Module 8: The Drowned Cities

Bacigalupi, P. (2012). The Drowned Cities. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co.

Genre: Speculative fiction: science fiction, post-apocalyptic/dystopia, Earth’s future.

Book Summary: “War maggots” Mahlia and Mouse have their existence in the jungles of a war-torn future America figured out: Mahlia has apprenticed herself to a pacifist doctor and even though the villagers don’t particularly like her, she makes do. And Mouse, who saved her life once, is her faithful sidekick. That is, until a bioengineered war creature called Tool escapes his prison and ends up in Mahila and Mouse’s neck of the woods. Suddenly their life is gone: Mouse is taken by the soldiers and Mahlia escapes with Tool. From there, both friends will do what they need to survive, but perhaps the cost of  maintaining their is too high?

Impressions: This was fascinating. It took me a while to get into the book, mostly because I haven’t read Ship Breaker, but eventually I got hold of the world that Bacigalupi has built and fell into the book. It’s not a happy book though: Bacigalupi is very frank about the effects of war, and what that does to everyone: civilians, soldiers, leaders. It wasn’t a bleak, hopeless view though: Bacigalupi makes the reader care about his characters, and gives them — even Tool — a humanity that transcends the situations. I was a bit worried about 3/4 of the way through, wondering how he was going to wrap it up (and, to be fair, there is a proper sequel to this one — Tool of War — that properly finishes the story), but he managed very well. It was a satisfying ending, and while it left things open for the next story, it wraps this one up quite nicely. It’s definitely beautifully written, and it nails a lot of current issues — of violence and tribalism, especially — on the head.

Review: The reviews I read praised the world building and the action of the series, as well as Bacigalupi’s frankness when it comes to war. The staff review writes, “Beautifully written, filled with high-octane action, and featuring badly damaged but fascinating and endearing characters, this fine novel tops its predecessor and can only increase the author’s already strong reputation.”

Staff. (2012). Children’s reviews. Publisher’s Weekly. 259 (11), n.a.

Library Uses: This would go great on a “books about climate change” display, as well as a general speculative fiction display. It also needs to be in a book group; there is so much to discuss!

Readalikes:

  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness: This one is aliens rather than post-apocalyptic, but it has the same themes of tribalism, war, and understanding the “other”. Also, everyone should just read it.
  • Undertow by Michael Buckley: In this near-future, some humanoid creatures have come out of the ocean and tried to settle on land. There is tension (obviously) between them and the humans. This explores the tribalism angle as well.
  • The Fog Diver by Joel Ross: An environmental Earth future mashed with steampunk: Earth was destroyed through chemicals, which produced a “fog” that covered the world, so humans moved to the skies. Some fantastic action.
  • And, obviously, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: This is the closest read alike to The Drowned Cities, but I think Bacigalupi does what Collins was trying to do SO much better.
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Gunslinger Girl

by Lyndsay Ely
First sentence: ”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: January 2, 2018
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is a lot of violence, none overly graphic, some drinking, some off-screen sex, and a bit of mild swearing. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

In this near future scenario, the US has dissolved, through war and disease, into a loosely-formed Confederacy of North America. Not all states are part of it, but inside CONA there are communes, where those faithful to CONA (the war feels a bit like the war in Firefly; the Patriots were on the “losing” side, but they were probably right…) to live. Outside of CONA’s borders, though, anything is game. Especially in Cessation, the largest city out west.

Serendipty “Pity” Jones lives on one of those communes with her hateful father and two brothers. And when her father decides to marry her off, she runs away. Initially headed to Columba, CONA’s capital, Pity ends up, instead, in Cessation. In Casimir — the largest brothel/hotel/casino/theater in town — specifically, where she takes her mother’s guns and training, and turns them into an act.

But Casimir and Cessation aren’t everything they seem. While Pity makes a place for herself and some friends, there are pitfalls and traitors and life-threatening situations.

A combination thriller, Western, and speculative fiction,  Gunslinger Girl has it all:  action, adventure, dark undertones, romance, betrayal. I’ll admit when I began this, I wasn’t sold, but by the end, I was enthralled.

A spectacular debut.

The Countdown Conspiracy

by Katie Silvensky
First sentence: “Nearly every single person in this auditorium is wearing a T-shirt with my name emblazoned on the front.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s death, but it’s all off screen, and some mild crushes. There are also some intense situations. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’d probably not give it to the younger set, who might find it confusing.

Miranda is brilliant, especially when it comes to robotics. And so when she’s given the opportunity to apply for a Mars training program, she jumps at the chance, small as it may be. She gets in, and is off to Antarctica to train and learn with five other kids from around the world for their mission to Mars. Except things don’t go right. Her boat is attacked. The program is harder than she thought. Things are being sabotaged. And, possibly worst of all, some of the other kids are difficult to work with, and consider her a liability. It’s not at all what she expected.

So when the kids suddenly find themselves launched into space — which wasn’t supposed to happen for nine years! — the question becomes how on earth are they going to figure out how to get home?

I really enjoyed this book! There’s some good science fiction going on here: lots of science and technology, balanced out with a good plot (including a mystery: who is behind the bombings and attacks?) and some great characters. While there was more pre-space stuff than actual space stuff, it was still a lot of fun. Slivensky is a science educator and it shows; I felt that the science was both realistic and plausible and that she had done her research well. An excellent read.

Undertow

undertowby Michael Buckley
First sentence: “You can hear them coming from blocks away, a low thrum like the plucking of a bass string.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher (I think).
Content: It’s violent. There is an attempt at a sex scene, but it doesn’t get off the ground. There is some domestic abuse. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’d be wary about the 6th grade end of the scale.

In this alternate not-so-distant future, there are these humanoid creatures called the Alpha, which have come out of the ocean and onto the shores near Coney Island, sending the community — and the country — into a tailspin. The Alpha aren’t exactly like humans — they have scales and different coloring, and sword-like things coming out of their arms. It’s not been an easy adjustment for the humans in Coney Island and the surrounding area. In fact, many of them haven’t adjusted at all, choosing instead to fight the “intrusion” of the Alphas on their territory.

For Lyric and her family, the appearance of the Alpha has caused some conflict, because Lyric’s mom is one of them. Sure, she’s been “passing” for 20 years, pretty sure her people abandoned her. But, since their appearance, the other Alphas that have been passing are being targeted. They’re outcasts among their people, and they’re outcasts among the humans as well. And things are getting more complicated: the government is insisting that select Alpha attend school, which just complicates matters more. Especially since Lyric is tapped for one-on-one lessons with the Alpha prince. Fathom.

I’m not doing a very good job describing this one. I suppose it sounds weird, but the thing that struck me most, especially in this political climate, was the whole immigration deal. You could substitute Alpha for any ethnic group, and you’d have a story that’s reflective of the way America currently reacts to immigrants. Sure, it’s exaggerated, but the hate and the discrimination are there. I found it all a fascinating way to deal with the whole issue. Buckley’s also being clever with the Atlantian myths and I thought that the whole Alpha-mythos building was quite unique and clever.

As for the rest of it, it’s a fairly typical YA dystopian. Buckley’s fairly brutal with his characters, which adds a level of intensity. And, sure, there’s a romance and the ending is sufficiently open-ended to make room for the sequel. It was a clever take on this genre, and definitely a fun read.