The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson

Reviewed by Mary A. Hake, Wagner Community Library

This dystopian trilogy transports readers to 2088 America, where much destruction has devastated the earth and many people suffer from a plague. Citizens ensconced within the area known as the Safe Lands cannot bear unaffected offspring. In fact, their reproduction and child-rearing methods are not what we’d call “family friendly.” The people there pursue pleasure before being “liberated.”

Their only hope is to bring in outsiders who are uninfected. Brothers Levi, Mason, and Omar each play a major role in the story but are often antagonistic to each other. Schemes, betrayal, kidnapping, murder, and advanced technology add drama. Can those imprisoned be rescued or do they even want to return to their simple, old-fashioned lifestyle?

In the second novel, the women from Glenrock have escaped from the harem, including sixteen-year-old Shaylinn, who is expecting twins from the implant procedure.

Mason, Omar, and Levi strive to help their community and plan to free the children who are being held as the “future” of Safe Lands. Mason has discovered something strange going on in the medical treatment for the plague, for which he hopes to find a cure, and tries to uncover hidden history and suspicious agendas in this supposedly “safe” land. Omar can’t overcome his addiction to stimulants, which could compromise his ability to effectively complete his mission. Levi struggles to find his way as leader and in relating to his brothers.

Romantic threads play a role in the unfolding story too. Red wants Omar, but he’s growing tired of her demands. Shaylinn wonders if she and Omar could ever work as a couple, but he now has the plague. Kendall, the former “queen” who recently birthed baby Promise, also competes for Omar’s attention. Mason and Ciddah, his supervisor, are attracted to each other, but this relationship might prove dangerous. Who can be trusted?

Award-winning author Jill Williamson leaves us majorly hanging at the end of the first two books, Captives and Outcasts. The third one, Rebels, released in August, so readers can now devour the entire series without having to wait while yelling at the author for the cliffhanger endings. In the concluding volume, the scattered remnant fights to survive and overthrow the “safe” government. Will this rebellion mean their deaths or the end of the “safe” way of life?

This series is from Blink and available in print and e-book.

Dystopic Fiction Reviews by Ian Duncanson

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Released in 1992, Neal Stephenson’s foray into dystopian sci-fi boasts a bit less gloom n’ doom and gritty hardboiled detective flourishes, but doesn’t skimp on the action or weird technology. It’s a poppier, more tongue-in-cheek take on dystopian fiction for the ‘90s. In a world where the U.S. government has relinquished power to private enterprise, expert samurai swordfighter Hiro Protagonist (yep, that’s his name) delivers pizzas for the mafia and hacks around the “Metaverse” on the side. When his friend fries his brain in the real world via an online drug called “Snow Crash,” Hiro leaps into action to get to the bottom of the scourge; along for the ride is Y.T., a young skater girl who can more than hold her own. The mystery progresses to involve Sumerian myth, shadowy corporate intrigue and a strange, futuristic religion.
Snowcrash is a great recommendation for teens that enjoyed Little Brother’s young, hip protagonists, and like their dystopias loaded with sarcastic humor and cultural asides. Stephenson’s plotting is so cinematically-paced that I’m surprised there hasn’t been a movie yet. The mature content is about the level of that in Corey Doctorow’s book, so recommending it to grades 9+ is a safe bet. This book was such a hit during the ‘90s Silicon Valley tech explosion that it influenced Web terminology and online gaming!

Neuromancer by William Gibson
William Gibson’s 1984 cyberpunk opus is one of those books that just pulled everything off right. It artfully built on elements and themes from cult dystopian novels that came before, especially those by John Brunner, Philip K. Dick and John Shirley, and simultaneously set new the gold standard for dystopian science fiction. Gibson’s prose is still gritty and cutting-edge, and nothing in the story feels dated. It even foretold the rise of the Internet (ahead of Al Gore), and introduced new slang into the English lexicon.
The world is dominated by technology, so data is the most valuable possession one can have. Those who can steal it are paid handsomely. Henry Case had one of those lucrative jobs, until he made the wrong people angry at him, and had his nervous system damaged in retribution. No longer able to access cyberspace, he spends his days drinking in grim bars and searching for ways back into the electronic world. Suddenly, Case gets the chance of a lifetime – he can have his nervous system repaired, as long as he can steal data for a mysterious buyer.
Neuromancer is one of the first books I whip out for older teen sci-fi readers who have already been through Feed, Little Brother, The Hunger Games, and 1984. The plot is fast-paced and suspenseful enough to woo the action-junkies, but it’s also philosophical, as the best sci-fi always is. It even kicks off with one of the best opening grabbers ever – “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” There is mature content, but nothing that an unsheltered high school student shouldn’t be able to handle. If you’re straining for another great book to recommend to a sci-fi fan that seems to have read them all, Neuromancer does nicely!