Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

Mahlia and her friend Mouse are war refugees.  Mouse saved Mahlia after the Army of God cut off one of her hands.  The two fled the Drowned Cities and have been living on the outskirts where it's safer.  But not safe.  They discover a wounded half-man, a born killer that the army is after.  They strike up a deal, they will help the half-man Tool, and in exchange, he will help them run north.  When Mouse is captured and recruited into the army, Mahlia must decide what the right thing to do is: run and save herself, or go after Mouse and face almost certain death.

So good.  So depressing.  Oh man, so depressing.  But so good.  Dystopias are depressing in general, but this hit harder than most other ones I've read.  This world seemed more feasible, more real.  Most other dystopias don't actually have a sense of possible reality for me.  But wow, did this one.  So depressed.

This is a companion to Ship Breaker, which I read when it came out and I realized I have almost no memory of it at all.  For whatever reason, it just didn't stick.  I remember enjoying it, but not being blown away, and I definitely didn't have the reaction to it that I had to Drowned Cities.  Luckily, you don't actually have to have read Ship Breaker to understand Drowned Cities.  There is one crossover character, but it's not essential that you know that (I didn't remember, and it was just fine).

In The Drowned Cities, you get a much better understand of what has happened to the world.  In the first book it was just the future and everything sucked (the basic description of a dystopia) but it wasn't totally clear why things sucked or what had happened to make everything suck so much.  Now we see things more clearly.  Sea level had risen so much that countries around the world began to be covered with water.  Some countries, like China, planned and saved their cities.  Other places, like the United States, fought amongst themselves and their inability to work together doomed them.  *Shudder.*  That hits close to home, now, doesn't it?  China attempted to assist the U.S. by sending in "peacekeepers" to try to get people to stop killing each other and start planning, but they eventually gave up and left, leaving war lords to take over.

When the book begins, there are two armies that are doing most of the fighting, the Army of God, and the United Patriots Front.  They are not the only two armies by far.  More always rise up when another gets defeated.  Both armies are fighting to throw the "traitors" out of the land.  Once all the traitors are killed, then they can begin to rebuild.  Except that all the "traitors" are all from the United States.  They just have different opinions about things.  "But they all call each other traitors."  "Indeed.  It's a long tradition here.  I'm sure whoever first started questioning their political opponents' patriotism thought they were being quite clever."  *Shudder.*  Of course, by this point in the war, no one really remembers what they're fighting for or about anyway.  Or why they hate those other people on the other side.

The armies are made up almost completely of children.  Children are recruited in to the various armies, branded, so they can never go back to a regular life, and turned into killing machines that don't think and don't question.  There aren't a whole lot of adults left in the world, and those that are left are working at the top, so who's left to actually do the killing?  The children.  Another horrible, awful, real thing that happens. Children running around with machetes and bottles of acid killing each other.

What was so powerful about this book, aside from the scary reality of the situation, was the struggle to figure out what's right when you're at war.  Do you try to help others when you know it will result in your death?  Is it better to die with principles then to live?  Is it everyone for themselves?  Mahlia has always believed she has to protect herself first, that's how she's survived this long.  But she's also survived because others have helped her, against their better interests.  Who's right?  Is there a right?  No one wants to help the war maggots who have been displaced from their homes, but it's only a matter of time before you're displaced from your home, and then who will help you?  It's a never-ending cycle, something Mahlia begins to realize.

So I thought this was excellent, while scarily real.  I would definitely recommend it, just be prepared to be super depressed afterwards.

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