Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Veracity

Title: Veracity
Author: Laura Bynum
Genre: Dystopian

Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication Date: January 2010
Hardcover: 376 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone

Summary: (from Goodreads)
Harper Adams was six years old in 2012 when an act of viral terrorism wiped out one-half of the country's population. Out of the ashes rose a new government, the Confederation of the Willing, dedicated to maintaining order at any cost. The populace is controlled via government-sanctioned sex and drugs, a brutal police force known as the Blue Coats, and a device called the slate, a mandatory implant that monitors every word a person speaks. To utter a Red-Listed, forbidden word is to risk physical punishment or even death.

But there are those who resist. Guided by the fabled "Book of Noah," they are determined to shake the people from their apathy and ignorance, and are prepared to start a war in the name of freedom. The newest member of this resistance is Harper -- a woman driven by memories of a daughter lost, a daughter whose very name was erased by the Red List. And she possesses a power that could make her the underground warriors' ultimate weapon -- or the instrument of their destruction.

In the tradition of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Laura Bynum has written an astonishing debut novel about a chilling, all-too-plausible future in which speech is a weapon and security comes at the highest price of all.
Review:

I have said before that I really like dystopian fiction. There is just something moving about a story that involves surviving rather then just living. Most dystopian books I’ve read have either high amounts of technology or none at all (though this isn’t always the case obviously). While books like The Inferior are appealing in their own way, there is something kind of creepy with technology driven dystopias. Maybe it’s just because I can actually envision the futures of the characters in these stories easier then I can others.

This book reminded me a lot of 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale, but instead of genetic or reproductive control the government controls speech. As the summary says, the world suffers through a deadly pandemic in 2012 and a totalitarian government comes into being as the only way to restore law and order. (If you’ve ever read or seen V for Vendetta then you can pretty much guess how well that plays out for the citizens of America.) The main way the government, called the Confederation, keeps track of its citizens is through “slates” that are implanted in every man, woman, and child. The slate is essentially a biomechanical implant that monitors every word spoken, or about to be spoken, and has the ability to shock whoever attempts to say a forbidden word. Words like “courage,” “poem,” “ego,” “freedom,” and “democracy” have been red-listed and are punishable by death.

Now whenever you have a totalitarian state there has to be a strong force to keep people in line (especially when the line is so very thin and crooked). In this story, that force is called the Blue Guard and they’re authorized by the state to rape, torture, and kill as they deem necessary. These guards have almost free rein to stop and harass anyone they want and most of them are complete psychos.

The main character of the story is Harper Adams. She was six when the world was made into something dominating and violent. She has no family except her daughter and since she is a “sentient,” someone who can see auras, she’s been forced to work for the Confederation since she was 18. This story is really about Harper’s struggle to find something better for her daughter and a way for her to find redemption for the work she’s been forced to do for the Confederation.

Beyond that I don’t want to give too much away. My only gripe with the book is the way the ending was so uneventful. Things happened much too easily and felt too disjointed for my taste. This might be because the story was written in first person, but I still found myself confused as to what was actually happening. In the end though, I still adored this book.

Like I said, this story is told in first person and has the same kind of apathetic tone as The Handmaid’s Tale. This story also goes back and forth between the present day and past memories. Even though this can be kind of annoying when authors use too heavy a hand in this regard, I thought the memories suited the story perfectly. I also really enjoyed the use of the definitions at the beginning of each chapter. Like with The Adoration of Jenna Fox, I thought it added an authenticity to the story.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

From chapter 1:
AUGUST 4, 2045, EARLY AFTERNOON.

The deeper I get into the prairie, the more I realize that what I’ve been told about the wastelands is false. The trees here are green. The crops, tall and heavy with corn. There are no black clouds threatening to drip acid onto my car, no checkpoints full of frothing police ready to execute every onerous code they see fit. I haven’t seen a Blue Coat since Wernthal. God willing, it will stay that way.

An old farmer is hitchwalking down a line of corn. I see him in my rearview mirror as a blotch of spoiled yellow. This is how our world considers the inhabitants of this land. Spoiled and decrepit, not useful. But neither are they considered clever enough to pose a threat. So they enjoy the otherwise restricted bounty of nature. A wide-open sky. Grass. Neon-free, unfettered space. I envy them this, but only so much. We live in different prisons, but in prisons nonetheless. Theirs is made up of memories of the beforetime. Mine, of concrete walls and security checkpoints, of no birdsong and no breeze.

Fewer line boards are posted alongside the roads out here. Just one every few dozen miles instead of the standard one per block. Posters of non-sexually attractive housewives blink as I drive by. Stay Happy, at mile marker 1. Stay Healthy, at mile 32. Remember the Pandemic. Mile marker 78.

Used to be something different. Honor Those Who’ve Fallen, to communicate the whole of it. But the word honor got too many people thinking. The concept sparked a small fire in those of us not quite doused out, and we began to discuss the dishonorable things required of all citizens living here, things that didn’t get printed on line boards. And so in small, quiet ceremony, in the ripping down of a hundred thousand posters, honor had the honor of being our first Red Listed word. We woke the next morning to Safety First and We Don’t Want to Go Back to the Way Things Were, Do We?

The countryside is more beautiful than I remember, even like this. Bales of trash instead of baled-up hay. Abandoned farmhouses dotting the land like weeping sores. I can’t stand to see their burnt or age-worn structures, or their insides seeping out onto the unmowed lawns. I was born in the country, as were my best memories. I won’t desecrate them by noticing these shells of civilization zipping past my car windows. In fact, I’ll go faster. It’s unlikely Blue Coats will pick me up on the way to my break site anyway. They won’t be out patrolling in the heat, in the wastelands where nothing happens. They’ll come later when the Fatherboard sees I’ve gone rogue. It will be the most excitement they’ve had in months.

Maybe they won’t be carrying guns. Not all Blue Coats get them. Most guns are reserved for the brigade lined up outside the National House like dominoes. Tin soldiers in tidy rows, they flash weaponry used to guard President and his cabinet of Ministers. Keep people from considering assassination, keep those who try anyway from achieving their goal. Guns also go to police assigned to specific jobs. Hunting down runners and the quick dispatch of terrorists.

Aside from this ignoble guard, the largely gun-free system has flourished. Fists, elbows, knees, mouths, teeth, the fleshy weapons carried by men, the ones used to inflict more intimate punishments — these broadcast an absolute and terrifying power the business end of a pistol doesn’t match. When a Blue Coat exacts a punishment, scars are left and people see them.

I try not to think about the Blue Coats and what may happen to me if I’m caught. At least I will have finally stood up.
Verdict:

I loved it. It was everything I could hope for out of a story. Sad and touching yet sweet and happy. It was great.

Rating: 9 - Damn near perfection

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