Friday, September 14, 2012

Exodus by Julie Bertagna

Summary:  15 year-old Maya lives on an island that grows smaller every year as the polar ice caps melt.  She and her family are forced to leave the world they know in search of a new one, a sky city made to house the refugees of diminishing land masses.  Unfortunately in the city Maya finally discovers, all refugees are not considered equal and things are more complicated than she ever imagined.  With the help of a tree-dwelling people and a collection of misfit children, Maya fights against the system for the sake of equality, survival, and the people she loves.

Dystopian Issues: Climate Change, Slavery, Class System
Part of a Series: The first book in the Exodus series
Next in Series:  Zenith
Age of Main Character: 15
Number of Pages: 337
Year of Publication: 2002
Publisher:  Young Picador

Review:  I've read Julie Bertagna's Opposite of Chocolate (not a dystopia) and I enjoyed her quirky characters and unique story.  When I read Exodus however, I did not even identify it as being written by the same author until I read Bertagna's biography.
     Bertagna is exploring an interesting subject; what will happen to the world when the polar ice caps melt and land masses shrink significantly.  If humankind does not venture out into the cosmos as suggested in several science fiction novels, movies, and tv shows, how will the human race survive?
     The answer is not all of us will.  But in Bertagna's book, some will survive on the diminished land masses and some will move to new sky cities.  Maya is a land-dweller who lives in a world of limited technology.  The internet as we know it now is in complete disarray and exists as a relic as opposed to an information superhighway.  Still Maya manages to make contact with someone who calls himself Fox, a resident of something called a sky city that no one in Maya's community has ever heard of.  When rising waters force Maya to leave her home with others from her community, they set out in search of the elusive cities.
     Other communities have faced similar problems and had similar ideas though, because when Maya reaches the city with the survivors of her community it is surrounded by a boundary designed to keep out refugees like herself.  Resourceful, determined and driven by grief however, Maya manages to find her way inside the boundary yet still outside the city itself.  I found Bertagna's descriptions of Maya's surroundings to be convoluted, but things became even more confusing when Maya discovers a gang of children without the ability to speak and then a group of tree-dwelling people who have escaped from the sky city.
    The children and the tree-dwellers have vastly unusual names that are jarring to the story.  I'm not sure why living in a tree means you have to have a weird name but it seems to be a prerequiste.  Maya finds out that not only are new people not allowed in the city, the city also takes the homeless children that live below to use for slave labour.  When one of her friends is captured and taken away, Maya feels compelled to do something about it.
     Overall, the story came off as disorganized and, at times, boring.  I didn't connect with Maya as a character, I had problems when she finally meets Fox and seems to fall in love with him overnight and I was confused while trying to understand how the sky cities ran and developed in the first place.  This is the first book in a trilogy though, so it is possible more answers are provided in later books.  The problem is this book did not make me want to read the other ones.
     What I did like wasn't even the main point of the story, it seemed to be an aside point Bertagna was trying to make about how women don't have the opportunity to achieve as much as men because they have children instead.  At the same time, women accomplish more than men because each child born is like giving birth to a living dream.  It's poetic and has truth to it in its own right, but did not contribute to the overall plot or story.
     I expected more from Bertagna, especially with such a thought-provoking preface quote, but I was very disappointed.

Real Life Dystopias:  The exploitation of people against their will is not a new thing.  North America's sordid history of selling Africans into slavery is a prime example.  Al Gore has warned us about the perils of climate change, and one only has to read a Charles Dickens' novel to know how a class system works.
     But to pick up on Bertagna's aside, another dystopia is the disparity between men and women, and the different values put on each sex's accomplishments.  Bertagna raises some good points, why aren't women valued and respected more for their ability to grow and raise the continuing generations of the human race?  And what would women be able to accomplish if they did not feel the ties and responsibilities of family?  However, where would the world be if women didn't feel such ties?

Memorable Quotes: "Now retrack to the dawn of the world's drowning.  Stand at the fragile moment before the devastation begins, and wonder.  Is this where we stand now, right here on the brink?"
     -  Exodus by Julie Bertagna, preface

     "As Broomielaw trails off into thought, Mara remembers what bothered her as she walked through the vast halls of the university, looking at the portraits of the golden names.  There were no dreamswomen.  Apart from the odd mythical figure or queen, not one of the golden names had belonged to a woman.  All the great dreamers had been men.
     Now Mara sees how it could have happened.  The women might have dreamed just as hard - as hard as Broomielaw does now - but their dreams had become all tangled up with the knit of ordinary life, with meal-making and babycare and nest-building.  Yet wasn't precious little Clayslaps more wonderful than anything dreamed up by those golden names?"
     -  Exodus by Julie Bertagna, pg 169

     "'But women grow the living dreams, the human ones,' Gorbals argues.  'A human being is the greatest creation of all.  Each of us is a new living dream.'"
     -  Exodus by Julie Bertagna, pg 175

Author Website:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

Summary:  When Jinn and Phyllis recover a bottle floating in space, they discover the written account of Ulysse Mérou, journalist from Earth.  Mérou’s tale describes travelling to a distant sun only to find an orbiting planet very similar to Earth with just one main difference.  On Soror, apes rule the planet and humans are the animals.  Mérou’s and the apes’ worlds are turned upside-down as he struggles to demonstrate his intelligence and sentience in a place where humans are hunted for sport and used for science.  With the help of chimpanzees Zira and Cornelius he just might make it off Soror and back to Earth alive.

Dystopian Issues:  Superior Nature of Man
Part of a Series:  No sequel book, but there are plenty when it comes to the movies
Next in Series:  Return to the Planet of the Apes or Rise of the Planet of the Apes movies
Age of Main Character:  He is an adult
Year of Publication:  1963
Publisher:  The edition I read was published by the Penguin Group Limited in 2001.

Review:  This is my first review (to my knowledge) of a book that has a movie franchise connected to it.  Technically, the book itself is science fiction, while the movie franchise is both dystopian and science fiction.
     In my opinion, all dystopias count as science fiction but not all science fiction can be considered dystopias.  Dystopias are versions of our world, our society, gone wrong.  In Planet of the Apes, the novel, Ulysse and his two friends travel to Soror, another world.  In that world it was perfectly normal for Apes to be the dominant species over man and so it does not technically count as a dystopia.  You have to read the whole book to understand why it made my list.
     There is great beauty in an intriguing, well-expressed idea and Boulle's book was so spell-binding that it inspired seven movies and a tv series.  Watching the original five movies released in the late sixties and the early seventies made me wish I was alive when they came out, even though they grew progressively worse in plot structure and logical storylines.  I hated Tim Burton's remake interpretation that came out in 2001, but loved The Rise of the Planet of the Apes which came out in 2011 and explained how apes grew to be verbal in the first place.
     In terms of writing style, I find Boulle to be dry and philosophical.  The plot moves slowly and the ending is suprising and unsatisfying.  But at the same time, I couldn't stop reading because I was so enamoured by his idea.  What if homosapiens are not "the kings of creation" we consider ourselves to be?  If we expect to be treated with respect and dignity, then shouldn't other species expect to be treated the same way by us as well?
     Sometimes the best way to understand our society is tell a story about a vastly different society and let readers draw their own parallels.  Boulle, whether he intended to or not, does an excellent job of this.  First by writing Planet of the Apes the book which shows us how apes would form a society like ours and how they would treat humans, and second by exploring how humans would treat apes as an increasingly sentient and verbal species through the movie series.  Boulle's work can also be viewed as a commentary on the struggle for all human kind to be considered equal.
     The next Planet of the Apes movie (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is set to come out in 2014.  Can't wait.

Real-Life Dystopias:  I love, love, love in the first and third movies when Zira explains that the medical testing the apes are doing on the humans are as wrong as humans doing medical testing on apes.  Our real-life dystopia is that advancing medical science requires animal testing.  Sometimes on animals that are more sentient than we always realise.  When the situation is twisted around so that the apes are the scientists and the humans are the test subjects, it becomes easier to see how wrong it is.  Unfortunately, at times it is a necessary evil for the sake of perfecting medical procedures and medication to save human lives.

Memorable Quotes:  "Yes, I, one of the kings of creation, started circling round my beauty; I, the ultimate achievement of millenary evolution, in front of this collection of monkeys eagerly watching me, in front of an old orang-outang dictating notes to his secretary, in front of a female chimpanzee smiling with self-satisfaction, in front of a couple of chuckling gorillas; I, a man, excusing myself on the grounds of exceptional cosmic circumstances, and persuading myself for the moment that there exist more things on the planets and in the heavens than human philosophy has ever imagined; I, Ulysse Merou, embarked like a peacock round the gorgeous Nova, on the love display."
     -  Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, pg 75

     "We were speaking french, for, as I have said, she was quicker to learn my language than I hers.  At the outset there were some difficulties of interpretation, the words 'man' and 'monkey' not evoking the same creatures for us; but this snag was quickly smoothed out.  Each time she said 'monkey,' I mentally translated 'superior being, the height of evolution.'  When she spoke about me, I knew she meant bestial creatures endowed with a certain sense of imitation and presenting a few anatomical similarities to monkeys but of an embryonic psychism and devoid of the power of thought."
     -  Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, pg 83-84

     "'Above all do be careful not to turn on passers-by or bare your teeth or scratch a trustful child who might come up and pet you.  I don't want to muzzle you but. . . .'
     She stopped short and burst out laughing.
     'Forgive me, forgive me!'  she cried.  'I keep forgetting you have a mind like a monkey."
     - Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, pg 89

Author Web Site:  Pierre Boulle died in 1994 and does not have an official web page.  So I'm including the link to his Wikipedia page instead.