by Kathy, Everett Public Library staff
Not everyone likes science fiction, and sometimes even I don’t. So as not to cause alarm, let’s call the two books I’m going to write about speculative fiction. Both are novels concerning a future that could be ours. Neither requires tremendous leaps in technology or journeys to other planets or even aliens invading, they just take a few more steps down paths that we may already have started upon.
At first, When She Woke by Hillary Jordan seemed very reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Jordan has created a world similar to Atwood’s where individual rights have been rescinded, including the right to reproductive freedom. I was afraid it would end up just being a rewrite, but I found it to be more of a homage.
In Jordan’s future world prisons have been eliminated as too cruel and expensive. Instead skin dyes are used to designate people as criminals. The process is called melachroming and the color that is used depends on the severity of the crime. The most serious crimes result in the skin being dyed red and the person becomes known as a Red Chrome. Of course, being a Red Chrome means being treated differently. The rest of society is free to discriminate and sometimes even abuse or hunt them. People do this with relative impunity and little guilt.
The protagonist, Hannah, has had an abortion which is considered a crime. She is convicted and becomes a Red Chrome. When she is returned to society, she realizes that there is nowhere safe for her. She enters a sort of halfway house for a time, but it is a harsh place that offers its own punishments. She has to move out of her comfort zone and trust people she would never have considered friends to try to find some peace.
Albert Brooks’ 2030 is timely. America in the year 2030 is dealing with a large elderly population and the social programs that support them in their (ever-longer) retirements. Young people find they can’t get jobs because so much money is being sucked up by the elderly. A sort of class war has begun, with the elderly living in gated communities, if they can afford them, and fearing harassment or even attacks by young people.
Government deficits are rising and most of the debt has been purchased by the Chinese. A huge natural disaster occurs in LA and the government is unable to send any help. China won’t loan any more money because they’ve realized that they may never get paid back (talk about a ratings downgrade). The solutions that are found are sometimes comical, even laugh-out-loud, but some will leave you thinking, “Hey, maybe that’s not such a bad idea”.