Tag Archives: sci fi

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

If you liked Children of Men, by PD James, (book or movie) or Never Let Me Go (2010) you will enjoy this sci-fi apocalyptic-y novel. Jessie Lamb is an idealistic sixteen year old who is living in a grim world.

It is the near future. Women are unable to have children. A virus, called MDS has infected all women in the world leaving them unable to have children. Women are able to conceive, but shortly into the pregnancy, the virus kicks in and the woman dies.

Jessie’s father works in a reproductive tech lab, where they have found a way to vaccinate stored, frozen embryos against the virus MDS, offering the only hope for  the future of humanity. These vaccinated babies will be able to reproduce and populate the earth. However, they need young women to incubate the babies. These women are impregnated and then put into comas before MDS can kill them. After the baby is born, they die.

In order for there to ever be new babies, young women need to sacrifice their own lives.

Jessie volunteers as an incubator.  Her parents refuse to support her, arguing that scientists will find a cure for MDS in the future. Jessie wants to use her life for the betterment of the future, but her friends and family see her self-sacrifice as a type of suicide and a cry for help.

The ethics around reproductive technologies interest me a great deal. I also really enjoyed thinking about the dichotomy of self-sacrifice and selfishness. Jane Rogers created an extreme foil where a life must be given for humanity to continue. Especially in light of our depleting resources and the increasing ozone hole. We are still not willing to sacrifice our lifestyles. If you need some more proof that this is true of humanity, read my interview with a friend of mine about climate justiceJessieLamb

I also enjoyed the idealism (or stupidity) of Jessie. Our culture does not have examples of this type of sacrifice. We are not used to any form of sacrifice. Jessie’s gift to humanity seems unnatural.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I was not entirely sold on the main character. Jessie was a bit flat, and too resolved in her decision. I found her unconvincing. But otherwise the story was interesting enough that I’d recommend this novel.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers was shortlisted for the 2012 Booker Prize.  Cheers!

Generation A by Douglas Coupland


Who Will Like it?

  • those who like cultural critiques
  • those who like books with little or no romance
  • people who like atypical novels, avant garde

The Plot

I just finished Generation A.

I don’t read much Coupland (why does he pronounce “cope” and not “coup”?), but I do think he is eccentric, talented and insightful. His observations on the current state of society are bang on and often take away my breath away, or pull the metaphorical rug from under my slightly shaky feet.

Despite all these amazing reasons, I don’t read Coupland often because I don’t find his writing voice compelling.

Generation A did not disappoint. It is a powerful book set in the near future about five people stung by bees around the same time, in different parts of the world. People consider this an amazing event because bees have been extinct for years

The five people are similar in their inability to connect and have meaningful relationships with those around them. They all have a general unease with a new drug, called Solon. This medication is a stress reducing drug that speeds up the perception of time. It is so addictive that once you take it, you can never come off it.

The five individuals are swept away by government officials, placed in isolation, and studied to learn why the bees have considered them special. A conspiracy unfolds involving drug corporations. The drug companies are interested because the bee-stung people do not feel a need for Solon. Their detachment and laissez-faire attitude is what the company intends Solon to do anyways. They take Serum from their brains and it’s farmed to make the ultimate Solon.  The production of Solon was the reason the bees became extinct. Thus,  the current way of Solon production could be stopped and the remaining bee population would bounce back.

I won’t say more regarding the plot.

Relevance

Does anyone else remember when that study was released about the decrease in world bee population? (click here to see the study) It was somehow related to the increase in cell phone usage and the radiation interrupting bees’ ability to communicate with each other and thus their ability to make honey and continue on with their bee lives.  It is ironic that cellphones, which are supposed to help us communicate better, are destroying bees’ ability to communicate and survive.

In Generation A, the reader gets the sense that the world is small, and it has been made small by things like cellphones and other forms of digital communication. Ironically though, the people in the book are not connecting with each other in meaningful ways. The digital world is changing how we communicate, our language, and the way we internalize our daily existence. I often find myself thinking in Facebook status language “Elisha Stam Judson… hates it when she drops her fork while eating pancakes.” It’s embarrassing, but it’s also incredibly mind-boggling. Cellphones and digital social networks are around to keep us better in touch, but maybe, like the bees, it’s interrupting with the natural way of things.

People are constantly texting. Have you intentionally spent time with someone only to have them text every five minutes? (or five seconds) It’s ironic because it interferes with your ability to connect with them. It’s not even the physical act of texting or “liking” something on Facebook that is a hindrance to connecting. I think it has something to do with attention. Our culture is changing, and very rapidly.

Coupland believes a new species is evolving.

Generation A also says some poignant things about the story of man. About our cultural narratives and our own personal narratives. If you sit down and ask people to tell a story off the top of their heads, Coupland believes common themes will develop. These are what we should unite around. The desires in our hearts.

I was taken aback by Coupland’s description of prayer as trying to make sense of the story in your head. That prayer can take you to the place where the unimportant voices are drowned out. I think there are quite a lot of unimportant voices that drown out my meaningful thoughts.

Just to warn you: there’s quite a bit of swearing in this book, one of the main character has Tourette’s Syndrome.

“Now you young twerps want a new name for your generation? Probably not, you just want jobs right? Well, the media does such tremendous favours when they call you Generation X right? Two clicks from the very end of the alphabet. I hereby declare you Generation A.  As much at the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

The Day of the Triffids – A guest review – Alan Judson

triffid, sci-fi
Seconds before triffid attack

Who would like this book?

  • people who like sci-fi, or surreal fiction
  • those who like post-apocalyptic themes mashed with 50’s social issues like feminism, sociology and secular humanism
  • botanists

Why I Chose This Book:

The Day of the Triffids by John Whyndham was an obvious choice for me, as a guest reviewer, because it would balance out all the chick-lit (actually, Elisha recommended this book to me, and she only makes brief forays into chick-lit).  A book, set in 1950s London, features a comet storm that blinds the whole world leaving them vulnerable to the Russian-designed, walking, meat-eating, plants-that-kill-people.  Exhale.

The Book:

It was written in the 50’s, and displays the new-found realization that the human race could be wiped out.   He wanders into a fine-looking, liberated woman, and they work out their escape plan.  Everyone they run into seems to think that his concerns about the triffids (the killer plants) are overblown.  They obviously didn’t read the title of the book they were in.   Can they escape the pestilence and violence in the city?  Will they help the blind, or do they have their eyes set on survival?   Reader beware – if you’ve ever felt a strange fear of leafy foliage, read no further.

Why read this book?  The subject matter is fun, but heavy at the same time.  Infotaining!  Everytime I read it, it makes me think of how fragile our society is, or how close we’ve come to self-destruction.   How fortunate that we’ve never been attacked by Soviet plants!  It is also endearing to read a narrative that, at the time, was shocking for its outward criticisms of society and social values, but now only elicits shrugs.  It is challenging things that are already tossed out the window by modern society: absolute values about family, religion and the roles of gender.

On one issue, assisted suicide, it is rather bluntly in favour, in the context of simply prolonging the lives of the blind people in the book.  He goes on several tangents about how in the new order of things, old social morals need to be tossed.  He passes by helpless people several times in the book and coldly reasons that they’re goners anyhow.

Bill Masen, a botanist that works with triffids, avoids being blinded by the comet shower (possibly from biological weapons in satellites, it is later revealed), by being stung by those lovable man-eating triffids.  One of the hazards of the job.  He meets a love interest, a woman who talks openly – for the fifties – about sex and polygamy, and the necessity of ridding themselves of social boundaries in the new world.   Wyndham almost pauses for dramatic effect when his characters say things matter-of-factly, challenging the social norms.  It’s funny what they though was shocking, but also caused me to think about our current society in a different light, and ponder how liberal we’ve become in the matter of decades.

On a purely entertainment level, though, it’s a blast.   It’s fun to imagine yourself in that spot of picking the essential items you’ll take with you from the big city before you go live off the land.   I know I’d make off with several beautiful musical instruments, silk suits and flame throwers.  Actually, the protagonist does take flame throwers with him to burn the carnivorous flora.

If you put yourself in his position, you’d be extremely depressed about all your dead friends and family, and the impossibility of giving your future children the world you knew.  Yet, our main characters endure what one critic called a cosy catastrophe.  An apocalypse-lite.  He finds a lovable woman, and has his choice of living with the “religious” society, the “militant” society, or the one the author obviously favours, the sociologically sound society.    Fortunately, for the reader, he battles disease, saves some blind people, kick some plant hiney before he saves the day.

Read it because it is simultaneously funny and thought-provoking.   And remember:  don’t fool around with nature because you’ll either end up with killer plants or an island overrun by dinosaurs.

P.S.  The 60’s-era movie-based-on-the-book is available at Hamilton Public Library, and it is hilarious.


If you liked this post, why not read some of these?

  1. Alan’s post on Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers
  2. Elisha’s post on