Tag Archives: dystopian

Tsubasa: Those With Wings

Mangaka: Natsuki TakayaTsubasa those with wings

My rating: 3.5 of 5

As one of the outcast “Nameless” (her society’s term for orphans), Kotobuki has had to make her own way in the world–which she’s done by becoming a fairly skillful thief. The one person who always seems to be able to catch her in the act is an elite member of the military by the name of Raimon. Only Raimon seems completely uninterested in arresting her; he’d rather gaze at her adoringly and maybe offer her a candy bar. Eventually, Kotobuki decides to take the high road and become an upstanding citizen who works for a living . . . if only it were that easy to get a job! Lucky her (?) Raimon decides to quit the military and become her traveling companion, providing when she can’t find work. It’s got to be love (or at least obsession).

As a huge fan of Fruits Basket, I’ve been trying to find more of Takaya-sensei’s manga to try. Tsubasa is one of her earlier works, and it shows in somewhat more cliche plotlines and characters, as well as in a slightly less mature art style. But there are a lot of things about this manga that simply scream Takaya-sensei as well: the deep, dark pasts; the sweet, innocent girl who changes everything; the unexpected romances; the insane obsessions. Really, this is quite an enjoyable shoujo sci-fi manga–best for a bit older audiences, though. Partly because of the nudity and ecchiness at parts; moreso because of characters like Raimon who have really unhealthy motives that would be really bad for younger kids to read about and imitate. I do find it interesting that, although it’s called Tsubasa, the tsubasa don’t actually become a serious focus of the story until about halfway through; until then it’s much more slice-of-life focused on Kotobuki’s job search and her growing relationship with Raimon. But I do have to say that, when they do come in, the tsubasa are one of my favorite parts of the story, especially Rikuro. And, typical of Takaya-sensei, there’s a huge cast of unexpected and interesting characters–including an unlikely gang of thieves who strangely remind me of Team Rocket! All told, I think Tsubasa: Those With Wings is a good manga for people who already like Natsuki Takaya’s writing to try–and bonus, it’s only three volumes long, so it’s a pretty quick read.

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Floodland

Author/Illustrator: Marcus SedgwickFloodland

My rating: 4 of 5

Ten-year-old Zoe lives in a world that has been overwhelmed by water. She’s never known anything else, but she knows the world wasn’t always this way. . . . And she knows it’s getting worse. A while back, as food supplies became more scarce and the small island that used to be Norwich continued to shrink, her family escaped on a ship to the larger landmass to the west. But in the confusion of the departure, Zoe got left in Norwich on her own. Now she is setting forth alone in a rowboat across the floods to find her family and a safe place to live, equipped with nothing but her father’s old compass.

Floodland is the first Sedgwick that I’ve read, and it definitely made me want to read more. It’s quite short and easy to read, making it a nice, quick read–and it’s appropriate for middle-grade readers as well as young adults (and adults). The writing style is enjoyable, and the characters and observations are interesting. There’s a good balance between the action and the more psychological aspects, which makes it much more enjoyable that it would otherwise be. Probably one of the most interesting facets of the book is when it takes place. You hear plenty about “global warming” and “protecting the planet”–but it hits you in a very different way when you hear the story from the perspective of a kid who knows nothing except a planet that’s already devastated. Plus, the flooded-earth plot choice was a really nice change from the post-apocalyptic dystopian stuff you usually see when you’re talking about ruining the earth. My one complaint was that the end seemed too perfect; I don’t think most people would react in the way Zoe did. But then, her being ten makes it more likely, and it’s nice in that it gives the story a hopeful conclusion. I guess it’s appropriate, especially considering that this is for pre-teen readers as well as YA. All in all, Floodland was a though-provoking, intriguing story that I would generally recommend to most readers.

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A Scanner Darkly

Author: Philip K. Dicka scanner darkly

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Talk about confused identities! Fred is an undercover narcotics agent living among drug users and dealers as Bob Arctor. And Bob Arctor is a drug user himself–a user of Substance D, a drug that eventually causes separation of function between the lobes of the brain. It can also cause users to be dually (or half, depending on how you look at it) aware, with each side of the brain functioning independently, unaware of what the other half is doing. So it is with Agent Fred, who is assigned to cover a group of users including Bob Arctor . . . and who is becoming less and less coherently sure that he in fact is Bob Arctor as he takes more and more of Substance D, becoming an addict in the course of doing undercover work. Of course, there is the possibility that even that was in the plans somewhere.

A Scanner Darkly was an interesting read, but I guess mostly it just wasn’t what I was expecting. This is old-school science fiction, but it doesn’t really read like sci-fi–actually, it reminds me of Steinbeck’s social commentaries more than it does, say, Verne’s steampunk sci-fi. There are certainly some science fictional elements (like suits that make your identity indiscernible), but this book is much more a commentary on the effects of drub abuse–from someone who lived through the experience, as Dick mentions in the author’s note. It was moving and horrifying but also somewhat draggy, in my personal opinion. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had liked the characters better, although they were quite well written, and the dissolution of Fred/Arctor’s identity was effectively portrayed. Also, I have to note that the random German quotations scattered throughout were a detraction from the story for me . . . because honestly, I can’t read German, and I don’t want to take the time to find a translation in the middle of reading. In all fairness, this is the first Philip Dick book I’ve read, and I’m really not familiar with his style, so I’ll probably try to find a different book of his to read before I give up on his writing . . . but I can’t say that I would particularly recommend A Scanner Darkly except for readers who like that social commentary sort of story and who don’t mind some weird sci-fi elements mixed in.

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The Infinite Sea

Author: Rick Yanceythe infinite sea

The 5th Wave, vol. 2

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Cassie and Ben have gotten their small group of survivors to temporary safety in an abandoned hotel, but they’re certain they can’t stay hidden there long. You can’t stay hidden anywhere long in a world that’s been taken over by hostile aliens inhabiting human bodies–aliens that have more tech than you can imagine and that hate the human race with an incomprehensible, unending spite. They send their best shot, Ringer, off to investigate a cave system–a potentially better hiding place, at least for a while–leaving the rest at the hotel to recover (Ben being pretty badly wounded) and hope against hope that Cassie’s alien boyfriend (long story) survived their escape and is coming to join them. But, as usual it seems, nothing goes as planned, leaving all of them in a desperate and continuing struggle for survival.

Honestly, while I generally enjoy Yancey’s writing, The Infinite Sea is a bit of a struggle for me to review. I mean, it was an exciting and engaging read, but I think I need to wait for the third volume to come out and then read all three volumes straight through together. As with The 5th Wave, the POV switches between various characters, making it a bit fragmented. Especially since the point of time also jumps back and forward a bit between characters. To complicate things even further, Yancey only rarely uses the name of the character in whose POV he’s writing, tending to use impersonal pronouns instead. Which I guess works with the whole dehumanizing theme he’s got going in the story–I really do appreciate the philosophical basis behind it–but it sure does make the reading more challenging. Also, there’s this whole Inception sort of mind games thing going on; plots within counterplots within even more evil alien counterplots. The characters don’t have a clue what’s really going on (and yes, some folks might have a good time figuring it out as they go along), but honestly the reader is often left struggling to comprehend. And (final complaint, I promise), I still find the whole Evan and Cassie thing to be a complete Twilight-type throw in that doesn’t really suit the rest of the plot . . . even though it is used to advance the plot in several instances. I still think Yancey should pick the Evan and Cassie story or the huge militarily-focused alien invasion story and stick with that one. But, in spite of all the above-listed complaints, I really did enjoy the story (even though it was sort of confusing at parts). I guess I’d just recommend approaching The Infinite Sea with caution, being prepared for a thrilling, mind-bending, intentionally fragmented piece of very dark science fiction.

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No. 6

Story by: Atsuko Asano

Art by: Hinoki Kino

In the walled utopia of No. 6, Shion has spent his childhood living the life of an ideal citizen: educated, privileged, conforming. But somewhere deep beneath the surface, Shion is not simply the obedient boy he seems, and one stormy night as he opened his window to the rain, everything changed. Because that evening brought not only the rain, but also a boy, hunted, injured, and not much older than himself–a boy being tracked by the government of No. 6 as a dangerous criminal. Shion helps the boy, who goes only by the name “Rat,” to safety, staying behind in No. 6 himself. But after that night’s encounter, something was set in motion, and neither Shion’s nor Rat’s life would ever be the same again.

No. 6 is an incredible dystopian manga in a world where dystopian stories exist ad nauseum. Truly, I’m just about sick of dystopian books, but this manga is something special. The world is brilliantly well-developed in its isolation and intentional misinformation, and the combination of Rat’s rage against the city balanced against Shion’s gradual realization of the government’s corruption is very nicely done. The characters are subtle, complex, and moving: Rat with his suave competence, his skills with all sorts of robotics and weaponry, his love of classic literature, his surprising career as an actor/singer, his external sarcasm and coldness, and his secret fragility. Shion with his baby face, his utter innocence of any sort of real life outside of No. 6’s protection, his brains, his tenderness, and his underlying instability and even cruelty. And of course, the miscellaneous other individuals who come to their aid, all painstakingly written. I think the relationship between Shion and Rat is fascinating as well–they clearly care for each other, yet there’s this level of mistrust there also, coupled with the fact that Shion loves what Rat hates: the city itself–it’s clearly a very complicated situation for them both. Kino’s treatment of the story in manga format is commendable; the characters are grippingly true to themselves, the scenery is lovely, and the manga as a whole is beautiful in spite of the often violent material. No. 6 is a dystopian/shounen ai manga that I would definitely recommend–something of a favorite of mine, actually.

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Take Me Tomorrow

Author: Shannon A. Thompson

While the world around her is definitely governed by tight rules and torn by the effects of the government’s war against the clairvoyant drug tomo, Sophie’s life is relatively stable, or so she thinks. Sure, her dad makes illegal weapons in the basement and she doesn’t know much about her friends’ past, but that’s never particularly bothered her–it’s just the way life is. Or was, until a strange, unpredictable boy with flashing green eyes rushed into her life, unsettling her emotionally and dragging her headlong into a drug war she hadn’t even know existed just a few days before.

When I read Take Me Tomorrow, I was gripped and impressed by how intense it is, not just in terms of action but also in emotional impact. This story deals with a number of difficult, even controversial, topics in a thoughtful way, while still leaving the conclusions up to the reader. The characters are vivid and thoroughly developed–I love the attention to detail that is placed into each of them. And while I’ve never been to the middle part of the United States myself, I found myself instantly picturing the location while not being overwhelmed with unnecessary description. The balance of action, angst, and romance was maintained nicely, and the pacing with which Sophie’s story unfolds is masterfully done. I would recommend Take Me Tomorrow to anyone interested in a thoughtful, exciting dystopian story.

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Shades of Grey

Author: Jasper Fforde

Eddie Russett sees red. Actually, that’s the only color he can see, placing him relatively low in the ranks of the colortocracy. Not that he questions his lot in life much . . . inquisitiveness is generally discouraged, just as living according to the Rules is, well, highly encouraged. When Eddie does start getting ideas that vary from the approved norm, he manages to get himself shipped to the outskirts of civilization on a chair census as punishment. What he finds there, and who he meets there, will change his view of the world he lives in radically–whether he’s ready to find out or not.

As I’ve stated before, I really enjoy Jasper Fforde’s writing quite a bit. Having said that, I must say that Shades of Grey is like nothing of his that I’ve ever read before. It evokes the idea of a modern 1984 or Brave New World, really. The story is full of allusions, commentary, and warnings about present-day issues, presented in the form of an engaging story. Eddie’s personality is interesting, and the world he lives in is strange and thought-provoking. Fforde unfolds his world captivatingly, throwing a mass of presumptions at the reader in the beginning, then gradually unfolding the mystery as he goes–it’s rather maddening at times, but at the same time, it works. Shades of Grey made me angry, horrified, and teary in a good way, and it made my brain think along some very atypical paths–I would recommend this for those who enjoy thought-provoking stories and who aren’t turned off by some sociopolitical commentary.

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