satire

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Date read: 10.29.2009
Read from: Coyote Wild (Aug. 2008 issue)
Reviewer: Emera

Very vaguely following in our theme of fairy tales for December, “An Old-Fashioned Unicorn’s Guide…” is a dryly funny parody of fantasy romance and quest tropes, both old and new. Call it a PG-13 offering for fans of Patricia C. Wrede and Gail Carson Levine:

“Your principles disgust me,” Brianna murmured, entwined with Fernando’s manly form. “No matter how muscular your thighs, I will never be yours!”

She proved this by sealing her mouth against Fernando’s in a passionate yet distinctly defiant kiss. They toppled into some conveniently-placed ferns.

“Rowena,” Ethel [the unicorn] said in a dark voice. “Aren’t you going to do something about that?”

Rowena [the other unicorn] looked up from the ferns, which she was chewing thoughtfully. “Have fun, kids!” she called. “Stay safe!”

Unfortunately, it gets far too serious and sentimental for its own good in the end, succumbing to a whole ‘nother set of clichés, but overall it’s terribly amusing.

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Sarah Rees Brennan

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Date read: 4.29.08
Read from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

As the world economy crashes and the majority of the human race begins to plunge to its end, half a dozen oblivious individuals  make their way aboard a luxury cruise liner. The ship will indeed reach its ultimate destination – the Galápagos Islands – but rather than enjoying the “Nature Cruise of the Century,” its passengers will instead become the progenitors of a new humanity.

I felt a little foolish reading Galápagos since it’s heavily interwoven with references to other works in Vonnegut’s canon, in particular referencing Slaughterhouse-5 stylistically, when the only other Vonnegut novel I’ve read to date is Cat’s Cradle. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, which, in typical Vonnegut style, is a loopy, frightening, and brilliant satire that manages to be utterly compelling sci-fi without necessarily hewing all that closely to little things like scientific reality.

The narrative is executed with almost dizzying meta-playfulness (the meta aspect actually being explained by events later in the book), jumping from character to character while variously concealing, foreshadowing, and fragmenting the events of the plot. And though I sometimes find it hard to actually care about the characters in satires, I found the brittle, desperate cast of Galápagos strangely lovable. Much of this is thanks to Vonnegut’s tone, which is sad, funny, bitter, and loving in a way that makes you suspect he half-regrets loving anyone in the first place, but he can’t help himself, either.

Both novels of Vonnegut’s that I’ve read have a unique perspective on the absurdity of human life – both times, I’ve gotten a sense of actions that are simultaneously tiny and monumental, meaningless and all-important, cascading across a vastly bleak landscape. Here, Vonnegut asks the question of whether humanity will survive once we’ve done our best (unintentionally or otherwise) to destroy it – and if so, in what shape. And would the planet be losing anything anyway, if humanity as we see it now were to disappear? Vonnegut doesn’t quite say yes or no, which is one of the aspects of Galápagos that most make it worth reading.

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Kurt Vonnegut

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Date Read: 7.05.06
Book From: Borrowed from Kathy
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

A culling song is a song Africans used to sing to people about to die to ease the suffering of passing. However, one particular culling song is able to kill instantly upon being heard. A reporter investigating infant deaths discovers that by each infant’s death crib is a poem book opened to a culling song on page 27. He takes it upon himself to rid the evil and is determined to destroy all copies of the book.

Review

Lullaby has terribly interesting origins. Apparently,  Palahniuk’s father, Fred Palahniuk, and his girlfriend had been murdered by a man named Dale Shackleford in 1999. Palahniuk was asked to be part of the capital punishment decision, and this prompted him to start working on Lullaby, a novel very much centered on death. Shackleford was ultimately sentenced to death, and Palahniuk was said to have struggled very much with the decision.

Initially, I was incredibly excited to read this based on the summary. I mean, doesn’t it just sound so hauntingly dark and magical? And with an amazing horror premise to boot? The exposition was gripping, intense, and extremely interesting, but of course, weird. Lullaby is written in the signature Palahniuk prose– hard, gritty, a stop-and-go that is slightly nauseating. But as the book progressed, I grew more and more disappointed as the story of the book simply did not call for this type of prose. The story was still there, but it seemed so scattered halfway in.

Instead of experiencing horrible sucking immersion, I ended up plodding along noncommittally.  I think Lullaby definitely needed dark and lyrical prose to intensify the entire premise of the culling song. I feel like since Palahniuk’s writing is so abstract, it is much more appropriate for schizoid general ideas like in Fight Club rather than a concentrated linear storyline. Ultimately, the story fell apart for me and the ending was a huge letdown.

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Chuck Palahniuk

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Date read: 12.24.08

Book from: Personal Collection

Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

(Copied from the back of the book). The year, 2000; the place, Central Park’s 100-story Pleasure Palace, built expressly for the “pleasure of the ruling class.” Shortly before the opening ceremony a radiumite explosion kills everyone in the world … except for the eleven people already inside the Pleasure Palace. Most of the eleven survivors are wealthy and can’t imagine living in a world without servants or luxuries: “No more quail in aspic, no more theatre parties, no more tailors,” they moan in unison. As the group battles to exist in a chaotic world without rules or structure or money, three of the survivors, led by Billy Kingdom, the poor yet resourceful outsider, go off to build a new utopian society, the Co-operative Commonwealth, on the banks of the Pocantico Hills of the Hudson River, north of new York City.

The Millennium was first written as a four-act drama in 1907, after the collapse of Sinclair’s own “Co-operative Commonwealth” in New Jersey. Its production on Broadway was delayed over and over until all copies of the play were lost. In 1924 Sinclair rewrote the story in novel form.

Review

Well, pretty much all you need to know is actually on that back cover summary– it tells you exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Overall, The Millenium was exactly how it sounds– a funny, informative, quirky, and insightful read. It is painfully clear from the dialogue (dramatic, very exclamatory), static settings, and narrative that the work was meant to be a drama and the style is rather enjoyable as long as you are expecting it.

The Millenium is a humorous dose of… everything that goes wrong with every form of government. Basically, after the explosion, the survivors cycle through all sorts of governments including Socialism, Communism, Captialism, Feudalism, and plain Survivalism. It was incredibly funny to see each form of government build itself up around one ridiculous product (nutrient pills, which in this futuristic society were the only form of sustenance) and the workings of the “economy”. You also get to see these intense, miniature forms of government comprised of 2-6 people clash against each other and watch one muscle its way to victory.

There really is not much in terms of character or setting development– the characters were very apparently only tools for Sinclair to use. And, well, the moral of the story was that governments suck and utopias rule. But what else can you expect from Sinclair?

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Upton Sinclair

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