Tag Archives: Sheri Tepper

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

I made my book club read this book and none of them were mad at me for it. Therefore, it must be worthy of review.

I can’t really give a description of this book that won’t make it sound like another Hunger Games, or Divergent, or any other post-apocalyptic YA novel about a girl in a desperate future trying to survive, but you’ll have to trust me that it is so, so much more than that. Wasp’s future is so bleak it really isn’t worth living in at all, and there isn’t the romantic element that runs through those other YA books, and Wasp doesn’t need to spend several books changing the world, she does it in one. Seriously, Wasp could kick Katniss’ and Tris’ asses at the same time and still get something else done that day.

The premise: Wasp lives in a society where there is barely enough food to go around, people live hand-to-mouth, and all modern technology has been lost, but no one knows exactly what happened to make it this way. The future is full of ghosts, who outnumber and threaten the living. For years, “chosen” girls (known by the scars on their faces, purportedly left by the goddess Catchkeep’s claws) have been collected by the Catchkeep Priest, who raises them and supervises the work of one girl – the Archivist. The Archivist’s job is to hunt ghosts, use them to try to find out what happened in the past if she can, and then dispatch them so that they can no longer harm the living.  Every year, one of the girls (an “Upstart”) is chosen to fight the current Archivist. If the Upstart wins, she becomes the Archivist. If she loses, the Archivist keeps her job (and her life) for another year. Wasp has been the Archivist for 3 years. Her life is miserable. She lives apart from the other girls and the villagers fear her, so she has no contact with anyone other than the sadistic Catchkeep Priest, who controls her life completely.  She cannot escape – she’s tried, and the Priest and his dogs always find her and bring her back. The work is horrible – she traps ghosts, tries to extract information from them, and then kills them day after day, and never makes much progress deciphering why her world is the way it is – until the day she finds a ghost who has retained enough of his memories to talk to her. He needs her help to find another ghost. Can she trust him? Will helping the ghost free Wasp from her life as she knows it? She is desperate enough to give it a whirl. And the story goes from there.

What is this book like? It’s kind of like Divergent or Station Eleven, in the sense that the world has changed but lots of old stuff (abandoned cities, random objects) are still lying around, many of their purposes forgotten. It’s like the Hunger Games in that children are forced to fight to the death. It’s like The Handmaid’s Tale in the sense that girls are raised for a religious purpose that they know nothing about, by sadistic men who don’t tell them the whole story. (And maybe like Brave New World where children are predestined to do what society needs them to do, regardless of whether that’s what they want.)  Another story that kept popping into my mind as I read it was Sheri Tepper’s Raising the Stones. Even though the details aren’t the same, the general idea of young people carrying on a religion that they don’t know the origin of is similar.

A member of my book club suggested that I should post the questions we used for our discussion, since we all sometimes have trouble finding discussion questions and have to Google around to see if anyone else has done it for us. So, as a gesture of goodwill to other book clubbers out there, here they are:

  1. The ghost doesn’t even remember why he must find Kit any more, but he is still compelled to try. Have you ever had a goal that you pursued even after almost forgetting why?
  2. Did you expect the ghosts of the defeated Upstarts to help Wasp? Would you have?
  3. Did you expect a romantic relationship between Wasp and the ghost as soon as you realized that he was male?
  4. One review I read said the journey through the underworld was “repetitive and boring”. do you agree or disagree?
  5. page 69 test. Go.
  6. Imagine for a moment what it would have been like for Wasp and Kit to meet and get to know each other. Would they be friends?

So I finally read Divergent by Veronica Roth

divergent

I generally try to avoid reading whatever the latest YA obsession until the series is completely finished and you can get the first one without waiting 6 months on hold. This approach works well most cases – if the books are bad (Twilight series, anyone?) you don’t feel cheated, and if they are good you can get them easily enough to binge-read the whole series at once (I admit with some shame that I read Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy in a weekend, and I’d do it again, shame be damned, though I might skip the last one). So I didn’t read this one at the height of its hype, but since the movie came out and the second is forthcoming, I can’t get the 2nd or third one now. Grumble.

Anyway. I read this for my book club, and while it was an enjoyable read, I was not inclined to go on to read the second or third, though my book club peeps assure me they’re worth it. My mental jury is still out. Good premise, but a little too much teen angst. As for the movie, I’ll probably watch it because the book itself reads like an action movie, so there is plenty of material there to make it exciting. And the fact that it’s set in Chicago made me nostalgic, though I really don’t want to visit this particular future of Chicago (the fate of Lake Michigan actually made me teary). But the part where they climb the abandoned John Hancock tower is pretty entertaining, Swamp Michigan be damned.

Books in a similar vein: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood… basically any skewed future novel where the common people are being manipulated by forces they don’t understand and when they figure it out all Hell’s gonna break loose.

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (really more about the whole trilogy)

***Disclaimer – I am a rabid Atwood fan and have a permanent saved search in my library’s catalog that alerts me whenever we buy one of her books – and not so I can put them on hold, but so I can preorder them from Powell’s. Yes, I, the cheapest woman on the planet, buy Atwood books. In hardcover. It’s a sickness.) I tend to like her realistic fiction better than her weird visions of the future, but I willingly follow her anywhere.***

Okay, now on with the scoop. This book is the third of a trilogy. The first two books in the trilogy cover the same time period and show the same major events, but from two different perspectives. In this near future dystopia, society has spilt into 2 segments – wealthy people live in walled compounds sponsored by corporations, while poorer people inhabit the “pleeblands” outside them. Oryx and Crake is told by a character from the compounds, while Year of the Flood is told by a plebe.  If you have read either of these, go ahead and read MaddAddam right now. Even if your memory of the other two is rusty, this one will plop you right back into that world and you won’t be lost. If you haven’t read either, I suppose reading this cold would be fine – but you might spend a great deal of your time trying to figure out what a pigoon is and where the Crakers came from and well,  why struggle? Read Oryx and Crake first just to get the basics of this world down, then either of the other two will make a good follow-up.

Of the three books, MaddAddam is not the best – in fact I would say it’s the weakest. The reason I love Atwood’s books so much is that she usually tells you right at the beginning what situation the characters are in right now, but then spends the novel explaining HOW they got there. You are compelled to read the story not to find out what happened or whodunit, but how and why it went so horribly awry. In both of the first two books, you know that mankind has been nearly wiped out, but you don’t know just enough to keep you reading – in the first book, you have to know why and how it happened, and in the second you have to know who survived, and where they are, and whether they will all find one another. In MaddAddam, we pick up where both of the first two ended, and learn what happens once the characters from both books find one another and proceed from there – which really ought to be more interesting than it is. Don’t get me wrong – it was nice to find out what happened to the God’s Gardeners, Jimmy and the Crakers – it just wasn’t Atwood’s usual obsessive-stay-up-all-night-reading-to-wring-the-story-out-of-the-pages type of book. But you should read it anyway, because hey, it’s Margaret Atwood, and after reading the first two, you need to know how it all ends.

Books in a similar vein:

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper
Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (YA)

I am told that Divergent by Veronica Roth and Feed by M.T. Anderson (both YA) are similar, but I haven’t read either yet so I can’t be certain.