Hello readers and welcome back to the fourth entry in this year’s Reading List. As mentioned, now that the fiction list is back (and committed to reading more contemporary female authors) I am trying to read more BIPOC authors. To that end I decided to read another recent novel published in 2020 by Gish Jen entitled The Resisters. This book was quite well written and had a lot of similarities to my own manuscript, including a dystopian theme and use of technological ideas such as artificial intelligence.
The major theme of the novel, however, would be baseball. The two main characters (Eleanor and Grant) have a child named Gwen who seems to be a prodigy at the sport from the moment she starts tossing toys out of her cradle. Her parents encourage her to pitch with another child of the “Surplus” as catcher and then they begin an underground baseball league. The “Netted” are the other half of the society in the novel and are those who work jobs (the “Surplus” have something along the lines of a universal basic income as many of them are “Unretrainables” like Grant, a former language teacher - Eleanor is a lawyer and can still file suits). Out of the baseball league comes an offer for Gwen to play for the Net U baseball team and possibly try out for the Olympics, which has just added baseball back as a sport. While Gwen initially drops out of school she does end up joining the olympic team and pitches an almost perfect game in the last one of the series. In the final few pages a major character dies in what I thought was an unexpected manner and casts a bit of a pall on how the book ends.
This novel had yards to teach me about how to create a dystopian world filled with interesting characters and how to display the tech running the world in various ways. Every technology introduced has a sort of mashed up way of description, whether it’s AskAuntNettie (the AI running much of the nation of AutoAmerica), Ship’EmBack (what is alluded to as sending immigrants back to their home counties), AutoLyft (vehicles), PermaDerm (changing skin tone to become part of the “angelfair” Netted, as one of the characters does about halfway through) and many, many others. In fact it did get a little repetitive at times reading through all of these types of words and I did wish some of them were a little more fleshed out and described better. But overall I’d have to say this was a masterful way of showing our climate ravaged future and how it may break society down along lines of the Surplus and Netted. There were quite a few parallels to my manuscript (Surplus getting one chance to have a child, “marooned” and flooded places that can only be reached by boat, an AI overlord that controls society) which taught me new ways of pondering them even as I respected the difference in technique here. This was a great read, and I would definitely recommend it to those searching for a very interesting look at where our society might end up if we don’t get a handle on climate change and automation.
Up next, I know I’ve promised to read more contemporary female and BIPOC authors, but I also have a major backlog of “old white dude” books from setting aside the Reading List last year. I plan on tackling them through the end of this year and then getting back into the other authors by 2023. So the next novel will be one I’ve wanted to read for years, Malcolm Lowry’s 1947 book Under the Volcano. Thanks as always for joining with me on this reading adventure.
John Abraham is a published author and freelance journalist who lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Mary and their cat. He is writing a speculative dystopian novel and is seeking representation and a publisher.