July 30, 2006

Welcome to the World of Tomorrow...

...and boy, doesn't it suck?!

I've been absent a while, and for that I apologize. But I'm back with a couple of futuristic, dystopian adventure novels, both with male protagonists.

Gary Paulsen isn't exactly a name you'd associate with futuristic adventure, but in The White Fox Chronicles, he's brought his talent for writing gritty, down-to-earth real-life adventure into the world of 2057, where war has so weakened the U.S. that it has been taken over by the Confederation of Consolidated Republics. The CCR, a group of vaguely Nazi-fascist-Communist baddies, have enslaved most American citizens and put them into prison camps. Only a few rebel outposts and well-hidden U.S. Army bases remain, fighting for the American cause.

Cody Pierce, also known as the White Fox, is the oldest member of the children's barracks in his prison camp, somewhere in the Southwest. He manages to escape, freeing a political prisoner along with himself; but now the CCR wants to hunt him down. He has to use his cunning and bravery to survive, and to tackle his ultimate goal of freeing the other children of the prison camp. Paulsen's talent for writing clear, unadorned prose and for creating a very solid world of wilderness serve him well in this project--it's not a novel in which internal events take precedence, but rather one in which the adventure is the focus. This is a fast-paced action novel, tightly written and exciting.

Pete Hautman's newest novel Rash also takes place in a futuristic world, this one a little more 1984-ish and restrictive. Imagine what would happen to American society if our litigiousness and our obsession with safety and order were taken to an extreme degree. In Hautman's novel, which takes place seventy years in the future, nobody can walk around outside without a safety helmet, and something like a quarter of the population is imprisoned in corporate work camps for minor infractions such as insulting someone in public or inadvertently injuring someone.

Bo Marsten has let his temper get the better of him for the third time, attempting to punch the annoying Karlohs Mink, who seems to be trying to steal his girlfriend. Three strikes, though, and he's out--to a prison work camp where he's put on a production line making pizzas sixteen hours a day and forced to participate in highly illegal football games. Not to mention that the artificial intelligence bot he created for a school project seems to be evolving from a simple beanie-wearing monkey and has tracked him to his prison in the Arctic tundra.

It's an interesting world Hautman has created, funny and detailed. It certainly provokes the reader into thinking about what would happen if we let certain social tendencies run amuck, though in that respect it is a tad moralistic. On the other hand there's a lot more sardonic humor in this one than in Paulsen's, which is a fairly straightforward adventure, and humor does a lot towards tempering the "this-could-happen-to-you" tone. However, Hautman's characters aren't quite as developed--I had a little trouble envisioning Bo as a cohesive personality, and he had a surprisingly massive vocabulary for a sixteen-year-old thug. Still, it was an enjoyable and quick read. These are two guy books I'd definitely recommend.


tanita s. davis said...

OOH! I just got RASH!
Hadn't heard of the other yet; admittedly, my fake-adult self still has trouble picking up novels with sort of cartoon-esque covers, but it looks interesting, and weirdly historical.

a. fortis said...

It's funny, but the cartoon-esque cover is what drew me in; then I saw Gary Paulsen's name at the top and thought, WHAAA?

I was recommended Pete Hautman's books by someone at the Welsh course who is a writer from Minnesota, and is friends with him. Always fun to get personal recommendations!