Tag Archives: utopian

Scythe

Author: Neal Shustermanscythe

Arc of a Scythe, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

In a world where all the needs of humanity are met, where even death is reversible, Scythes stand apart as essentially the only remaining source of true death. Established as a sacred trust to ensure that the booming and aging population does not completely overrun the earth and exhaust its resources, Scythes kill–or “glean” as they call it–although not nearly enough to mimic the effects of normal death in the past. One such Scythe, Faraday, has chosen to take on not one but two apprentices, in opposition to the traditions of the Scythedom. But the other Scythes turn his decision against him, deciding that only one of his apprentices will survive the apprenticeship, killing the other apprentice. Scythe apprentices Citra and Rowan will not readily bend to this edict, however, regardless of the pressure put upon them–particularly considering the feelings they have for one another.

I know all the premises of Scythe sound really weird and dark and complicated–and they are. A huge chunk of this book is set up and world building and background, which is completely necessary to understand the story as it develops. But Neal Shusterman is such an incredible author that the background doesn’t feel like an info dump at all; rather it’s interwoven as a part of the story such that you don’t even realize you’re being fed these huge chunks of backstory. As for the premise, strange as it is, it works remarkably well and allows the author to focus in on several interesting philosophical and psychological points. In this world, humanity really wants for nothing. Death–however much focus may be put on it due to the Scythes’ part in the story–is incredibly unlikely for any given individual within the next century or so. Even apparent age can be turned back so that a centenarian can appear (and feel) twenty again. In this state, Shusterman draws attention to the stagnation that occurs when people don’t have anything to struggle for, any clock to race against. On the other side of society, he brings in some interesting observations regarding the sort of people who would be chosen to be Scythes–and the effect that such a horrendous job would have on those people. Add to all the interesting world building some absolutely stellar characters and an intense, rather horrifying plot, and you’ve got an incredible book. I would highly recommend Scythe, although I would also caution a certain level of reader maturity due to the violent focus of the story at times. I’m definitely looking forward to the next volume in this set!

As an aside, is the cover of the book not just fabulous?!

 

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Harmony

Author: Project Itoh/Translator: Alexander O. Smith

Tuan Kirie lives in what many would consider a perfect world. Disease and illness have been all but eradicated. People are sweet and nice to each other all the time. In general, negative experiences are avoided at all costs, and exposure to anything negative is immediately treated with extensive therapy. Tuan hates it. Turns out, she’s not alone. After meeting Miach Mihie, rebel leader extraordinaire, and Cian Reikado, the seemingly-quiet follower, Tuan quickly forms a close connection with them. Of course, their bonds are formed from a mutual desire to buck the system that seeks to smother them to death in kindness–even if it means dying to escape the system.

Harmony was quite an experience to read. I’ve read numerous utopia-gone-wrong sorts of stories before, but never one that took the story on quite this tack. It is definitely about what happens when you let fear govern society–to the point that you’re willing to give up all individuality and privacy to attain at least an appearance of safety. But it’s not so much a “big brother” sort of story as it is a story about what people are capable of doing to each other on a more horizontal level. I really don’t agree with all the conclusions the story seemed to come to, but I did find it thought-inspiring. More than anything, I found Tuan’s story to be a lonely, tragic one. Still, there’s a nice sci-fi/mystery element too, which was interesting. I found the setup–as files with emtl (emotion-in-text markup language) that are pulled from Tuan’s experiences–to be unique and engaging, if a bit odd to get used to at first. On the whole, I found Harmony to be a well-written, thoughtful story that I was glad to have read although it left me pensive.

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