Why do male antiheroes get more adoration than female ones?

Will be a point when writers can write complex morally dubious female characters and have them admired as much as their male counterparts?

I’ve been a bit quiet lately as I’ve been preparing for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which starts tomorrow. My idea for NaNoWriMo involves a lot of incredibly flawed characters exploring trauma and revenge. I’ve been watching a lot of anime to get into this headspace, specifically Code Geass, Death Note and Elfen Lied. I enjoy dark stories with flawed characters because it delves into the dark part of humanity we’re all capable of. There is a very slim line between the antihero and the villain depending on the type of antihero.

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However, I’ve noticed the most popular antiheroes tend to be men and they tend to get more adoration than female antiheroes. Why is it as an audience and a society we are more forgiving of the things men do? For example, many people hate Breaking Bad’s Skyler White and root for Walter White despite Walter do far more despicable things than Skyler ever does. It got so bad that the actress who played Skyler, Anna Gunn wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about the vitriolic response her character received.

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Light Yagami from Death Note is another example of a character who does horrendous things and yet he gets a pass because he’s a handsome young genius. His supposed ‘good’ motivation of killing criminals is quickly thrown aside as he begins to play games with the Japanese Police Force. He’s a full blown sociopath and yet somehow I was still rooting for him to win for some bizarre reason. Despite the fact that every woman in the show was a sexy lamp I still found it a compelling watch and would definitely watch it again. There is something so addictive about watching Light indulge his darkest desires and god complex. His crazy laugh is also something to behold 

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Then there is Elfen Lied which is the most gut wrenching thing I have ever watched. Absolutely everybody in the show manages to be horrible but sympathetic at the same time. It was so dark I was depressed for days after watching it. Yet I’d probably watch it again as it is a very complex tale about identity, revenge, regret and the nature of humanity. It also features two female antiheroes which was a nice change after watching the sausage fest that is Death Note. However, almost everybody in the show is tragic and flawed so it takes a bit of the impact away from the female antiheroes as there is no morally superior person to contrast against.

 

There still seems to be a shortage of compelling, complicated women as antiheroes that are adored the same way their male counterparts are. There has been a lot written about female likeability and it will continue to be an issue in fiction as it is in real life.

 

As I contemplate my own work I’m about to embark on for NaNoWriMo which sees a female protagonist slowly descend into darkness. I want to know if there will be a point when writers can write complex morally dubious female characters and have them admired as much as their male counterparts?

 

 

 

 

 

Discarding survival of the fittest (Part 4)

Defying Doomsday comes full circle with the final three stories.

This review contains spoilers for Defying Doomsday.

What If: the world ended and you had a disability or were chronically ill.

Defying Doomsday takes this “What If” scenario and explores it across fifteen short stories. Each story does this incredibly differently.  This post explores four of the short stories and how they approach the scenario. Check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

 

Spider Silk, Strong as Steel – Samantha Rich

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Humanity we know it no longer exists due to giant spiders taking over the world. When it’s written like that it sounds cheesy but the story doesn’t dwell on the why or the bigger picture of the world. It focuses on Emm who uses a board on wheels to get around. It doesn’t specify why but it is stated people in her community tried to cast her out before they realised she could go into the spiders dens and collect items. Now she’s treated with distant reverence. The story focuses on Emm getting ready for a ‘hunt’ where she goes into the spiders den on her board. Superstition and ritual are emphasised throughout the story such as Emm sleeping late and treating her board almost like a person.

Most of the story focuses on her going through the lair and out of all the stories in this collection, this one scared the absolute hell out of me. Giant spiders are gross and she’s sneaking through this lair pulling herself along with ‘silk’ and I was on edge the entire time I read it through. I have mentioned previously that some of the stories had too much cramed into them. Spider Silk, Strong as Steel was a wonderful and terrifying story. There was no big explanation as to why Emm couldn’t use her legs nor how the world ended up like this. It was just a slice of life in the day of a young woman who also has a disability trying to survive.

No Shit by K L Evangelista

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A plague has ravaged Australia. The story starts with Jane burying her parents. Despite this rather grim task her sarcastic tone gives immediately sets the tone for the story. “Let’s be clear up front. I didn’t kill my parents. I loved them. The plague killed them, and everyone else.”

Jane spends the next few days getting drunk and trying to find other survivors in Woolgoolga, NSW. Eventually she finds another survivor called Sam who is living in a Winnebago collecting books such as Dealing with Change and Composting Toilets. They both make a joke about not wanting to deal with sewerage (No Shit) and decide it will be the unofficial motto of their survival group. The tone of the whole story is incredibly light and amusing despite the fact these two are seemingly the last two people around.

They manage to find a professional FM transmitter and start tagging the places they go with graffiti stating Jane and Sam Alive at 5pm. They start travelling up towards Brisbane and broadcasting their message. You get a fair way through Jane’s hilarious and biting commentary before you find out she’s got Crohn’s disease which affects her bowels. Sam gets angry about her not opening up and you realise the hilarious commentary is more of a defence mechanism. Even as the narrator of her own story she doesn’t reveal this to us. They get to Brisbane and find a hospital with full energy but empty. Jane wonders why they’re not rerouting power and you get the second big reveal about her character – she’s an electrical engineer. They meet a doctor in the hospital who has a theory that the people who survived the plague all have autoimmune diseases – Sam had orchidness, Jane has Crohn’s and the doctor has MS. If this is actually correct the story doesn’t delve into it as Jane and Sam head to Mount Cootha where they’re met with applause from their fans.

This was such a great story as Jane’s voice was so strong from the outset but also allowed the reader to slowly uncover her secrets with Sam. I like that the autoimmune disease survival theory was thrown in but not explored too deeply. I’d honestly read more of Sam and Jane’s adventures as they navigated the post-apocalyptic Australian East Coast in a Winnebago.

I will remember you – Janet Edwards

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On day zero, an alien spaceship hovers over Corlforth St Peter and the USA tries to attack it. The weapons do nothing. On day one blue dots started appearing on people’s hands. The dots signified the day you were going to die. The main character Megan doesn’t have any dots on her hand as she was born without one. She assumes she will die on day five like her parents. The last day before they prepare to die is a horrible heart wrenching thing to read. They’re so calm and just eating dinner. They then go out to sit in a trench with all the other day fives to die. Megan’s mother dies midsentence and it’s so sad to read. It takes a while to realise Megan’s not actually dead. She finds out that some people have not been marked for death and they’re the heirs of humanity. Megan goes to the trenches and tells people she will remember them. They give her photos and write messages on the back. Another village has an heir but its six month old baby. Megan agrees to look after him and they set her up on a farm so she will be able to survive when everyone is gone. Another heir is found but he refuses to meet Megan until day fourteen, when everyone will be dead. As the last of the people die, Megan prepares herself for the reality she is going to be alone with a baby and a complete stranger. The other heir is a seventeen year old boy and the two of them watch as the alien spaceship leaves, their cleansing of the earth complete. As the ship flies away Megan mutters “I will remember you.”

This story was amazingly gut wrenching. From the opening of Megan describing her last day with her parents to the slow build-up of Megan knowing everyone around her was going to die was so well written. It didn’t feel melodramatic but you felt such horror at the events unfolding completely out of everyone’s control. This was the last story in the collection and it was such a great way to end. I don’t know if it was intentional but it felt like the collection came full circle – the opening story, And the rest of us wait, saw a teenage girl singing and rallying her community while I will remember you was a teenage girl watching her entire community die.

Do you think that traditionally survival and post-apocalyptic stories over favour survival of the fitness rather than luck? Would you survive the apocalypse? Start a conversation below or share on social media.

Discarding survival of the fittest (Part 3)

This review contains spoilers for Defying Doomsday.

What If: the world ended and you had a disability or were chronically ill.

Defying Doomsday takes this “What If” scenario and explores it across fifteen short stories. Each story does this incredibly differently.  This post explores four of the short stories and how they approach the scenario. Check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Five Thousand Squares – Maree Kimberley

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Kaye and Micha are best friends who met at an arthritis support group. They are both much younger than your typical arthritis suffer and bonded over this. Politically they’re both on very different ends of the spectrum with Kaye joking to Micha she has a “socialist in there just screaming to get out”. Despite having differences politically, they both share a great fear that something bad is going to happen and begin prepping for it. Then the day comes when all their prepping comes in handy.

 

This story was really great as it gives little detail about the event proceeding it other than a passing mention of “regional wars” and Triparates winning the election. It doesn’t bog itself down in the details of the why but rather focuses solely on Kaye and her relationship with Micha as Kaye tries to escape the tidal wave with her two children.

 

The characters of Kaye and Micha were excellent and I honestly wanted to read more about them. The athritist is used cleverly as it the reason they manage to escape the tidal wave in the first place as Micha is awake at 4am which is “prime pain time”. It isn’t the main focus of the story but rather something that is always hovering there such as when Kaye is trying to escape and she describes the amount of pain she feels as she’s trying to get her kids out of the house. For anyone who’s ever experienced chronic pain or long term pain, this is fairly reflective of what it feels like. You only notice the extreme pain when doing strange things or if it’s higher than usual. You’re aware it’s there but it’s become part of your daily life that you stop actively thinking about it.

 

This was definitely one of my favourite stories out of the collection.

 

Portobello Blind – Octavia Cade

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Anna, a blind fourteen year old girl survives a plaque that wipes out most of humanity. She is stuck at a marine lab where her father was researching. The opening line “the worst part of the apocalypse was the sheer bloody boredom of it” is a heads up of what is about to come. Anna spends her days pretending she’s on a private tropical island resort to cope with the boredom and monotony of being alone and not being able to travel. You feel her helplessness which is partly because she’s a teenager and partly because she’s blind. She cries a lot as she tries to release sheep and lambs who are starving but fails, tries to find edible seaweed and screams into the satellite radio. The frustration and desperation is very well written that I was starting to wonder if the story would end with Anna killing herself but luckily Anna finds her inner strength after speaking to survivors over the radio. The ending is uplifting and hopeful which is a nice contrast to the rest of the story.

 

Tea Party – Lauren E Mitchell

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Tally was in a mental hospital when the world ended. Although it is not stated why Tally was there, it implies it as something to do with self-harm. A year after the world has ended and Tally is going shopping for the other patients on the ward. There are nine of them all together and Tally has become their defacto leader of the group. Tally is joined by ‘The Count’ who is referred to as they which confused me at first as I thought meant The Count had multiple personalities but then I worked out it meant The Count was non-binary.

Tally and The Count find a woman who was a nurse in the remnants of a hospital. Asking her name she replies “Florence” which The Count responds with “arrogant!” which I had a nice chuckle at. The nurse settles on Mary as her name. As Mary returns to the ward and realising she’s the only ‘sane’ person hesitates to join in their ‘tea time’ when all of the ward comes together and takes their meds with tea. Tally worries that she will take over and the ward will no longer need Tally. I felt like the underlying message that was never explicitly said was Tally was in the ward because they tried to kill themselves and that looking after the ward was easier than looking after themselves.

If I had to pick a favourite story out of the collection this would be it. It’s such a great riff on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with some apocalyptic flavouring. It portrayed mental illness in a realistic but sympathetic light.

 

Giant – Thoraiya Dyer

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Skye lives in a space station on the moon. She is the daughter of a scientist who went to the moon years earlier to study the Moltorians, an alien race who communicate in a strange language involving maths and chemical components. She attempts to communicate with the Moltorians via their language.

At the same time, a rescue mission to the moon is being coordinated by Hugo, the husband of one of the scientists. Shortly after the mission, the second American Revolution happened and the world was plunged into war.

It turns out Skye is the daughter of Hugo and Silja however as she was born on the moon and a contamination due to the Moltorians has accelerated her growth. Hugo is obsessed with bringing her home and Skye is obsessed with making contact with the Moltorians. This comes to blows in the finale of the story.

This one was interesting as I found Skye’s first person confessions to the digital journal which she was pretending was her mother slightly jarring compared to the reflective poetry of Hugo’s third person parts. However, it was a great way to show the contrast between the two characters.

Additionally, the saying “Supernova in a shitpump” was amazing and I laughed hard at that one. I’m hoping to use it in my additional vocabulary. Despite this story having broad ideas and a lot going on, ultimately it was dealt with much better than the previous stories with big ideas (see part 2).

Do you think that traditionally survival and post-apocalyptic stories over favour survival of the fitness rather than luck? Would you survive the apocalypse? Start a conversation below or share on social media.

Discarding survival of the fittest (Part 2)

This review contains spoilers for Defying Doomsday.

What If: the world ended and you had a disability or were chronically ill.

Defying Doomsday takes this “What If” scenario and explores it across fifteen short stories. Each story does this incredibly differently.  This post explores four of the short stories and how they approach the scenario. You can find Part 1 here.

 

The Executions:

In the Sky with Diamonds – Elinor Caiman Sands

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Megan is a war reporter, floating in space reporting on a war with an alien race. She watches on as a group of ships, including her sister’s vessel try to outrun alien invaders. Megan also have cerebral palsy and uses an AI inserted in her head called Jennifer to communicate and control her ship. The invading alien race has been raging war on humanity and stealing their diamonds.

Megan’s father was a war reporter and died from stepping on a landmine before she was born. She believes its people like him who make a difference in the world.

I find this interesting as a former journalist, I had these thoughts when I wanted to be a journalist. That finding out the truth and exposing it was a grand calling. Alas the state of journalism isn’t so great today. John Oliver recently did a piece on why investigative reporters and war correspondents are slowly disappearing. I find it interesting that this was the angle the story went with considering it is supposed to be in the future.

The character of Megan is excellent however the pacing felt a bit wrong on this story. So much time is spent describing how Megan relies on Jennifer to get around in space and communicate and her role as a journalist and her dad and her sister flying away with other survivor and yet the interesting part which Megan and the aliens speak about diamonds feels rushed. Almost like the author had to quickly end it. The concept of human’s being made out of carbon therefore being close to diamonds which the aliens revere as godlike is interesting but I felt the execution was a bit lacking.

 

Two Somebodies Go Hunting – Rivqa Rafael

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Siblings Lexi and Jeff are sent out by their mother to go hunt down a large kangaroo in a post-apocalyptic landscape that is essentially drought stricken rural Australia. I couldn’t figure out if the world had ended or if the family were already living in rural Australia when something bad happened and they just stayed away. This story annoyed me so much but I believe it was supposed to. Lexi and Jeff spend 90% of the story fighting and I could feel my own memories of my sister annoying the hell out of me surfacing in my mind. The sheer idiocy and aggravation between siblings is so well described I spent most of the time in this story being pissed at Lexi and then at Jeff as the point of view changed. Lexi has issues with her leg that is revealed to be due to an accident she had when she was four. Jeff and Lexi were playing in the creek bed as kids and Jeff slipped and fell. Lexi caught him but landed wrong and broke her leg. For various reasons, her leg couldn’t be reset correctly and it now constantly aches years later.

 

The symbolism of the kangaroo as the thing causing the tension in their relationship was very well done. When the reveal comes about Lexi’s leg and the cause, a short time later the first rain in a decade comes around and Lexi and Jeff visit the creek bed that caused all the issues, now a running creek complete with fish. The story ends on a high note with the creek’s filling of water and fish symbolising their mended relationship.

 

Given Sufficient Desperation – Bogi Takács

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Aliens took over the world and now people voluntarily help the aliens with identifying items via virtual reality helmets. Vera is one of these volunteers, she has dyspraxia and often finds herself hurt especially as the aliens don’t understand that she needs more than eight hours sleep or it makes her motor coordination issues worse.

She spends her days identifying items or hanging out with her friend Kati. One day they see a group of anarchist squatters on a nearby hill and discuss whether they should join them. The aliens technically aren’t making them stay but Vera concedes she isn’t going to be of much use and would rather stay. The passage of time is shown by lists of objects and suddenly the descriptions of the landscape become lists themselves. It is a bit jarring after the opening part of the story however it works to show a significant portion of time has passed between the beginning and the climax of the story. Vera ends up going for a walk one day and happens to coincide with a group of militants bombing the compound. A bit of information dumping later about how the attack happened (not my favourite style of writing but had to be done in this context) and the militants are recruiting Vera and Kati (who also escaped). They end up going back to the aliens as they treat them better than the bloodthirsty militant group but something has changed in Vera. Suddenly she’s listing objects and stating everything can be used as a weapon. The aliens suddenly reveal that they weren’t the aliens who bombed earth, rather they were just scavengers. Vera’s revelation that everything can be used as a weapon causes them to leave the planet.

 

As you can see by the very long description, a lot happened in this story. I’d say there were too many ideas in this for a short story and it feels a bit overstuffed. Great ideas but too many. I feel like you could have shown a progression from Vera identifying objects to getting angry at the monotony and starting to see everything as weapons rather than the whole plot about the militants. Perhaps it was to show the aliens were more merciful towards her than her fellow human beings but I feel like they either had to pick one of the storylines rather than try and have both.

 

Selected Afterimages of the Fading – John Chu

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A story in second person is a rare thing to see as most writers tend to stay away from it. The use of it works quite well in this context but I don’t think I could read a whole book in this style. However, the style of this story is not the most unique thing about it. The concept is that things become translucent and blurry in this strange world and ultimately disappear. The main character, Caleb is a super perceiver which assists in the research of why things are disappearing however they also have body dysmorphia. Caleb is beginning to go translucent and another man called Latch gets into a conversation about body dysmorphia and super perceivers. Over the course of the story, Caleb and Latch do experiments relating to the fading and start feeling things for each other. This is actually a love story about a person with body dysmorphia rather than a story about the end of the world. The fading part is just in there.

 

This was a cool story with a great concept but I struggled to get my head around the story and the style. I felt like it would have been better without the fading part and just about two guys falling in love and overcoming body dysmorphia.

 

Compared to the first four stories, these ones felt a bit lacking. Except for Two Somebodies Go Hunting, all the stories felt like they had too many ideas to be fleshed out properly in a short story and felt rushed and overstuffed as a result.

 

Do you think that traditionally survival and post-apocalyptic stories over favour survival of the fitness rather than luck? Would you survive the apocalypse? Start a conversation below or share on social media.

Discarding survival of the fittest (Part 1)

This review contains spoilers for Defying Doomsday.

What If: the world ended and you had a disability or were chronically ill.

Defying Doomsday takes this “What If” scenario and explores it across fifteen short stories. Each story does this incredibly differently.  This post explores the first four short stories and how they approach the scenario.

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The Executions:

And the Rest of Us Wait – Corinne Duyvis

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Iveta is a teenage Latvian popstar sitting a shelter waiting out the apocalypse somewhere in Europe. She also has spina bifida. It is set in the near future where she has an electronic spinal implant to be able to walk. However, when the comet finally hits the earth the electromagnetic pulse knocks out her implant.

It explores the concepts of celebrity and the media portrayal of disability. For example, Iveta has a conversation with two other young women in the shelter who ask why she isn’t on a priority ark as she’s a ‘celebrity’. She brushes it off but in her narration she mentions how the world forgot her country as they prepared for the impact. The two young women also quiz her as to why she hasn’t got her wheelchair which Iveta says she only uses for performances which gets a big reaction as if she’s a faker. Iveta quickly clarifies that she only uses her wheelchair for performances so she could save energy and not have to worry about falling over. This conversation is often typical of people when discussing disability, especially when discussing accessible parking, permits and invisible disabilities.

The plot delves into the rationing of food and supplies. This quote probably sums up the general consensus of what many people would think in such a situation:

“It’s such nonsense. Special diets? Come on. It’s the end of the damn world. If even one percent of us end up surviving I’d call it a win.”

To distract from the situation (and as her own coping mechanism), Iveta begins performing songs with other girls to uplift the mood. While she gets some pretty nasty feedback, she takes it in her stride. She soon becomes a symbol of hope for many and the shelters organisers want her to break the news to people that they will no longer be catering for specific diets. She definitely tells everyone that equality means that we all have an equal chance, not that we all get the same.

It’s certainly not a subtle message but it’s a damn important one.

To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath – Stephanie Gunn

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Georgie’s sisters, Annalee and Eliza were born with cystic fibrosis. Annalee received a lung transplant a year ago but Eliza also needs a lung transplant. The story begins months after a flu epidemic when Eliza’s black phone, the one especially for contacting the transplant hospital rings. Georgie is convinced it’s just the phone glitching but after a message is left stating there is a transplant for Eliza. Annalee and Eliza convince Georgie to leave the relative safety of their mother’s farm and go into the city to the hospital.

To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath explores the idea of survival through Georgie’s point of view rather than either of the sisters. Georgie is the one trying to keep everything together despite her own medical issues (she suffered severe burns as a child and is heavily scarred). It is an interesting dynamic that is often seen in older siblings or if one sibling is ill and the other is not.

During their journey into the city, Annalee’s body begins to reject the newly transplanted lungs and now Georgie must face the reality she may lose both of her sisters. That everything has an expiry date, including humans. Roses are used heavily as symbolism, the story starts with Georgie telling the story of a priest telling Annalee and Eliza that God put 65 roses in their chests. The ending finds them in a house with a beautiful rose garden, circling back that there may still be hope after all.

 

Something in the Rain – Seanan McGuire

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Holly and her cat Kaylee are the only survivors of toxic rain caused by melting polar ice caps. Holly has autism and mild schizophrenia and was recently pulled out of her school as she’d been mercilessly bullied. She was one of few people who saw the signs of the impending disaster and refused to go outside. It was the thing that saved her life. She has an established routine of going shopping at the local Target with a wagon, timing the storms and cleaning her house. She also still takes her medication regularly.

One day she runs into Cathy, one of the bullies from her school. Cathy is the first survivor Holly has met but she’s not very impressed with this turn of events. Cathy follows Holly home but immediately calls her weird, spaz, scitzo and insults Kaylee the cat. Cathy and Holly try to get along for a few days but Cathy commits the ultimate sin by letting out Kaylee. Holly insists she find the cat and Cathy gets her comeuppance.

This was one of my favourite stories in Defying Doomsday as it’s the ultimate revenge fantasy and I found Holly to be such a great character whose autism and narration is subtly inserted by the way she describes things and how she speaks to Cathy. Her survival was due to the unique way she saw the world which I really enjoyed.

 

Did We Break the End of the World? – Tansy Rayner Roberts

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Jin and Aisha are partners in crime and in silence. Jin is deaf and Aisha doesn’t speak. Together they move through houses as scavengers. Jin specialises in scavenging batteries, especially since he only has a limited supply for his hearing aid. The partnership between Jin and Aisha and how they communicate via basic sign language and body language is interested to read and gives a unique perspective on showing not telling.

On a routine scavenge, Jin and Aisha find graffiti in the house they are looting stating “Did we break the end of the world?” They both have been seeing this particular line popping up all over the city but neither can work out what it means.

They run into a teenage boy called Billy who specialises in scavenging art supplies. Jin is suspicious of Billy but also incredibly attracted to him.

As the story unfolds, it is revealed that the only survivors are teenagers as the suburb they were living in was specifically for foster children and robotic foster parents. Billy is the one painting “did we break the end of the world?” everywhere and he has a theory, that they’re part of some strange experiment and ‘the pulse’ was orchestrated by whomever was running the experiment to close it down. Except they survive and start their own version of society.

The ending doesn’t actually confirm if said conspiracy theory is true as the plot isn’t overly important as the characters in this story. Jin and Billy develop a romance that seems realistic and isn’t focused on either the fact that Billy is deaf or the fact they’re both boys. Kudos to Tansy Rayner Roberts for portraying a real relationship without harping on those two parts. I really enjoyed this story and I’ve got a secret hope that these characters will be revisited at a later date.

 

What do you think about the first for executions of this What If Scenario? Do you think that traditionally survival and post-apocalyptic stories over favour survival of the fitness rather than luck? Would you survive the apocalypse? Start a conversation below or share on social media.

Putting Brisbane and Australianisms into urban fantasy without cultural cringe

Vigil is a well written, tightly plotted urban fantasy. It explores deep themes of belonging and family without ever pausing it’s fast paced and tightly plotted story. With a well-rounded cast of characters, a likeable protagonist and writing that feels genuinely Australian without the cultural cringe, Vigil is an excellent read.

This review contains minor spoilers for Vigil by Angela Slatter.

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What If: There was a secret society of mythological creatures hanging out in Brisbane, Queensland.

 

I am going to admit my bias upfront: I am a born and bred Queenslander and have called Brisbane my home for over five years. My approach to reading Vigil came from an insider perspective as I frequent many of the places mentioned in the book. 

 

The Execution

Verity Fassbinder is the daughter of a Weyrd (supernatural) parent and one normal (human) parent. She no supernatural powers of her own but can walk between the worlds.

Verity tries to balance her Weyrd job of hunting creatures who threaten the normal in Brisbane with her own normal existence but the two refuse to stay separate.

Either it’s her new human boyfriend finding out about the dark things that lurk beneath Brisbane’s sunny veneer or her weyrd ex-boyfriend dragging her into life threatening situations (and intimating new boyfriend).

I attended the Brisbane launch for Vigil and Slatter was clear she wanted to write a distinctly Brisbane (and by extension Australian) urban fantasy rather than something generic. Cultural cringe in Australian fiction is ineluctable and yet there are very few times when the Australianisms used cause such cringe (the only time I personally cringed was when winnie blues were mentioned. This was more to do with my teenage experience with said winnie blues rather than Slatter’s writing).

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Setting

The thing that truly sets Vigil apart from many urban fantasies is it’s setting which is Brisbane.

 

If you haven’t visited Brisbane, Vigil paints a rather accurate picture (apart of the supernatural parts) of the culture and landmarks.

 

Brisbane is Queensland’s state capital. It is the third largest city in Australia. Queensland unfortunately gets branded as “the backwards state” compared to its larger counterparts (only by population) New South Wales and Victoria. I feel like Brisbane’s reputation as the capital of the backwards state and known as the “country town capital” works brilliantly as the setting for all things weyrd.

 

There is nothing generic about Brisbane as an urban fantasy setting, even if you were reading this as someone who has never even been to the city, you get the feeling the author knows it intimately and loves it despite all its flaws. I’d compare it to reading about New York City which is the setting for so many works of fiction and non-fiction, you can often tell people’s relationship with the city through their writing and it can often be a character of its own.

 

Slatter has managed to do this for Brisbane in Vigil.

 

Characters

Verity Fassbinder is the daughter of a kinderfresser who stole children for the affluent weyrd families. He was caught by the normal police twenty-three years ago and jailed as a paedophile. His actions almost exposed the weyrd to the normal society. Verity is constantly hounded by her father’s reputation every time she associates with weyrd society. She is also actively discriminated against as a “half breed”. Her abrasive and wise cracking personality developed due to this burden as well as knowing she has no family or no place where she truly belongs. She’s not a super special heroine like many urban fantasies, she’s just a woman who has an in-demand skill, does the job and goes home. Her age isn’t explicitly given but I’d guess she’s in her late twenties or early thirties based on a few facts thrown in.

 

Zvezdomire “Bela” Tepes is Verity’s ex-boyfriend and her boss. He works for the “Council” who try their best to watch over the weyrd. He’s incredibly handsome and incredibly old, he came from the ‘old country’ (somewhere in Eastern Europe that isn’t specifically named) and like many weyrd he has lived for a long time. Slatter decides to use the ‘young looking but actually old’ supernatural trope and turn it on it’s head. Without giving away part of the plot, there is no love triangle in this book and there is no back and forth ‘will they won’t they’ romance. It has a realistic view of a relationship between a young woman and a person who is hundreds of years old but looks young. Bela drives most of the plot in the beginning but steps aside in the second act as Verity come into her own.

 

Ziggi Hassman drives Verity around for the entire book. He technically works for Bela but he has a soft spot for Verity. The book doesn’t reveal much about him other than he drives a weyrd cab, loves cake and has a Taser. Despite the lack of details, the relationship between Verity and Ziggi is portrayed so well you feel like you know much more than you actually do.

 

David is Verity’s normal love interest. He’s a computer programmer and lives at the Woolstore Apartments at Teneriffe. I mention the apartments because I always drool over them and imagine what it would be like to live in them. It was almost like wish fulfilment.

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Themes

Belonging

Verity feels like she doesn’t belong in either the normal or the weyrd world and yet she stays in Brisbane because it is the closest thing to belonging she can find. She still lives in the home her grandparents left her and hasn’t changed much about it. It reflects that she only truly felt safe there with them and doesn’t want to leave even though they have long gone.

The setting is so important in this novel compliments the fact that despite everything, Verity believes Brisbane is where she belongs even if she never feels completely at ease in either society. The way Verity sees Brisbane with detail and loving familiarity reflects this.

 

Family

Verity feels so torn between the monster her father was and her deepest loving memories of him. Verity’s upbringing by her grandparents who loved her but slightly feared the weyrd half of her affected her in such a way she generally keeps everyone at a distance until they can prove multiple times they are loyal to her. Even then, Verity tends to pick up people who are like surrogate family – Ziggi is like a father figure and despite her romantic past with Bela, he’s almost like an older brother to her. Her neighbour Mel is like her sister which contrasts to Mel’s actual sister Rose who is a drunken mess who stole Mel’s husband. It feels like the message is that while family is important, your family isn’t always the closest blood relations.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Vigil is a well written, tightly plotted urban fantasy. It explores deep themes of belonging and family without ever pausing it’s fast paced and tightly plotted story. With a well-rounded cast of characters, a likeable protagonist and writing that feels genuinely Australian without the cultural cringe, Vigil is an excellent read.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Vigil is Angela Slatter’s debut novel. It is the first in a series with the second book to be released in July 2017.

 

Is Brisbane a great place for a fantasy setting? Is cultural cringe only an issue in Australia or for other cultures? Start a conversation by commenting below or sharing on social media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Dystopian Futures Set in the Past (and how they read now)

4 books with terrifying futures set in the past…..

  1. 1984 by George Orwell

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Released in 1949, George Orwell’s 1984 was a response to the end of World War 2 and the start of the Cold War. Many of its cultural references such as “big brother”, “group think”, “thought crime” and “newspeak” are still in common use 67 years later. It was the basis for the term “Orwellian” which is often used to describe heavy authoritarian societies.  The main themes of surveillance, censorship and nationalism are still relevant today.

 

How does it read today?

It’s very clumsily written with a good third of the book is Orwell bombastically describing the history of their society like a textbook. The plot itself is fairly thin and moves at a glacial pace. There are so many other works out there exploring the same themes that you’d be excused if you only have read the Wikipedia page instead of the work itself.

 

That being said, despite the fact you’re reading about a future set over 30 years in the past it still have relevance today and if you understand the true historical context of the book (being one of the first modern post World War 2 dystopian works) and its cultural influence, it is worth a read. However if you’re looking for a great moving plot, characters and an easy to read writing style. Give this one a miss.

 

  1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Published in 1953, it was a response to censorship and the dumbing down of society in general by television and other mass media. It is set in a future society where books are outlawed and firemen burn any they find. The date isn’t actually specifically stated in the book although if you do research 2053 seems to be a common answer. So technically, it’s still considered the future although you can immediately tell it was written pre-2000 as there is no mention of the internet or mobile phones so that’s how I’m allowing it in on the list. Funnily enough, it has found itself of banned book lists many times in it 63 year publication history.

 

How does it read today?

It’s actually a very short book and the writing style is easy to read. The themes are still incredibly relevant over 60 years later and the only thing that gives away the age of the book is the absence of the internet and mobile phones. Otherwise, you could be reading an accurate future for our current society. Definitely worth reading on its own even without the historical context that inspired the author.

 

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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I’m going to be upfront about this – The Handmaid’s Tale is the one book I’d take on a deserted island to read. It has been a huge influence on me as a writer so I will try my best not to let that influence my analysis too much.

 

Published in 1985, the Handmaid’s Tale is set in a near future North America where a totalitarian Christian organisation overthrows the US government and establish the republic of Gilead based on Old Testament religious fanaticism, part of this is severely limiting women’s rights. While the timeframe it is set isn’t specifically stated, it is mentioned that the birth rates started tapering off in the 1980’s so it’s assumed its set in the early 2000’s. It explores the themes of gender, religion, politics and the power of language.

 

How does it read today?

It is an easy to read book with relevant themes and requires absolutely zero need for historical context. It could have been written today as the idea of the Gilead government is to regress society, therefore references to outdated technology make complete sense.

 

  1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K Dick

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Published in 1968, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is set in 1992 post-apocalyptic San Francisco where a nuclear war has destroyed much of the environment. The UN encourages people to migrate to off world colonies by using the incentive of free androids. Androids are banned on Earth to further assist this process. The themes focus on what it means to be human and what is reality.

 

How does it read today?

Phillip K Dick’s style of writing is designed so you need to reread his work to get every meaning. It’s difficult as its classic scifi that predicts nuclear war, robots and flying cars which all feel incredibly dated in today’s society. Being a child of the 90’s meant that the immediate threat of nuclear war wasn’t something I experienced as I missed the Cold War. The thing that saves it is this isn’t a book about robots or nuclear war but about the classic age old question “what does it mean to be human?” I also recommend you read the book before you watch the very well-known film adaption Blade Runner as they are two very different beasts but both amazing.

 

I really should have talked about Brave New World as well but I haven’t got around to reading it yet. What are your thoughts of on these books? Are there any I should have also explored? Start a conversation by commenting below or sharing on social media.

 

 

 

Six degrees of post-apocalyptic separation

Same What If Different Execution – The Stand versus Station Eleven .

Welcome to the first in the “Same What If” series. These are posts that compare novels that have the same “What If” Scenario and compare the execution. First up in the series – Stephen King’s The Stand versus Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven. This post contains major spoilers for both books.

What If: The majority of the world’s population is wiped out by a deadly disease and the survivors must rise up against a greater evil that rises from the ashes.

The Execution

Stand

The Stand starts in June 1980 (1990 in the uncut edition) when a weaponised strain of influenza is accidently released from a remote US Army base. As 99 percent of the world’s population dies, King focuses on a group of survivors who all have dreams of a 108-year-old woman called Abagail Freemantle. All the survivors begin to gravite to Nebraska where Abagail lives and find out how they’re all connected to fight a great evil that is brewing in Las Vagas, Nerada.

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Station Eleven starts in the mid to late 2010’s when a Swine Flu epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population. Twenty years, a group of actors and musicians known as the travelling symphony find themselves coming up against an evil cult with a charismatic leader.

 

Setting

Time and place are incredibly important to the narratives of both The Stand and Station Eleven. Technology of the time are critical to the spreading of the disaster at the beginning of both books. I struggled with The Stand’s technology and pop culture references as the book is set 10 years before I was born. I didn’t feel such a strong connection to the touchstones of pop culture the same way I did with Station Eleven. I wonder if readers ten years from now will have this issue with Station Eleven. The pop culture references are supposed to tug at the heartstrings of readers to remind them that the world the characters live in is not so far from our own. It sometimes works, it sometime doesn’t. King is renowned for his propensity to overload his writing with pop culture references. It can be a bit distracting at times, especially since the references are now over thirty years old. Mandel uses pop culture sparingly however she flashes the story forward so the characters have less time to mull on these references whereas King’s story only spans a year.

 

Characters

The Stand and Station Eleven have large casts of characters that are all interconnected. The richness of the cast of characters is why both books are so excellent. It would be impossible to write about each of the characters so I will focus on the main cast who moves the story forward.

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Station Eleven’s Cast

Arthur Leander is a successful film and theatre actor who dies the first night of the epidemic. He is the key connector to all the characters.

Kirsten Raymonde is a child actor from Toronto who witnesses Arthur Leander’s onstage death. Before he dies, he gives her a graphic novel called Station Eleven which is written by his first ex-wife. She is the main narrator when the book flashes forward twenty years. She is part of the travelling theatre troupe and is obsessed with Arthur Leander and the graphic novel he left her.

Tyler Leander is the son of Arthur and his second wife Elizabeth. Arthur gives him the only other copy of the Station Eleven graphic novel. He is stranded at Severn airport when the epidemic begins. He becomes the leader of a cult and is the main antagonist.

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The Stand’s Cast

Abagail Freemantle known as Mother Abagail is a 108-year-old woman living in Nebraska. She appears to the survivors in dreams and urges them to go to Boulder, Colorado. She has visions from God and prophesises the final stand against Randall Flagg, the main evil of the story.

Randle Flagg known as the man in black is the main evil in the story. He is the evil across multiple of King’s novels. He is presented as an otherworldly demon who is never killed rather defeated. Like mother Abagail, he appears to survivors in dreams and attracts those who are drawn to destruction and power.

Stuart Redman is one of the first people exposed to the plague and survives. He becomes one of the key authority figures in the Boulder Free Zone where the ‘good’ survivors establish a settlement. He is one of four people who go to face Randall Flagg in Las Vegas. He is the ‘everyman’ character who the reader is supposed to identify with however he’s also the most black and white character of the cast.

Larry Underwood is a successful young singer who achieves fame with his debut single “Baby, Can you dig your man?” He falls into the wrong crowd in LA and moves back to New York with his mother just as the epidemic hits.

Nick Andros is a deaf-mute from Nebraska who survives the plague and has the most vivid dreams of Mother Abagail. He leads survivors to Mother Abagail and then becomes the leader of the free zone committee.

 

Overall

While both works explore the concept of good and evil in a post-apocalyptic setting The Stand explores it on a macro level with a large ‘good’ verses ‘evil’ battle while Station Eleven explores it on a micro level with more shades of grey and ambiguity.

King has a much larger cast of characters than Mandel however King’s work is much longer. King is known for his predilection for writing long meandering works sometimes to his disadvantage. As wonderful and powerful as the Stand is, it’s a long read that could have been made better with tighter editing. Mandel’s work on the other hand doesn’t meander too much into mysticism and cynicism the same way King does but it doesn’t have the same sense of grandness that The Stand has.

Ultimately, both works are fantastic explorations of good and evil and human nature.

 

 

Is this Australia’s best YA novel?

As much as I love Looking for Alibrandi, On the Jellicoe Road is Melina Marchetta’s magnum opus.

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What If: a young woman abandoned by her mother as a child starts examining her past.

 

The Execution:

 

Seventeen year old Taylor Markham is a student at the Jellicoe School, a state run boarding school. Her past is a mystery she tries to unravel. All she knows is she was abandoned by her mother at eleven years old at the 7/11 outside Jellicoe. Then only a few minutes later she was found by Hannah, who lives at the Jellicoe School. She feels like Hannah knows something about her past and her mother but won’t tell her.

 

Thrown in a bunch of sub plots that all interconnect such as the wars between the school, the townies and the cadets, a serial killer, Hannah’s manuscript and a will they won’t they romance and it all combines to make such a richly layered work.

 

This story is the type of book you’re not really sure about when you first read it and then you get to the end and realise it all connects. Then you want to go back and read it again with a more critical eye.

 

I have read this book many times and it’s the execution that keeps me going back. The first read you’re spending so much time trying to figure out how it all connects but the second read you realise how multilayered and rich all the characters are.

 

 

Setting:

 

The majority of the story is set in and around the Jellicoe School which is roughly located a few hours from Sydney. Despite Jellicoe being entirely fictional, Marchetta paints the picture of the school and the surrounds with such loving language. The Prayer Tree, Hannah’s House, the Jellicoe Road, the School and the town felt like real living places rather than just a backdrop. The setting is critically important which is why the setting is the title. The word pictures to paint the description of Jellicoe make it seem like a dream like place with a soporific quality.

 

“It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La.”

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Characters:

 

Marchetta does characters well. They feel like people you’d meet in the street, that you’d want to be friends with. One of the reasons I re-read the story so much is that I love the characters. Even the small ones like Santangelo’s mother who only gets like two scenes in the entire novel. Those two scenes make me want to hear an entire story about her.

 

Main Characters:

 

Taylor Markham is the narrator and protagonist of the story. Her voice is incredibly strong and distinct but also works as an unreliable narrator due to the trauma of her early childhood. How Taylor describes the other characters makes them feel like living breathing people, even the very minor characters. The book is obviously set in Australia and the characters are Australian but it doesn’t feel heavy handed or jarring.

 

Jonah Griggs is the antagonist of the story. He is the leader of the army cadets from Sydney that come to Jellicoe every summer to camp. He comes across as gruff and hard but like Taylor has had a life filled with grief. He is incredibly strong and has fun antagonising the students of Jellicoe as part of the ‘war’.

 

Chaz Santangelo is the leader of the Townies, the teens who live in Jellicoe. He is of Aboriginal and Italian descent and his parents are the Mayor and the Chief of Police respectively. He has the type of confident that comes from living in a small close knit community and is very sure of himself. However, it has it downsides such as getting thrown into the watch house by your dad for causing a fight. He and Raffy have crazy sexual tension although he does develop a nice bro-mance with Jonah as the story goes on.

 

Raffy is a townie but goes to the Jellicoe School as her parents are teachers at the Jellicoe high school. She has known Chaz since she was a child and the familiarity with each other’s history makes for great interest. Her mothering nature clashes with Taylor’s fierce independent nature but she’s the closest friend Taylor has.

 

Hannah is the closest thing Taylor has to family yet they have a distant relationship as Taylor senses Hannah knows the answers to her deepest darkest questions about her mother and her father. Hannah’s absence is one of the main drivers of the story. She is also the author of the parallel story told about the young people living in Jellicoe in the 1980’s that Taylor reads.

 

The Brigadier is the mysterious presence that found Taylor and Jonah when they ran away years ago. Taylor believes he is connected to a series of disappearances that have been happening around Jellicoe for the last decade.

 

 

Themes:

 

Identity:

 

Taylor believes she doesn’t know who she is as she has little connection or memory to her past. This is reinforced by Raffy and Santangelo’s relationship that is based on shared history having grown up together in a small town. She feels disconnected from everyone and doesn’t feel she fits in despite being the leader of the School.

 

Family:

 

Taylor’s lack of family is such a strong theme throughout the book however she realises she has an unconventional family in the students of the school and in Hannah. The contrast to Taylor and Jonah’s experience of families to Raffy’s and Santangelo’s close knit families shows the wide spectrum of how families operate.

 

Friendship:

Hannah’s manuscript about the five young people living in Jellicoe serves as a parallel story to the main storyline. The theme of friendship, family and identity are echoed in this story within the story. Marchetta shows the idealistic friendships of youth so well in both the main storyline and the story within the story.

 

Final Thoughts:

 

Melina Marchetta is best known for her 1992 young adult smash hit Looking for Alibrandi. She is incredibly talented at writing compelling characters that you want to read over and over. As much as I love Looking for Alibrandi, On the Jellicoe Road is Melina Marchetta’s magnum opus. The layers of character, setting and subplots make it the type of book you’ll read over and over.

 

About the Book:

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta won the US Printz Award and was shortlisted for the ABIA Awards and the Queensland Premier’s Awards.

 

Agree? Disagree? Other thoughts? Start a conversation by commenting below or sharing on social media.

 

The horrifying future of Australia’s foster care system

Welcome to Orphancorp is a great young adult read touching on a number of issues with a unique voice. Set in a dystopian near future Australia where the foster care and prison systems have been given to a private corporation, it explores the themes of sexuality, institutional abuse and race with sensitivity and wit.

Welcome to Orphancorp

This review/analysis contains mild spoilers for Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward.

 

What If:

Australia outsourced the role of providing foster care and prisons to a for profit corporation.

 

The Execution:

The story is told through the perspective of 17-year-old Mirii. She is one week shy of her 18th birthday and escaping the Orphancorp system. The story starts when she is transferred into a new facility. This gives us the perspective that even though she is seasoned in the system that it’s still full of new characters. If she is good she will be released and if she misbehaves she will ended up in a Prisoncorp.

 

This delicate balance between her rebellious nature and the opportunity to escape the system that has been repressing her as a child is the main internal struggle for Mirii.

 

Characters:

Miriiyanan Mahoney (known as Mirii) is the narrator of Welcome to Orphancorp. She is a week off being eighteen and has been in the system for years. She is a wiz at gadgets and tattoos. Despite being the narrator you don’t a lot of insight into her past, just glimpses such as memories of her parents. She’s more interested in telling you how she knows the system and how she survives which can be interpreted as a defence mechanism for the horrifying life she’s led so far. She comes across as incredibly intelligent, sarcastic and insightful. She still manages to make meaningful connections with others in the house, knowing the relationships she makes could be pulled apart at any time.

 

There are numerous characters who show up only for a few moments which gives the realistic feeling of being in a large institution but is sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s who. It also feels like no one is truly fleshed out as a character other than Mirii as she doesn’t get time to get to know her roommates other than superficially. It does occasionally feel like some characters served to move the plot along such as the tech wiz at the very end.

 

The secondary characters that stood out:

 

Cam works with Mirii in the workshop as her runner. He is significantly younger than her and she is incredibly hostile to him at first. She sees the younger children as trouble. She warms up to Cam and advises him to go to school so he can at least have some smarts about him when he gets out.

 

Freya is set up as the antagonist early on in the story when Mirii catches her as she’s trying to escape. Despite Freya causing issues for Mirii, ultimately she isn’t the main antagonist of the story. She’s just like Mirii – trying to survive and escape the system. The system itself is the ultimate antagonist and the aunts and uncles serve it.

 

Setting:

The entire story is set within Verity House which is described as “a big grey box straddling an entire city block.” The technology and slang imply it is set in a not-to-distant future but we don’t get much of an outline about how updated technology is other than what serves the story. The technology is almost an afterthought and merely a plot device, the strength in the story doesn’t come from the setting or the technology but rather the characters themselves.

 

Themes:

 

Sexuality

Mirii never states she’s bisexual but early on she says “I can’t tell if they’re male or female, but it doesn’t matter because sweet babes need no gender.” The use of sexuality as another means to survive the system is incorporated seamlessly into the narrative and there are never any “ick” moments, despite the orgy that happens halfway through.

 

Privatisation of State Services

The concept of privatising the foster care and prison system seem farfetched in the current Australian system.  On closer inspection of our history as well as the American trend to farm out services previously provided by the state to corporations, it suddenly isn’t a huge leap of the imagination.

 

The business model plays on current trends in the foster care and prison system. Statistically, a ward of the state is more likely to not complete education, have unplanned pregnancies, end up in prison or experience mental illness. The fact that a corporation has decided to use this to gain profit is ingenious and horrifying at the same time.

 

Abuse and Neglect in Institutions

The physical, emotional and sexual abuse of institutions is touched upon in the delivery of Mirii’s narration as well as how the characters interact with each other. The reliance on sexual intimacy to replace the emotional support given by parents is what begins the orgy scene. It feels like a natural by-product of the environment. There is no outright depiction of sexual abuse but it is stated that the uncles have inappropriate relationships with girls in exchanges for drugs and protection. The physical abuse is the only abuse that is outright depicted with Mirii in starting the story in shackles and a gag.

 

Race:

Race is lightly touched upon in the story. Mirii believes she is Indigenous as her name means shooting star in Gamilaraay but she does concede she only knows this because she looked it up. Otherwise, she has no connection to her culture other than her name and a brief memory of a dark skinned woman she believes was her mother.. She scolds a younger resident on using derogatory terms towards Aboriginal people. It isn’t a major component of the story but it feels right to be in there due to the over-representation of Indigenous children currently in the foster care and prison systems.

 

Final Thoughts:

Welcome to Orphancorp is a great young adult read touching on a number of issues with a unique voice. Set in a dystopian near future Australia where the foster care and prison systems have been given to a private corporation, it explores the themes of sexuality, institutional abuse and race with sensitivity and wit. The restricted viewpoint of Mirii gives readers a glimpse into the results of a terrifying future for disadvantaged young people but also holding a mirror to current issues within the system. It is a solid debut novella from Marlee Jane Ward.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward won Seizure’s Viva La Novella 3 and the 2016 Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction. It was shortlisted for the NSW Premiers Award, Aurealis Award and the Norma K Hemming Award. It is available from Seizure, Amazon, iBooks, Google Play, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Gleebooks and Readings.

 

Do you feel privatising the Australian foster care and prison system is realistic possibility? Start a conversation by commenting below or sharing on social media.