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I have three books I'm reading right now. Two are ebooks (Partner, by Lia Silver, and The Worth of a Shell, by M.C.A. Hogarth), so I can read them at my desk. I don't have a portable ereader, though, so I like a physical book for when I'm standing around stirring a pot in the kitchen. That book had been The Night Circus, but after giving up on it, I had to pick something else, so I got The Bees, by Laline Paull. The worldbuilding--the sense of actually being a bee and living in a hive--is wonderful, and I'm loving it, though I do have a couple of reservations (for one, the plot is a bit scattered--you might think of the flight of bees or butterflies over a meadow).

I got The Bees out of the library. It came with a bookmark--an appropriate one:

And, this is a bit random, but the other day I noticed I'd somehow bought semi-fancy toilet paper. And I found myself thinking, this is really kind of pretty. It's kind of wonderful how someone, somewhere, wanted even toilet paper to be pretty. For some reason, I was able to avoid engaging Analytical Brain at that point, and I didn't think cynical thoughts about marketing and price points. I just thought, Someone designed this, and it's a simple, but pretty, design.

Oh, and something from yesterday: a book advertised as "gentle dystopian fiction." I think I get what they mean--maybe a story without lots and lots of gruesome death and torture, but still dystopic? And yet, I think that description misses something fundamental about what dystopia means. Unhappiness, privation, limitations, injustice--these can take forms that don't involve physical harm, and yet when they're present, the situation isn't really gentle. ... In other news, The Bees is called a dystopia in some places, and yet I'm not sure I agree. Or, conversely, is every society that's not a utopia a dystopia?


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 10th, 2015 01:12 pm (UTC)
Some reviewers called Stranger a utopian dystopia!

I think dystopia has become a buzzwords, like steampunk.
Apr. 10th, 2015 01:23 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I definitely would NOT call Stranger dystopia. Post-apocalyptic, sure. But you weren't setting out to describe an oppressive society. It's an ordinary society, with flaws--like an ordinary society has.

I think I'm working my way to finding "dystopia" a kind of meaningless term. As soon as you move away from the absolute extreme-negative end of the spectrum, you're in something that pretty much resembles real-life, somewhere, so...
Apr. 10th, 2015 01:26 pm (UTC)
Yeah: buzzword.
Apr. 10th, 2015 02:42 pm (UTC)
do you prefer dystopia to utopia?
Apr. 10th, 2015 05:21 pm (UTC)
I do: utopias seem too much like political speeches, telling me how to create a perfect world. They're essentially nothing but worldbuilding ("In this perfect society, education is like this, and social relations are like this, and meals are like this"). Worldbuilding is interesting! But I really need a story, and a story needs conflict, and classic utopias don't really have that: they're all about a stranger being shown the wonders of a perfect society.

Whereas, there can be plenty of plot in a dystopia!
Apr. 10th, 2015 06:43 pm (UTC)
Mike Ford used to say that any society at all would have cracks that somebody could fall through, so he liked to create utopias (or at least very good, functional societies), and then tell the stories of the people for whom they were not utopias. This is by no means all that he did, but he really liked doing that. So as long as a utopia does not have to work for absolutely everyone, that's one way to get a plot in one.

Apr. 10th, 2015 06:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah--I like that approach! I really loved Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Greensky books, and that's essentially what they were. (I was very, VERY taken by her peaceable kingdom in the trees.) In that case, as I think about it, it was more of a good society with a wicked secret--so maybe slightly different--but still: similar.
Apr. 11th, 2015 08:02 am (UTC)
Greensky books
I know you weren't writing this to convince someone to read these, but you sure made me interested in looking them up.
Apr. 11th, 2015 01:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Greensky books
You might find them a little babyish, reading them now, as an adult, but when I was twelve, they were exactly what I wanted, and they lived LARGE in my mind--and influenced my ideas of what society could be--so, yeah! I liked them! The first one is called Below the Root. The second is And All Between, and the third is Until the Celebration.

Premise: the Kindar lives on the branches and in the canopy of giant trees in a jungle-like environment. They have garments that let them glide downward, like flying squirrels, and hanging stairs and ramps to climb up. It's a society with danced greetings and morning and evening songs, and no violence, ever. The only evil disturbing their paradise are monstrous creatures, trapped underground by the roots of the great trees. These evil creatures steal babies that fall on the forest floor. Now it's rumored the root is failing, and the monsters are able to roam about and maybe even capture grown people.

But of course, it isn't really monsters down there, and there are secrets in the Kindar's past that the ruling class don't want coming out. The protagonist, who is a new initiate into that ruling class, and two of his friends discover that truth.

The second book rolls back in time and starts from the perspective of the people below the root. The third book talks about the difficult integration of the two societies.
Apr. 10th, 2015 03:34 pm (UTC)
I guess it could be a dystopia if it seems gentle on the surface but then you scratch deeper and reveal injustice and unhappiness and inequality.

Castellana's awesome, isn't it?

Edited at 2015-04-10 03:35 pm (UTC)
Apr. 10th, 2015 05:23 pm (UTC)
Yeah, maybe it's the definition of gentle that I'm having more of a problem with! Like, it doesn't seem like it's gentle if there's injustice and unhappiness, you know? ... I guess I *can* imagine gentle oppression. Concern trolling is a kind of gentle oppression, I guess.

Yeah, it's awesome. I'm listening to their EP on Bandcamp right now.
Apr. 10th, 2015 05:45 pm (UTC)
I don't even know what concern trolling means ever since the Sad Puppies hijacked it. With them, I think they're just throwing around the term as a call for ideological purity.
Apr. 10th, 2015 05:50 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I'm understanding the term correctly, but my understanding of it was that it's when people put on a show of being concerned when really they're trying to undermine you or discredit you, e.g., "Oh gosh, you seem so angry about this, and I just worry that all this anger isn't good for you and isn't doing you or your cause any good." --That sort of thing. Sometimes a person can say those things in good faith, but other times it strikes me as an attempt to push someone off to the sidelines.
Apr. 10th, 2015 03:54 pm (UTC)
Distopia - isn't that like anti-utopia?
Apr. 10th, 2015 05:24 pm (UTC)
That's right: instead of exploring a perfect society, it explores a perfectly horrible society.
Apr. 10th, 2015 09:08 pm (UTC)
I've read both utopian novels and dystopian novels and I'm inclined to think that they're both describing the same thing only from different viewpoints. (One person's utopia is another person's dystopia as it were. This is, of course, why a perfect society isn't possible.)

But I might just be weird. :)
Apr. 10th, 2015 09:11 pm (UTC)
But I might just be weird

Maybe! I'm inclined to agree w/you about one person's utopia, etc., and I know I was always labeled weird, at least when I was young.
Apr. 11th, 2015 08:11 am (UTC)
I think this "definition" comes very close to pinpointing why I don't usually go in for utopian or dystopian stories--that "perfect" thing. I prefer things that are closer to real*, meaning a mix of good and bad. Whenever it is all bad or all good, it feels like someone is trying to put something over on me (propaganda), and that makes me have to fight harder to get into the story. And as you said in other comments, it smacks more of worldbuilding rather than story.

* I submit that Fantasy, my preferred genre, is full of real, despite what the uninitiated(unappreciative) say. :P
Apr. 11th, 2015 01:10 pm (UTC)
I agree with you *totally* about Fantasy. And, conversely, plenty of so-called realistic stories aren't, particularly.
Apr. 10th, 2015 05:14 pm (UTC)
A gentle dystopia, in which tea is not available, and there are no chocolate biscuits?
Apr. 10th, 2015 05:26 pm (UTC)
LOL--dystopias as written by upper-crusty toff children when they're sent to their rooms for stamping their feet in front of guests when those chocolate biscuits are not forthcoming.
Apr. 10th, 2015 08:22 pm (UTC)
Anywhere can be a dystopia for someone. But that isn't the most helpful way of looking at things. Then again, it might be interesting to look at something like Ethan Frome as a dystopian novel. Maybe not the best example, but it's something that fell in front of my eyes and that I reread recently, so it was the first one I could think of.

(I also thought of Hunger, but that's about crushing poverty, so, yeah. Dystopia is one missed paycheck away. It's a name of that old Wolf at the Door).

After man years of no paper towels, I've had to start buying them again, which had given me a chance to reacquaint myself with the textures and patterns on paper products. It's funny what you can be desensitized to, and then re-sensitize?


The bookmark is a good one. I hope it gets to travel through many pages.
Apr. 10th, 2015 09:13 pm (UTC)
Who is Hunger by? And what brought Ethan Frome back to your attention? And I agree that a person's perspective has a lot--maybe everything--to do with whether a society is considered a dystopia or a utopia.
Apr. 10th, 2015 09:30 pm (UTC)
Knut Hansun. Turned into a Norwegian facist later in life, which made me hesitant to read, but it was an interesting book, I'll give it that.

As for Ethan Frome, I think someone made some sort of comment about suicide-by-sled or death-by-sled that made me remember it. Weirdly, it is the book from high school that stuck most with me (that and Johnny Got His Gun). I am not sure why.

Talk of Utopia/Dystopia has been closely related to where my head has been at recently. Something maybe worth its own post.
Apr. 11th, 2015 09:26 pm (UTC)
If you hadn't mentioned it was toilet paper, I might have thought that photo was some sort of eyelet lace curtain. It does look lovely close up like that.

Also The Bees sounds fascinating. Is the main character actually a bee, or just live in a society based on a beehive?
Apr. 11th, 2015 09:34 pm (UTC)
She's really a bee! It's great. When pheromones take effect, suddenly the drones transform and look handsome. Lowly worker bees can feel the queen's love and it makes them feel intense well-being and joy (and the queen really does love them, so it's not just some fake-o thing to make them work).
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