Top Ten Tuesday (February 19): Favorite Dystopian Characters

Welcome to another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

I considered thinking outside the box for this week, but then my kids had a 3.5-day-weekend and we had company and I am TIRED. So instead I’m going to pick what is probably an über-popular genre, and I’m not going to go into detail on my answers, because the options for this evening are either write a curtailed post, or write nothing at all. YOU’RE WELCOME.

Here we go.

Top Ten Favorite Dystopian Characters

(Also, I understand that some of these are borderline dystopians. I’m going based on what the popular consensus is, even if I personally think some of them tread a little more in sci-fi territory).

10. ZanePretties. Did anyone else really like this character? Just me? He actually tried to figure out if there was something more outside the world of the Pretties without being pushed. Tally always needed someone forcing her hand. Zane didn’t. And he was good to her. I know I’m supposed to be all about Tally and David, and in a way, I am, but I just really liked Zane and don’t feel like he gets a lot of love.

9. Rue, The Hunger Games. I can’t talk about Rue or I’ll start crying. Such a sweet character.

8. Tris’ mom, Divergent. I’m supposed to pick Four, right? But seriously, even with her abbreviated page-time, I loved Tris’ mom. Tough, loving, self-sacrificing, forgiving. I wish more YA parents were like her. 

7. Hana, Delirium. I haven’t read her novella yet, but she was by far my favorite character in Delirium. Even more than Lena. Shhh, don’t tell anyone.

6. Prince Maxon, The Selection. For me, there is no love triangle. Maxon is the clear winner. Aspen who?

5. Manchee, The Knife of Never Letting Go. He’s a dog, and it doesn’t even matter. Best part of the book.

4. Zeke, The Immortal Rules. I think I have a soft spot for strong-yet-compassionate leader-types.

3. ChubsThe Darkest Minds. I simply adore smart, loyal friends.

2. MinhoThe Maze Runner. All of the Minho scenes are my absolute favorites.

1. Peeta MellarkThe Hunger Games. Because Peeta rocks and I don’t even care about arguments that say different.

Discussion: Name that genre! And…does it matter?

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get genre-burned. I’ll pick up a book, thinking it’s one thing, and then be disappointed when it turns out to be something else. It’s not that the something else isn’t good, or even that I didn’t like the book. It’s that it wasn’t what I was expecting. And while I sometimes welcome the unexpected, like with a juicy plot twist, I find myself wishing sometimes that the book world as a whole — bookstores, bloggers, even authors sometimes — would try to be a tad more accurate with genre labeling.

Also, let me just throw this out there: Young Adult is not a genre. Nor is Middle Grade, Adult, or New Adult. Those are audiences. They encompass the age demographic a book is targeting. But they don’t tell you a thing about what the book is about, other than the relative age of the characters (give or take a few decades, in the case of Adult).

So let’s talk just a minute about genres, what defines them, and which ones tend to have an identity crisis.

These are highlights from the Goodreads definitions. Sometimes it’s just easier than trying to type it all out myself.

FantasyFantasy is a genre that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. Fantasy is generally distinguished from science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of technological and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three.

Science FictionScience fiction is a broad genre of fiction that often involves speculations based on current or future science or technology. Science fiction differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation).

DystopianDystopia is a form of literature that explores social and political structures. It is a creation of a nightmare world – unlike its opposite, Utopia, which is an ideal world. Dystopia is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. It often features different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions, and a state of constant warfare or violence. Many novels combine both Dystopia and Utopia, often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take in its choices, ending up with one of the two possible futures.

RomanceAccording to the Romance Writers of America, “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.” Both the conflict and the climax of the novel should be directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship, although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters’ romantic love.

Historical FictionHistorical fiction presents a story set in the past, often during a significant time period. In historical fiction, the time period is an important part of the setting and often of the story itself. Historical fiction may include fictional characters, well-known historical figures or a mixture of the two.

HorrorHorror fiction is fiction in any medium intended to scare, unsettle, or horrify the audience. Historically, the cause of the “horror” experience has often been the intrusion of a supernatural element into everyday human experience. Since the 1960s, any work of fiction with a morbid, gruesome, surreal, or exceptionally suspenseful or frightening theme has come to be called “horror”.

ContemporaryContemporary literature is literature with its setting generally after World War II.

ParanormalParanormal books involve unusual experiences that lack a scientific explanation. Some popular subjects in paranormal books are supernatural creatures, ESP, clairvoyance, ghosts, UFOs, telepathy, and psychics.

SteampunkSteampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date.

These are just some of the biggies. There’s tons of genres and subgenres out there, and often authors like to mash them up. For example, romance can be incorporated into nearly all of these genres, which gives you Historical Romance, Paranormal Romance, etc. I think one of the reasons that genres get so muddled is that they’re not mutually exclusive at all. Contemporary is anything that takes place after World War II? Well, that could encompass pretty much everything (except Historical), couldn’t it? And obviously there’s tons of crossover between Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror/Paranormal.

I think the problem happens when we get these main categories confused.  I think the problem is twofold:

1) Certain genres are really popular, and everyone wants their book (or their client’s book, or their friend’s book) to be the next Big Thing. So they say it fits the genre, when in reality, it doesn’t. (I’m looking at you, Dystopian Fiction.)

2) Lots of books are really hard to classify, because the authors have mixed a bunch of genres together in a delicious cocktail of imagination. It’s a bit more understandable how these get confused.

So what’s the trick in figuring out how to classify what you’re reading? Just ask yourself a few questions:

1) What’s the setting? Is it past, present, future, or a made-up world? Is it based in reality, or could it plausibly happen in our reality, or is it in no way related to our reality? Does magic factor into it? Science? Is it based on a historical event that actually happened, or a historical event that might have happened if things were different?

2) If it is the future, what shaped the world? Was it a cataclysmic event? Government conspiracy? Aliens? Magic? Technological advancement? Just because it’s the future doesn’t automatically make it sci-fi or dystopian or post-apocalyptic. Look at why the world is the way it is, and that’s a big clue.

3) What’s the conflict? Is it about whether or not Jim and Sally will get together, or is it about whether or not Jim will save Sally’s a ghost, or is it about whether or not Jim will discover that he’s really a prince and the only one who can free Sally from the dragon? Granted, Jim and Sally may get together in all of these scenarios, but it’s only the main conflict in one of them.

Am I alone in caring about this? I’m not sure. Maybe you don’t care how something’s labeled; a good book is a good book. So what if you were expecting dystopian and got sci-fi instead? Or you wanted steampunk but wound up reading historical fiction? What’s the big deal?

But if you’re like me, it’s kind of like ice cream flavors. If I’m in the mood for chocolate and I get strawberry, I’m going to be disappointed. I like strawberry. Sometimes, all I want in the whole world is strawberry. But if I’m in the mood for chocolate, strawberry won’t cut it.

Here’s some examples of books I’ve seen miscategorized (a lot):

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron. I’ve heard this book described as Steampunk and Paranormal, but really it’s just Historical Fiction. The automatons in the story are things that actually existed during that time period (you can ask Sharon. It’s fascinating), and there’s no supernatural elements that defy scientific explanation.

What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang. This one always gets called Dystopian or Sci-Fi. But really, if you look close, it’s neither. It’s a modern alternate reality. So really, it doesn’t fit into any of the above categories. Broadly, it can go under the Speculative Fiction umbrella, but none of the other terms really fit. So there’s really little wonder why bookstores want to label it as something else.

Defiance by C.J. Redwine. This book is a cornucopia of so many genres, it’s easy to see why people can’t seem to label it. I’ve actually had a few discussions with C.J. about what to call this book, and even she is at a bit of a loss. I’ve heard it called Steampunk, Dystopian, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi. It’s marketed as Fantasy Adventure, but there’s no magic (although there is a blind wingless subterranean dragon). What it actually is, I believe, is a Post-Apocalyptic Adventure. I think.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. I always see this book on the Horror shelf, and it’s just not. It’s not designed to scare or horrify. It’s about magical powers and adventure. It’s Fantasy.

How about you? Do you long to sneak into bookstores and reshelve the books to more accurately reflect what’s in them? Or do you figure, hey, I don’t care why someone picked up the book, as long as they’re reading it? What books do you see commonly misclassified, and do you care? 

Review: Glitch by Heather Anastasiu

Glitch is the first book in a new sci-fi dystopian trilogy by Heather Anastasiu. I received it as a digital review copy from NetGalley.

Plot

Set over a hundred years in the future, Zoe lives in the Community, where humans have been implanted with technology to rid them of their emotions and dull their senses. Logic and duty reign supreme, and the population is kept calm and unified by a constant connection to the Link network.

However, recently Zoe has been “glitching.” Her connection to the Link has turned sporadic, and she has started experiencing emotions. Initially terrified, she contemplates turning herself into the Regulators to be repaired. But the more emotion she experiences, she less sure she is that she wants to be repaired.

Her situation is further complicated when she meets two more “glitchers.” One, Adrien, is a a member of the Resistance, currently working undercover in the Community to find and protect other glitchers. The other, Max, is an association from school who has very different ideas about what the glitching means for Zoe and the Community.

Additionally, glitchers’ brains have to rewire themselves to get around the Community tech,  and sometimes — like in the cases of Zoe, Max and Adrien — this rewiring leads them to develop unique and unprecedented new powers. Powers like telekinesis and shape-shifting.

Now the three of them must work together to keep themselves out of the hands of the Regulators. If they are discovered, it could mean deactivation…or worse.

My Thoughts:

Glitch is a fun, fast-paced cross between sci-fi, dystopian, and comic books. At times, it really feels like a bit of a grab-bag of pop culture. The law against emotion is reminiscent of Delirium. The superpowers-as-the-next-step-in-human-evolution plot reeks of X-Men. The villain is a hybrid of baddies from Uglies and Mockingjay. And then of course there’s the ubiquitous love triangle, which could remind you of the Twilight saga, or, you know, almost every YA book written in the last few years.

So yes, it’s somewhat formulaic. But the characters and the way they react to their world are unique, and again I must reiterate: there really are no new ideas in books. Just variations on tried and true themes. So does it bother me that Glitch reminded me of at least 5 other stories that I enjoyed? No.

Taken on its own merits, Glitch was a really enjoyable read. The pacing is quick and there’s not a ton of world-building, but it’s direct and understandable. I liked Zoe fine, although I liked Adrien more (despite his frequent and annoying use of future-expletives “cracking” and “shunting”). They jumped quickly from one perilous situation to another, with very little down time, making the reading experience akin to watching an action movie.

I hated Max, and probably my biggest complaint with the book  was the fact that Zoe cared so much about him. He was controlling, manipulative and petty. I kept waiting for the book to peel back a layer of his character that would reveal him to be someone I should care about — at all — but every time we learned something about him, it just made me dislike him more. I hope the “love triangle” aspect of the story gets kicked to the curb immediately in the next book.

I found myself vacillating between thinking the characters were behaving in a way that makes sense in a world with no emotions, and thinking there is no way they would act like this if they had no previous experience with emotions. It must have been a hard line to walk in the writing (it would have gotten old, really quickly, for Zoe to have been shocked and confused every time she felt something new, and to never have a name for what she was feeling), but sometimes it just seemed a little odd that she knew exactly what she was feeling.

For example, she seems to have no trouble identifying when she feels angry, or scared, or sad. But she is completely flummoxed when it comes to her feelings of infatuation and friendship. Granted, those are more complex feelings, but the fact that she’s able to so quickly put a name to her negative emotions while being utterly baffled by the positive ones is a bit contradictory.

The superpowers were fun, albeit not explained very well. We’re meant to understand that if a brain can rewire itself to glitch, then it can also rewire itself to have superpowers. And hopefully, you can accept that at face value, because that’s all the explanation we’re given. But in the world of superheroes, suspension of disbelief is a must (after all, other superhero origin stories include a radioactive spider bite, genetic mutation, secret ooze, and accidental exposure to a gamma bomb).

Overall, I’d recommend Glitch to sci-fi and dystopian fans looking for a quick and exciting read with some comic-y cheesiness thrown in for good measure. It’s not going to inspire deep thoughts about the nature of the universe, but it would make a pretty neat Michael Bay movie.

Content guide: contains some violence and sexual content.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 28)

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey to help us keep tabs on our reading goals for the week, and to also help us discover new books.

Also, Happy Memorial Day! My heartfelt thanks goes out to all the men and women who have fought or are currently fighting for my family’s freedom and safety. Additional thanks if you have or have had friends or family in the armed services.

So this is week 2 of my Dystopiaganza! I actually mostly finished my books from last week – only exception is I still need to finish The Knife of Never Letting Go (which I’m now thinking is not actually a dystopian…but I started it, and it’s interesting, so now I need to finish it). So that will happen this week.

In addition, this week I’m planning to tackle:

The Selection by Kiera Cass. After finishing The Maze Runner, which was like 400 pages of pure adrenaline, a pretty and romantic dystopian sounds very refreshing.

And, if I can get them in my possession, I would also like to read:

Starters by Lissa Price. I’ve got to be honest – this cover is not doing a thing for me. But I’ve heard the book is great, in spite of the bad cover.

Partials by Dan Wells. I’ve had this book described to me as Hunger Games meets Battlestar Galactica, and since those are two of my favorite things, I’ve been anxious to read this one for a while.

Only problem is, I don’t actually have either of those last two books in my possession…yet. I am hoping to acquire them both this week, but that is dependent on money and stuff, since my library has pretty much nothing in the New Releases category.

I’ll also be squeezing in:

Suffocate by S.R. Johannes. This is just a novelette, so it should go pretty fast, and it sounds like a really fun little read.

Happy Monday everyone! What are you reading this week?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 21)

Welcome to another week of It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? hosted by Book Journey: the part of the week where I set ridiculously lofty goals for myself that I nearly always fail to achieve. But that doesn’t stop me from setting the bar high, because it would seem I am bad at learning my lesson. Speaking of which…

Guys, I have a confession to make.

I failed miserably last week. Failed. With a capital F-A-I-L.

I set out to read at least four books. I read one. ONE. Uno. The Book Thief was just a much heavier read than I was anticipating, and it swallowed my week. Plus, of course, life kept getting in the way. I went to an author event. I saw The Avengers. There were even more birthday parties (seriously, were all the children in my kids’ classes born in April and May?)

But instead of moving all of last week’s reads to this week, I’m changing it up. I’ve been asked to do a guest post on my friend Kelly’s blog in a couple weeks about dystopian books. And to prepare, I need to read some more dystopians. I’ve read some, but I need to read more. I know there’s no way I can read all the dystopians in two weeks, but I can at least put a bigger dent in them.

First off, I have to finish Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore. That will probably happen today, and I’m excited to announce that Shannon (who is ridiculously nice, FYI) has also agreed to an author interview sometime in the very near future when I can get my act together. So be on the lookout for that!

Then, TWO WEEKS OF DYSTOPIAN FUN. I may need a reality check when this is all over, people. On the docket for this week:

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi. I’m so pumped. I’ve been itching to read this one for months.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. I honestly have no idea what I’m getting into with this one, but I’ve heard great things.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Again, heard great things. Again, so pumped.

The Glimpse by Claire Merle. There aren’t an abundance of reviews out yet for this one, as it’s a June 2012 release, and what I’ve read so far have been severely mixed. Some love it, some vehemently hate it. So this one could be interesting. We’ll see.

I am banking on the fact that YA dystopians tend to go pretty fast. Plus, I do not have ALL THE ACTIVITIES planned for this week. Although my children do finish school tomorrow, which means the second half of my week is going to be kid-filled and chaotic. I’m hoping I can somehow squeeze in some reading around….that.

I need to get through these this week though, because I have some more potentially awesome dystopians planned for next week!

And yes, I know I’m setting myself up for some minor frustration by reading only book 1 of a bunch of trilogies. But a girl can only fit so much into two weeks. Books 2 and 3 can wait. I hope.

Off I go to mess with my sense of reality.