Category Archives: dystopias

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

I read the first book of the Red Rising series, Red Rising, by Pierce Brown. It is young adult, dystopian, science fiction. It is about Darrow, a miner in the Red caste who was proud to be sacrificing for the good of humanity, but eventually realizes that Reds are really just slaves.

It starts out a little slow, but at about 1/3 in, it became very captivating. I enjoyed the world, caste system, and the characters. Although I enjoyed the story and wondered “what next,” I was never worried about Darrow – I did worry about other characters. I was willing to suspend belief on the results from his medical transformation, but some may not be able to.

I also really enjoyed the references to other books:

  •  “So this kid is what? A predestined Alexander? A Caesar? A Genghis? A Wiggin? I ask.” (I assume this is an Ender’s Game reference)
  • In the third book one of the ship names is Dejah Thoris (I assume this is from the princess in the Warlord of Mars books)

Availability: COSMOS,
Review Submitted by: Andy Ashenfelter
Rating: Highly Recommended (with the caveat that it is YA, so not for everyone)
Challenge: A book with a color in the title

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

Watchmen coverI’ll admit that action comics aren’t exactly my cup of tea. I usually find them to be a bit shallow, especially considering characters that are not cis straight white men. But with Watchmen, there is clearly an attempt to escape the banality of the average action comic, with themes of fate, nuclear war, and the justice system. I was particularly fond of the questions it raised about whether or not humanity ought to be saved. Questions such as that are particularly important in our current political climate. In that sense, Watchmen is a profound graphic novel that remains relevant across decades.

However, Moore’s characters tend to ramble over these questions. One of the main rules of writing dialogue is to keep it sharp and to avoid letting your characters talk for paragraphs on end. It can be boring, and I often find myself skimming over dialogue-heavy moments in both novels and especially in graphic novels. Seriously, show, don’t tell. In the moments where Alan Moore chills out with his dialogue, Dave Gibbons’s art shines in its storytelling. But, one thing that I couldn’t quite get over in this graphic novel was the blatant sexism towards the female characters. Silk Spectre and most other female characters in Watchmen are not allowed to have agency outside of the men they exist around. Perhaps this is because it is often assumed that women are not the main audience of action comics, but I don’t think that’s a good excuse. Proceed with caution.

Availability:  USMAI, COSMOS, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Kimberly Boenig
Rating: Recommended with Reservations
Challenge: Book with a one world title

Snowpiercer by Lob Rochette

Snowpiercer cover

I loved Snowpiercer the movie, and so when I found out there was an original source material, I had to read it. The film is fantastic, and it has one of my favorite Hollywood Chrises in it, so I still recommend it. But I can’t say the same for the graphic novel it is based on.

Let me explain. The premise of Snowpiercer is still very compelling. There is a boiled down version of classism through the back vs front of the never-stopping train. The surrounding cold wastelands are pretty terrifying. Snowpiercer at times feels like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, especially with the ominous repetition of a narrator’s voice in the comic. So those things are pretty positive.

However, I took great issue with the treatment of women in this comic. I get it, post-apocalyptic life is not ideal for either sex. But there is only one female character beyond a simple prostitute, and within a few pages of meeting the male lead, they make out. Nothing in their conversation warranted this. They just introduce each other, yell a little, and then kiss. Great. This happens again when they mess with some of their guards, which works a bit better, since you get a sense that they have bonded a little over their shared experience. Then, later on, they find each other after being separated and have sex. This could work. I’ve seen it work in other pieces of media before. But the major failing of Snowpiercer is that none of their sexual attraction feels warranted. It just feels like the author thought to himself, here is a boy, here is a girl, now kiss. This nagged at me for the rest of the novel and kind of ruined it for me. I think I’d rather have no women in a comic than one who just exists to provide a sexual escape for the male.

I’m still not sure. Maybe I will enjoy the rest of the series more?

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Kimberly Boenig
Rating: Not Recommended
Challenge: Book to film; translated book

Gold Fame Citrus by Clair Vaye Watkins

Gold Fame Citrus

I downloaded Gold Fame Citrus (hereafter GFC) after listening to an EXCELLENT podcast on climate change and literature from On the Media called “Apocalypse, Now.” That’s also were we found Borne. Unlike so much of cli-fi (fiction about the future of climate change on earth), GFC eschews the eschatological lingo of “the flood” [see Atwood’s The Year of the Flood or Waterworld or Robinson’s New York 2140] for the language of desiccation and desertification. In GFC Southern California– and much of the US Southwest– has turned into a massive dune sea called “The Amargosa.” It is in Watkins imaginative descriptions of the Amargosa that this book shines. Like Mord in Vandemeer’s Borne, the Amargosa, while created by human action, is a wild and almost living thing that exerts its influence and even desires without our full understanding or ability to compel. The Amargosa, mirage-like, shimmers into and out of focus and understanding across the short novel’s pages.

Less compelling, from my point of view, are any of the characters in the book. There’s a good bit of old fashioned US Southwest cult fiction in this book, and that’s nice. But the protagonist, who irked me to the point I can’t remember her name right now, is HARD to get behind. My mom tells me this was the point, and that “she’s just a typical millennial.” Maybe my mom has a point, and I am to close to the myopic, selfish, lazy millennial stereotype myself to grok all of that.

Recommend… with a glass of water nearby.

Availability: COSMOS (Print & Audio) USMAI (Print)
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: A book with a color in the title.

Borne by Jeff Vandemeer read by Bahni Turpin


Go read some Vandemeer– but I’d say start with either The City of Saints and Madmen or his Area X trilogy before Borne (personal preference). But Borne is good and typical Vandemeer– fascinating, creepy, hybridized sci-fi fantasy realism that grips you until there’s nothing left to read. Or listen to, as was the case a few weeks ago while Kaitlyn and I were cruising past the endless fields of Canola is Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Borne is the story of a climate and GMO destroyed future where all kinds of discarded “biotech”– organisms made by a Monsanto-esque company and discarded in a poor city, run amok. Chief among the biotech (and the most interesting character in the story) is Mord, a colossus of a bear that can fly and commands the fear and respect of all the city’s inhabitants. Mord is a capricious and unknowable god that tramples on the grapes of city life without knowable rhyme or reason. Rachel, the stories protagonist, scavenges salvage from Mord’s robe-thick hairs that catch and carry up small bits of destruction as he roams the city. And in Mord’s fur Rachel finds Borne.

Rachel, Borne, and even the bear-sounding Mord are brought to life by Bahni Turpin’s excellent narration. Kaitlyn and I try to imitate her Borne voice on the regular, and we’re getting better at it. You should listen to this eerie and well-executed sci-fi and try for yourself.

Availability: COSMOS (Print & Audio)
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017

Four: A Divergent Story Collection by Veronica Roth

It took me a little while to decide on a number book …. 2061 (it had been too long since I read the first two), one fish, two fish (seemed a little too short), any Stephanie Plum book (could not remember which ones that I had read). I enjoyed the Divergent series of books and I was curious as to why there was another book, so Four: A Divergent Story Collection seemed like the best choice.

The book is divided into four main chapters (maybe they are short stories) and there are also three “scenes”. The first three chapters take place before Divergent and the fourth (as well as the scenes which are just scenes from the Divergent book told from Four’s perspective) take place during Divergent. Four should be read fourth even though it starts before the first book since I think it would take away some of the surprise. It is the same world, same overall plot, and it just adds a slight bit of background and point of view from Four – I don’t think it really adds to the overall story and it doesn’t really have the same discovery that you enjoyed while reading Divergent.

For huge fans, it is probably great as another fix, I found it enjoyable but I don’t think it added to the series, so … recommended. Note – I highly recommend Divergent.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Andy Ashenfelter
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: A book with a number in the title.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm

I devoured this short novel (or “a fairy story,” as described in the subtitle) on a recent Saturday. Without knowing too much about the allegorical elements of the Russian Revolution, this book is a bracing read about power and authority run amok. The unbearable tension rises from the setting of a bucolic farm populated by sentient, communicative animals (like your favorite Disney film) and its subject matter. To see a totalitarian regime emerge in this setting — to see tyrants amassing power and wealth at the expense of other, less sophisticated denizens — struck a chord in this current moment. Orwell charges the reader with the sense of injustice and unfairness of it all (“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”). This time around, I also thought a lot about the use of power and how that power is explained to others. What an incredible book.

Availability: USMAI, SMCM, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating: Must Read