An immersive novel that chillingly predicts a world in which life is something to be escaped rather than experienced.

Autonomy

Houghton (Songs of Seraphina, 2015) explores the difference between living and surviving in this sci-fi thriller.

In the wake of a global climate catastrophe, a new world government re-establishes order as a single nation called the Autonomy. However, this order comes at a price, as the majority of the world’s citizens are simply considered “unit[s] of production.” Workers toil endlessly to create iNet glasses, devices that allow even the lowliest grunt to escape their lives through virtual-reality simulations. The glasses also provide access to the “Faith,” a religion that promises “points” toward salvation in exchange for worldly suffering. Rebellions rise in opposition to the government’s ever tightening control, and many citizens find themselves willing or unwilling participants in the deadly conflict. Pasco Eborgersen, a gambler with ties to the highest level of government, and Balmoral Murraine, an iNet savant from one of the poorest Sectors of the Autonomy, become unlikely allies. They learn secrets that could either save their world or destroy it and that there are people in power who would kill to see that information buried. Although the timeline of Houghton’s novel is somewhat unrealistic—the world goes from utter collapse to an Orwellian government to a rebellion within a span of roughly 30 years—the future society that the author creates is compelling. He gives ample attention to details of the new world’s structure, such as the jellyfish-and-insect-based “skaatch” that serves as the main food product and the commodified social order in which children are named by corporations. The Autonomy exists as a heightened version of the current First World/Third World system, strikingly juxtaposing the ravages of Sector 2 and 3 against the plump privilege of Sector 1. The concept of a gamified religion taps into a cultural obsession with instant gratification and validation while also emphasizing the performative nature of faith. However, Houghton’s attention to detail doesn’t overshadow the novel’s emotional resonance.

An immersive novel that chillingly predicts a world in which life is something to be escaped rather than experienced.

Pub Date: July 31, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-909845-48-0

Page Count: 468

Publisher: Kristell Ink

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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