Reading apocalyptic novels again this week but this time with an exciting twist. I had the pleasure of reading The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch and the story and depiction of the human condition were enlightening, even scary at times. One of the biggest themes of the book that immediately jumps out at me is the cancer-like growth of technology and the human condition in which we believe that we are superior to all. Starting off with technology, the main character, Shannon Moss, works for the NCIS as a time traveler to stop major crimes leading up to the Terminus—the end of the world. Shannon has dedicated her life to this job and while it may have its perks, it also comes at a cost. In the very beginning of the book, Shannon suffers hypothermia and is infected with what are called QTNs. The QTNs are small robots of nanotechnology that size of particles that can invade the human body systems and completely destroy them. When Shannon is suffering due to the QTNs, her boss explains to her: “you’re confused…The QTNs are confusing you. They’re in your blood. You have dangerous levels of them inside of you” (5). While these tiny out of control nanobots are dangerous, technology in this futuristic novel also has made medical advancements for Shannon’s mom when she is diagnosed with cancer. Shannon’s mom tells her daughter that “tiny robots [are] swimming in my blood, finding cancer cells and killing them. After all these years, all this suffering—three injections. You can tell your children someday how their grandmother was part of the first trials” (99). Even at the end, Shannon starts to lose hope and states that she’s “afraid the Terminus has us in checkmate. And humanity has already lost its match to superior intelligence” (283). The following article talks about some of the technology that is on the rise as of 2019 and how fast we are advancing in the field of technology: https://venturebeat.com/2019/11/17/exponential-tech-advances-will-change-the-world-faster-than-we-think/
These two examples show us the good and the bad of advancing technology which is a real threat in this modern day and age. Another threat that all of mankind faces is us. This is something not a lot of people think about, yet it makes logical sense when you start to think pollution, greenhouse gases, deforestation, poaching of endangered animals, overfilling landfills, and so much more. The Gone World hits this idea so hard as Shannon Moss does everything she can to stop the Terminus and slowly starts to realize that the biggest obstacle she has to face is herself and other people. The other people in this novel are barbaric in their willingness to destroy everything in their path and their reasoning is to “protect what you have, even if it means losing everything you think you want” (340). These selfish ideals make the salvation for humanity seem impossible as the FBI and NCIS agents start to see “the future of mankind dissolve” (157). This idea is further near the end of the book as Shannon begins to realize that she is “an echo” of herself (312). We resonate within ourselves and hope that our resonation is powerful enough to make a difference in the world we live in. In my opinion, humans are the biggest danger to themselves. We continue to take from the world with no thought of the consequences that could occur later. If we don’t make a serious change in our ways soon, the Terminus might come sooner than we hoped to believe.
Reference for Image: https://medium.com/@drpolonski/can-we-teach-morality-to-machines-three-perspectives-on-ethics-for-artificial-intelligence-64fe479e25d3
This past week, like many weeks before it, I read an enticing apocalyptic novel called Zone One by Colson Whitehead. One major theme in terms of writing style for this book is the common place of death and the fight for survival. The first major thing that I noticed about this book was its raw depiction and emotions surrounding death. It was super interesting to see how Whitehead used the survivors’ vast experience of death to push them to believe that they were the authorities over their own future. This is especially true for the main character, Mark Spitz, who fully believed that “the future was the clay in their hands” (81). Even when things started to erupt near the end of the novel, he still pushed for the idea that “we make the future…That’s why we’re here” (283). Yet, Mark does not have this mentality on his own; it was forged in his experiences with fighting for survival and watching many beings die. Mark accounts that he “was accustomed to the silence now, understood it as a part of himself, weightless gear stowed in his pack next to the gauze and anticiprant” (162). In Zone One, the “dead were predictable. People were not” (137). The people that Mark was trying to survive with were more difficult to deal with than the death that constantly surrounded them. Death is made as one of the only constant factors for the survivalists, allowing it to become more of a comfort compared to today’s modern society.
Death is not something that today is usually taken so lightly, especially with the current COVID-19 pandemic. There have been so many deaths from COVID-19, not just in the United States, but also across the globe. This link is from John Hopkins Research Hospital and depicts a global map with current data surrounding
the deaths, number of tests, and current cases from all across the world:
https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html. The map is constantly being updated with real-time data, giving you a realistic look what is and has been happening in our world today. Hopefully, unlike in Zone One, we can work to keep death as something to motivate us to stop the spread of coronavirus and to protect ourselves and others.
Reference for Photo: https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/03/who-is-getting-sick-and-how-sick-a-breakdown-of-coronavirus-risk-by-demographic-factors/
My Dear Readers,
This week I read American War by Omar El Akkad and I am simply moved by the characters and story. Out of all the books read so far for this blog, this book is definitely one of my favorites. The story follows the life of Sarat Chestnut and her family through an apocalyptic disease-ran civil war. Sarat becomes a domestic terrorist herself as she is slowly groomed as a young girl surviving the war. One of the major themes of this book is the human drive for violence, personal disparities, and revenge. Sarat allows violence to consume her innocent childhood and for her “the calculus was simple: the enemy had violated her people, and for that she would violate the enemy. There could be no other way, she knew it. Blood can never be unspilled” (250). This is the mentality that continues to eat away at Sarat for the remainder of her life, even after she finds hope in her nephew, Benjamin. She continues to fight and kill, not for the benefit of the South, but for her own personal gain. It turned from a fight against the Blue, to a fight against those who tortured her for years and took away all that she had in life; “soon the surrounding world evaporated and with it the screaming that filled the room. Only her wrath remained, her unquenchable want. She wanted the blood inside him” (341). Yet, it is not only Sarat’s own doing that is the reason for her revenge state of mind. The fragile, split government in the United States also had malicious tactics and did not put the greater good of all above anything else. Instead of focusing on ending the war, the government was more concerned with creating a sense of “normalcy” and trying to force the past behind. This strategy only added fuel to the revenge fire and left the people feeling like they had to take things into their own hands. In an interview with a government member, they state “I’m sure all the members of this committee echo my desire that we reach that normalcy as quickly as possible” (278). Politics and government have a large impact on the mentality and health of a community. When the leaders are weak, you can only imagine the strength of the people, for the whole community is on their shoulders. The committee’s standing only added fuel to Sarat’s fire as she believed “it was, all of it, a lie—and the worst kind of lie: a charade of normality at a time of war” (260). Politics can shape a country and morph it into something completely unrecognizable. Hatred and revenge is a major human killer. These are some of the messages from American War and Omar El Akkad’s wish for more people to pay attention to the signs of a crippling society.
Even today, the United States of America is extremely fragile after the most recent election and other large social movements that occurred. Different generations are fighting on social media, a global pandemic is changing normalcy, and large groups of people become divided based on personal opinions about politics or science. Americans are scared of what will become of themselves. Here’s a link to a resource that talks all
about the issues occurring in America today:
https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2020/05/01/destroying-trust-in-the-media-science-and-government-has-left-america-vulnerable-to-disaster/. As an American, I wish for peace in a modern world. I look to the hope that America will continue to grow, learn, and change for the better—for all who live here. Here’s to a better world—a better America.
Source for photo: https://www.ucf.edu/news/7-influential-protests-in-american-history
My Dedicated Readers,
Diving further and further into the realm of the apocalyptic literature genre, I have finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. There are two really big themes in this book that stood out to me. The first one is fear. Obviously, fear is a very important theme in apocalyptic literature because anytime there is extreme change occurring, fear will present itself. Yet, Station Eleven provides some further insight on fear of change and more specially, anxiety. One of the characters, Jeevan, suffers from an anxiety disorder and when he hears about the “Georgia Flu” that is coming he immediately begins to stock up on food and water from the grocery store. During the past SARS epidemic in the book, Jeevan suffers from severe anxiety brought by the fear of the disease when his friend Hua says “You were freaked out. I had to talk you down.” While everyone can experience fear, I think Station Eleven provides key insight on the power that fear actually has. Fear shapes the way a disease can spread throughout a population and determines how certain communities can react to it. Fear also sparks from the fear of the unknown. The book recalls “no more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween.” The absence of normalcy is truly the fuel of fear during times of dire and change.
The other all-encompassing theme is the importance of the arts. Throughout the entirety of the novel, the arts are an important aspect of survival and life for most of the main characters. Miranda, a writer, spends most of her time working on a comic called Station Eleven. Station Eleven is a fictional work that allows Miranda to escape the personal turmoil in her life and allows her to cope with the changing world around her. It gives her peace and allows her to focus on what she enjoys, not what will evoke fear or worry within her. For the main characters in this book “survival is insufficient.” There are travelling orchestras, focus on theatre arts, dancing, singing, and many other forms or artistic expression. The characters in this book use all these mediums to slowly cope with the Georgia Flu and their own personal drama. This reminds me of the Danse Macabre artistic genre in the late Middle Ages that allowed the people suffering from the effects of the black plague and other diseases to release pent up emotion pertaining to the death that surrounded them. The similarities between this period of time in history and the story in this novel are striking. If you’re at all interested in investigating these similarities for yourself, here is a link to the Wikipedia page about Danse Macabre: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danse_Macabre Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The modern time period, realistic characters, and overall relatability of the story make this book not only enjoyable to read, but also thought evoking. The world will continue to change around us, I just hope man kind is brave and strong enough to change with it.
Source for photo: https://www.inprnt.com/gallery/carolinemurta/danse-macabre/
My Dear Readers,
I bring forth, once again, another interesting literary piece pertaining to mankind’s inevitable demise--Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich. This novel touches on so many major themes such as abortion, government control, oppression of the Native American population, identity crisis, women’s rights, and so much more. The one big overlapping themes of the book that piqued my interest the most is this idea of “de-evolution” or the process of returning to a more primitive state as a species. Future Home of the Living God is set in a widespread apocalypse brought on by disease and how Cedar, a pregnant woman, is trying to survive in a time where fertile and pregnant women are being captured in order to protect humanity. As the end of the world settles in, Cedar and the people around her notice how animals of many species seem to be de-evolving to a wild state. The “reports are coming in of experiments hastily conducted on fruit flies, DNA experts who say on the molecular level it is like skipping around in time, and that small-celled creatures and plants have been shuffling through random adaptations for months now. And hasn’t anyone noticed that dogs, cats, horses, pigs, etc. have stopped breeding true?” (44).
I think that evolution is something that we believe we understand, but in reality, it is a lot bigger than we expect. Our DNA and molecular makeup are extremely complex, yet who’s to say that we won’t mutate tomorrow? The whole theory behind devolving is still argued today by many biologists. The article found here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/10/reverse-evolution-explained-hagfish-penguins-snakes-science/ seems to contain some striking evidence of it happening in many animal species, yet scientists seem to believe that humans are too good for such a degrading feat. The Future Home of the Living God goes on to state that “we do not have a true fossil record of human evolution… or any other species for that matter… We might actually see chaos. We might roll back adaptation through adaptation, the way canines will revert to type left on their own until they reach a wild dog/wolflike status” (55). I think the notion that humans cannot devolve is selfish and self-centered. At the end of the day, we are just like other mammals. Of course, we have evolved and dominated much of the animal kingdom, but are we really the ones in control? Maybe even “turning around to the beginning. Maybe that’s not the same as going backwards” (208). While humans are not the evil, selfish creatures that I am making them out to be, they do always seem to be “superfluous troublemakers” (226). At the end of the day, I am glad I no longer have a little tail or webbed fingers. I plan to keep the scientific world on it’s toes and hope to gain a less human-centered view on the world.
Source for image: https://www.uv.es/jgpausas/he.htm
My Dear Readers,
I just finished a very interesting—almost on the brink of freaky weird—book called The Year of the Flood written by Margret Atwood. As many of you know, this book touches on so many intriguing topics and themes that are seamlessly integrated into the plot of the book. Let’s take a quick dive into one of these themes that happen to be the most thought provoking to me! One topic in this book is the barbaric behavior of the human race when the contagious disease strikes the masses. It may be very shocking for some people to realize what they can become when every mold of society is torn away, and everyone is fighting for themselves in times of desperation. The book talks about “when the Waterless Waters rise… the people will try to save themselves from drowning. They will clutch at any straw. Be sure you are not that straw, my Friends, for if you are clutched or even touched, you too will drown.” I think that this quote perfectly describes the nature of humans, especially Americans in my personal experience. The COVID-19 pandemic has really shown me how truly individualistic Americans can be. They refuse to wear masks because they don’t want it infringing on their rights (for their own good) and don’t care about their potential to spread the virus to high-risk persons (for the good of others). They would rather not wear a mask for their own comfort or political reasons rather than take the slightest chance that it could protect the ones around them. Among other mass character changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States of America has experienced extreme social, political, and economical distress. The people in The Year of the Flood experienced a dramatic change in their daily lives when the “waterless flood” hit and the same thing is true regarding the current corona virus pandemic. It’s crazy to think that the United States could be compared to a fictional book about a post-apocalyptic world. The mold that society builds for us during our lifespan has seemed to crack, allowing the raw, natural human mannerisms to come forth and expose itself to the rest of us. People have really showed their true colors during these trying times, but I think this pandemic has provided a learning experience to everyone and perhaps we will be better for it. I think Adam One would agree with me there! The link provided here is an Inside Edition clip about the invasive anti maskers and how they are recking havoc! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zT15C7eqnI
I also think it’s important to bring up something that has caught my eye throughout my experience reading The Year of the Flood. What is with the color pink? Throughout many instances in the book, Toby and Ren happen to use pink towels, wear pink hats, and use tons of pink colored everyday objects; "there are pink sheets and pink pillows, and pink blankets too — soft cuddly colours, pampering infant colours — though she doesn’t need the blankets, not in this weather.” While I am still puzzled about what all the pink is in reference to, I did some research and found that pink is commonly used as the color of universal love of oneself and of others. There are lots of other theories about the use of the color pink that can be found here (this is also where I did some of my own digging): https://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/color-pink.html. This fits right in with the doctrine of the God’s Gardeners and the teachings of the Christian church. Could this prove deep down that Toby was actually a better fit for the cult than she previously thought? Meaning that the great flood had changed her more than she would have liked to believe. Alternately, does the pink represent the little girl still in her relating back to the times before the great flood? Interesting how Margret Atwood was able to integrate so many topics into one story and even go as far as symbolism in a simple color. Bravo, Margret, Bravo!
Photo Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/anti-maskers-are-new-anti-vaxxers-threatening-public-health-coronavirus-2020-7