot was predictable. But the end was enough of a plot twist/cliff-hanger to make me want to read the next book. Off to watch the movie while I wait for my library copy of The Scorch Trials!

Congo

Congo, Michael Crichton

I love Michael Crichton, but OMG Congo was ridiculous. I have a genuinely active fear of primates, so picking up this book at all was probably my first mistake. From the back cover description, I thought I was in for a thriller about a Bigfoot-esque character. It’s not. So to the other people out there who have been scarred by Planet of the Apes, go no further.

Things this book has:

  • Talking gorillas
  • Gorillas drinking martinis
  • Sinister Japanese businessmen
  • Laser guns
  • Blue diamonds
  • Volcanoes
  • Hippos
  • Skydiving
  • Killer gorillas
  • A hot air balloon seemingly conjured out of nowhere
  • A lost city in the jungle called Zinj

I think that says it all, really.

Compared to Jurassic Park, Congo is a lot heavier on the nerdy stuff – a lot about satellites and supercomputers and other things that didn’t interest me. The really fun part about this was the wildly inaccurate predictions about the future of computing. I laughed out loud many, many times. I can’t deny that this was fun to read, but go in with low expectations.

Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy

I’m going to go literary on you here. I haven’t had a writing assignment in over 17 months now, so this feels long overdue. I just finished Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy, and I am completely in love. Atwood’s ability to read a potential future is terrifying. I can easily visualize a future in which virtual reality is so prevalent that real life is seen as a “rough, unpolished physical world” with a unique “visual allure” (167). I can guarantee if I read that passage to my sixteen-year-old sister I would not be able to get a reaction from her over the blue glow of her iPhone 5.

I want to discuss Jane Goodall and Margaret Atwood, and the role religion/hope plays in the trilogy. Starting with Jane Goodall (my numero uno feminine queen goddess role model) and Margaret Atwood. I recently read an interview with Goodall (explorer mag?) where she claimed that the one thing that separated us from any other type of animal is our ability to ask questions. I found this idea eerily echoed in Atwood’s Craker’s. Their unique lack of history (being created in a test tube) makes them easily susceptible to that which killed the cat. Jane Goodall is celebrated in Maddaddam on her feast day. On this day, the God’s Gardeners celebrate Goodall and everything she did for them and the world.

When I recently went to see Atwood speak at the public library, I wanted to ask her if she was religious, but sometimes people get touchy with those questions, so I didn’t. The theme of religion feels almost too heavy at some points throughout this trilogy. The Craker’s hero-worship Crake, who made them. The story that Toby and Jimmy tell the Craker’s is eerily similar to our stories about God. Once Crake was done clearing away the “chaos” (the majority of the human race), he went up into the clouds and now lives up there. These ideas about death are a comfort to the Craker’s, who love Crake and want to know that he is still someone alive.

On an unrelated sidenote, Margaret talked about her work with the Future Library project, which I think is amazing. You all can check out the project here: http://www.katiepaterson.org/futurelibrary/.

-A

The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake

I am over 100 pages into The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood and I cannot figure out when in comparison to Oryx and Crake it takes place. I can’t even tell if we are supposed to be able to figure this out or not.

Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy (of which Oryx and Crake is the first installment followed by The Year of the Flood) tells the story of a dystopian future in which much of humanity has been killed off by a supposedly man-made disease. Animal splices, the result of DNA mixes, run rampant.

Sidetracking, I would KILL for a rakunk. I know we are supposed to think that this future world is awful and that we as humans are bad for mixing the DNA of other animals, but when Snowman describes his childhood pet, a mix between a rat and a skunk, all I want to do is buy one. Sorry.

Anyway, Oryx and Crake follows the story of Snowman, one of the few surviving humans left after the disease has taken out anyone infected. The Year of the Flood is about Ren, a “young” trapeze artist (read stripper) and Toby. I think that the two novels are taking place at the same time, but I am not 100% sure, and it is distracting me from fully enjoying the book.

One more sidetrack, I have this problem when I read Margaret. I keep thinking her “young” characters are 10-15, and then I find out towards the end that they are closer to 30. Not sure if this is due to my extreme youth (hair flip emoji) or to Margaret’s extreme non-youth, but I wonder if I’m the only one who has this problem. Probably.

The MaddAddam Trilogy is definitely worth the read. It will leave you wondering what path we are going down as a species and whether or not we wish to continue.

-A