Saturday, May 05, 2007

Two Dystopias

I have to say, getting my mitts on the interlibrary loan system has been absolutely wonderful for my ability to read my favorite genre. I've read more dystopic literature in the last month than I have in the last three years. So much that I'm reading faster than I can throw up blog posts. Top it off with my newfound plan to get the company library to buy everything technical I want to read, and I'm pretty sure I never have to actually buy a book again. Woot!

The Last Integrationist is a borderline dystopia. Amazon doesn't even have a cover picture on their entry (although Jake Lamar's website does), so it's questionable as to whether it's even a book. After all, if Amazon doesn't recognize it, what the hell is it? Honestly, it 's strange. It's sort of a Ludlum thriller, crossed with a dystopia, crossed with some sort of Spike Lee movie. That may sound like a trite description, but it's accurate. I'll summarize...it's all about politics, at the highest level of the U.S. government. But there's been a constitutional convention, and a reordering of the national party system in favor of something obscenely patriotic. Now there are Drug Rehab Centers that give blacks AIDS. There's a political operative, Beedle, who looks like nothing so much as Karl Rove. There are public executions hosted by Oprah, and emceed by Arnold S. in the Lone Star Stadium in front of 60,000 frothing hicks. There's a federal youth corp that's rabid about homeland protection. There's a president who's lip synccing his speeches (329).

Wow, you might think, he's really tapped into the Republican culture of 2000-2008 and carried just a bit further. That's where it gets interesting - Lamar wrote the book in 1996. The book reads like black dystopia paranoia of the Bush administration, just 4 years before they were elected into office. However, in the end it comes across very Suzan-Lori Parks, and the (white)president is shot on Abraham Lincoln's desk by his (black) almost-vice president. You can get the summation must faster watching Park's America Play where a black man dresses up as Abraham Lincoln so black people can assassinate him. But Lamar's point isn't the same as Park's. He's more interested in exploring racial integration and the changing face of America. His hero is an anti-hero who really achieves nothing, other than to be the face of all the other characters in the book, a mixture of culture and race. He embodies the myths of black men dating white women, white women dating black men, and the realities of the perceptions that society holds in every case. Less a dystopia than social commentary, but very sly.

Divided Kingdom is also a strange candidate for a dystopia. In the future, the U.K. is divided into four separate states, based on the humours. I.e. violent people in one area, dispirited/suicidals in another area, etc. And a fifth group that just wanders between the areas and isn't even really capable of speech. The story focuses on a single individual who has decided to flee his native area and journey to a state where he can learn about his past. As a consequence, he is forced to experience the other four divisions of society (the other three humours and the neutral humour) and endure some horrific experiences. It's when he gets home, that he finds out that he's been subjected to something vaguely 1984/Brave New World in that the elite of the state has been watching him and encouraging this journey so that he might become one of the elite himself. To summarize...if you're going to be one of the people running society, it's not enough to have a personality that fits a particular mold, you have to understand everybody, and a visceral level.

Particularly strange was Rupert Thomson's use of people who were becoming meta/super-human within the story. Evolution seemed to be favoring those who were able to disappear within society, or were neutral as to humour. In that way, it reminded me of Imprint. Which in turn reminds me of Jurassic Park - that is, any organism constrained, will find a way to expand beyond those constraints. Which pisses me off. I don't like comparing literature to Jurassic Park. Crichton is a dick.

The writing was better than Lamar, although the story probably was not.

1 comment:

Taylor said...

Last Integrationsist sounds really good -- thanks for the heads up. I recently finished M.T. Anderson's "Feed", and although it's billed as young adult lit, it's one of those books which also has amazing foresight.