Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Un Lun Dun

by China Mieville
Not being a huge fan of conventional fantasy, I was curious to hear of China Mieville's effort to turn its conventions inside out with his first young-adult novel, Un Lun Dun. His protagonist, Zanna, travels, along with her wisecracking friend, Deeba, into a strange, topsy-turvy London, where she finds out her destiny: she's the only one who can save this world. So far, nothing new. But, as so often happens in Un Lun Dun, things quickly turn upside-down and backwards and inside-out, leaving the prophecies in tatters and the Chosen One un-chosen. Can the quirky sidekick become the heroine she was never supposed to be? Mieville populates his bizarro London with dozens of bizarre personalities, some adorable, some ridiculous, some truly frightening. A fun and imaginative ride, with some very memorable moments.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood
Offred is a "handmaid" in a society very different from ours, but potentially only a few years away. Her only purpose in life is to bear a child for the Commander and his wife, who, like so many, can't conceive a child. Once a month, she's the center of the Ceremony, when the Commander's wife holds her and the Commander does his best to impregnate her. Offred remembers a different life, though, when she had her own name (not "of-Fred"), a loving husband and daughter, a job at the library, where she was allowed to read, to vote, to make her own decisions, travel wherever she wanted, use birth control, wear makeup, use her voice.

With The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood accomplished not only a staggering work of speculative fiction, but also a great literary thriller. It chills me to the bone, and reminds me to keep an eye on fundamentalists, no matter what their religion. Long live our hard-won bill of rights.