Dystopia Tuesday: For the Good of the Masses – A Comparison of 1984 by George Orwell and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

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This was a difficult post to write. It’s been on the to-do list for months while I ruminated. And hedged. And procrastinated.

1984 is one of the big boys in the dystopian genre. I assume that most of you have read it, or are at least familiar with its theme.

1984 by George Orwell (1949) and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (2008) are inextricably linked by their subject matter. Both serve as warnings. Both have the power to mesmerize and horrify the reader. Both should make us think. But today, I’m asking you to read Little Brother and think long and hard about what it has to say.

1984 is a classic cry against totalitarian government. It’s easy to assume that Orwell was railing against the post-World War II spread of communism, but he was also warning countries like England and the United States against believing that they could save freedom and democracy by continuing an arms race to find a stable “deterrent.” Orwell asserts that freedom cannot continue to exist in a world preparing for nuclear war.1984

In a world punctuated by war, oppression, deprivation, loneliness, paranoia, and despair, Winston reaches out for truth and love. And pays a terrible cost.

Little Brother relays an updated message: freedom cannot exist in a world that has given in to the fear of terrorism. Marcus Yallow (online handle W1n5t0n) is a hacker and a gamer who loves to outsmart surveillance technology. While skipping school one afternoon, he finds himself near the epicenter of a terrorist attack on San Francisco’s rapid transit system. Within minutes of the attack, Marcus and his three friends are taken prisoner by “military looking guys in coveralls.”

“Hey,” I said to the soldiers. “Hey, listen! We’re just high school students. I wanted to flag you down because my friend was bleeding. Someone stabbed him.” I had no idea how much of this was making it through the muffling bag. I kept talking. “Listen—this is some kind of misunderstanding. We’ve got to get my friend to a hospital—“

Someone went upside my head again. It felt like they used a baton or something—it was harder than anyone had ever hit me in the head before. My eyes swam and watered and I literally couldn’t breathe through the pain. A moment later, I caught my breath, but I didn’t say anything. I’d learned my lesson.

Who were these clowns? They weren’t wearing insignia. Maybe they were the terrorists! I’d never really believed in terrorists before—I mean I knew that in the abstract there were terrorists somewhere in the world, but they didn’t really represent any risk to me. There were millions of ways that the world could kill me—starting with getting run down by a drunk burning his way down Valencia—that were infinitely more likely and immediate than terrorists. Terrorists kill a lot fewer people than bathroom falls and accidental electrocutions. Worrying about them always struck me as about as useful as worrying about getting hit by lightning.

Marcus soon learns he’s been detained by the Department of Homeland Security as a person of interest in the terrorist attack.

“You think I’m a terrorist? I’m seventeen years old!”

“Just the right age—Al Qaeda loves recruiting impressionable, idealistic kids. We googled you, you know. You’ve posted a lot of very ugly stuff on the public Internet.”

”I’d like to speak to an attorney.”

Severe haircut lady looked at me like I was a bug. “You’re under the mistaken impression that you’ve been picked up by the police for a crime. You need to get past that. You are being detained as a potential enemy combatant by the government of the United States. If I were you, I’d be thinking very hard about how to convince us that you are not an enemy combatant.”

Despite the threats made by his captors, Marcus refuses to unlock and unencrypt his cell phone, or give any information to them. He feels that he is a citizen who loves freedom, which makes him the patriot and his captors the traitors. He is detained for five days, and released when he agrees to sign papers that declared he had been held for voluntary questioning. He is then released and told to say nothing of what has happened to him to anyone, even his parents. He is told that he will be under constant surveillance.

When he returns to school the following week, he finds things have changed since the terrorist attack. The school board has installed closed circuit televisions in every classroom for the students’ protection.

Why did we have cameras in our classrooms now? Terrorists. Of course. Because by blowing up a bridge, terrorists had indicated that schools were next. Somehow that was the conclusion the Board had reached anyway.

I stuck my hand up.

”Yes, Marcus?”

“Ms. Galvez, about this note?”

“Yes, Marcus.”

“Isn’t the point of terrorism to make us afraid? That’s why it’s called terrorism, right?”

”I suppose so.” The class was staring at me. I wasn’t the best student in school, but I did like a good in-class debate. They were waiting to hear what I’d say next.

“So aren’t we doing what the terrorists want from us? Don’t they win if we act all afraid and put cameras in the classrooms and all of that?”

There was some nervous tittering. One of the others put his hand up. It was Charles. Ms. Galvez called on him.

“Putting cameras in makes us safe, which makes us less afraid.”

”Safe from what?” I asked, without waiting to be called on.

“Terrorism,” Charles said. The others were nodding their heads.

“How do they do that? If a suicide bomber rushed in here and blew us all up—“

“Ms. Galvez, Marcus is violating school policy. We’re not supposed to make jokes about terrorist attacks—“

“Who’s making jokes?”

“Thank you, both of you,” Ms. Galvez said. She looked really unhappy.

Marcus is watched and followed in the days to come. When he finally tells his parents what really happened to him, they are horrified at his ordeal, contact an investigative reporter, and from that moment on, Marcus is in danger. He organizes an event that will bring the overreaching arm of the DHS into the public eye, and things go horribly wrong, causing Marcus’ worst fears to be realized.

Both 1984 and Little Brother serve as warnings. In the Afterword to Little Brother, Andrew Huang asks whether the terrorists have already won:

“Have we given in to fear, such that artists, hobbyists, hackers, iconoclasts or perhaps a group of kids playing Harajuku Fun Madness could be so trivially implicated as terrorists?” He goes on to say that “technology is no cure for paranoia. Coercing millions of people to strip off their outer garments and walk barefoot through metal detectors everyday is no solution, either. It only serves to remind the population that they have a reason to be afraid, while in practice providing only a flimsy barrier to a determined adversary.”

We are fond of slogans like “Freedom isn’t Free.” We must remember that we win freedom by having the courage to live every day as free people—no matter how big the threats on the horizon.

Please don’t give in to fear and paranoia. Don’t forget to be brave. Don’t believe that the things the government does to take away our freedoms are merely a small price to pay for our safety.

http://cg68doc.newsvine.com/_news/2013/08/06/19885640-exclusive-us-directs-agents-to-cover-up-program-used-to-investigate-americans

 

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Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.
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TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!

Dystopia Tuesday: Comparison of Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Gone by Michael Grant

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Lord of the Flies (1954) and Gone (2008) share a common theme: that the human impulse toward civilization is not as deeply rooted as the human impulse toward savagery.  Both novels explore what happens when children are left without any adult supervision.

In Lord of the Flies, a planeload of English schoolboys crashes on an uninhabited tropical island. All the adults are killed in the crash, and the boys attempt to govern themselves while they wait for rescue.

In Gone, everyone fifteen and older in Perdido Beach, California mysteriously vanishes one morning, leaving the young teens, children, and babies trapped inside a mysterious, impenetrable force field with no adult supervision, no working technology, and no way to get help.

In my last post, I suggested that teens that had read Matched by Ally Condie would be familiar with the themes of censorship and oppressive societal organization, and therefore well-prepared to recognize those themes in classic dystopian novels like Fahrenheit 451.

Gone is more than just a warm-up read to prepare for the themes in Lord of the Flies. A Voice of Youth Advocates review of Gone suggested “if Stephen King had written Lord of the Flies, it might have been a little like this.”  Be warned. Gone is scary.  Gone has its tender moments and the occasional laugh, but it’s every bit as scary as Lord of the Flies—and perhaps more so, as today’s teens would be more likely to identify with Sam, the reluctant leader who teams up with Astrid, the brainy and unattainable girl in his class at school, than they would with Ralph, Piggy, Jack and the other prep school boys who are stranded on the island.

Lord of the Flies uses the children’s fear of the Beast, a supernatural being that they believe haunts the island, as a metaphor for the evil that lurks within each of us, but the supernatural force in Gone is not merely symbolic. Perdido Beach was struck by an asteroid fifteen years before, and now freaky things are happening. Some of the characters develop unusual powers, and are hunted, used, and persecuted for their dangerous, deadly talents.

The boys in Lord of the Flies immediately set up a hierarchy—they elect Ralph leader, and place Jack in charge of hunting and keeping the signal fire going. The older boys fail to keep watch over the youngest children, the “littleuns,” who run naked and wild through the woods. The hunters let the signal fire go out and miss an opportunity for rescue. Soon most of the boys shirk their responsibilities, revert to superstition and ritual, and lose their civilized selves.

They eventually revert to their basest selves, and, in a moment of superstitious terror, murder their classmate, Simon, by tearing him to pieces with their hands and teeth. Even Ralph, who has struggled to maintain their civilization, takes part in the ritual killing of Simon, who was goodness and innocence, now lost.

The kids in Gone are stranded in their home town, but still flounder without the technology and the authority figures that defined and controlled their society. They push Sam to be their leader, and right away Sam realizes he’ll have trouble from a group of bullies. The teens set up a plan for caring for the youngest children (called the prees) and distributing food. Astrid wonders why they see no soldiers, or scientists, or news crews on the other side of the barrier.

Many of the girls in Perdido Beach assume the roles of healer, mother, teacher, and even love interest— perhaps that is why their society functions longer, and at a higher level, than the one in Lord of the Flies.  But the girls are not all stuck in traditional roles—some of them are spies and warriors, too, when the time comes.

Astrid’s autistic brother, Little Pete, lives in his own world, though Astrid is able to reach him sometimes, through rituals they developed during their life with their parents. Little Pete is a symbol of innocence, yet he wields a power that might just eclipse all the others’.

Soon another threat becomes apparent. The rich kids from Coates Academy, the private school on the hill, roll in to town in a convoy of expensive cars. Though they say they want to team up with the Perdido Beach kids until help arrives, but that turns out to be far from the truth.

In both Lord of the Flies and Gone, the antagonists are bullies whose attacks escalate until very few remain strong enough to resist them, and the final conflicts are battles to the death.

The naval officers who rescue Ralph and the other survivors in Lord of the Flies are symbols of civilization, of good. They cannot be blamed for abandoning the boys.

The adults in Gone have all vanished. Where are they? Have they died? If not, could they help what happened to them? The children wish to be reunited with their family members, but they also fear the unknown. As Sam nears his own 15th birthday, he learns that adults are not all-knowing, and are not to be blindly trusted.

Lord of the Flies is complete in one volume, but Gone is the first in a series of five novels, so be forewarned–you must read on to learn what happens to Sam, Astrid, and the others.

I found my husband’s bookmark in my copy of Gone this morning, and I remembered that he’d stopped reading the book because it upset him too much. I think he could’ve powered through and enjoyed it. I hope he’ll try again.

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Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.
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TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!

Dystopia Tuesday: Comparison of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Matched by Allie Condie

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Today I’m comparing two books that, at first glance, might appear to have nothing in common. And I’m going to try to do it without spoilers…we’ll see how it goes.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I believe YA dystopian literature can serve as a bridge to the classics in the genre. Introducing young teen readers to books with social commentary in a YA setting better prepares them to accept and appreciate adult novels with similar themes.

Both Fahrenheit 451 and Matched illustrate how societal organization can easily become oppressive and regimented, and both focus on the evils of censorship.

The main characters in both novels live in restrictive environments, but nonetheless are expected to go through a “period of curiosity.”

Guy Montag, the protagonist in Fahrenheit 451, has been a fireman for ten years. Firemen in his society burn books, yet Montag has a secret cache of books he’s taken from various fires. When he’s discovered with the contraband, his supervisor gives him one day to read them, to satisfy his curiosity and help him see just how worthless and confusing books are.

In Matched, 17 year-old Cassia Reyes has just been assigned her ideal mate. Cassia notes that indiscretions among newly Matched teens are common, as the Officials expect the teens to experiment a bit with other partners before they settle into their assigned marriages at the age of 21.

The characters’ curiosity may be expected, but it is not tolerated. Montag’s own wife turns him in for having books in his possession, and Cassia’s Infraction is a kiss, shared with a boy who is not her Match.

The people in both societies exist under a Mask of Happiness.  The oppressive societies, developed for the comfort of the people, have rules and regulations that eliminate ideas. Without ideas, everyone conforms. With conformity, everyone is equal, and therefore everyone should be happy. The governments in both novels assert that when books and new ideas are available to people, conflict and unhappiness occur.

Montag’s fire captain, Beatty, tells Montag that because each person is angered by some kind of literature, it is best to get rid of it all. He described how books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.

In Cassia’s world, Selection Committees scaled down the number of books, paintings, and songs in the Society to 100 each. The remainder are forbidden and destroyed. Cassia’s father is a Restoration supervisor whose job is to oversee the incineration of the contents of libraries.

In both Fahrenheit 451 and Matched, characters memorize the written word to battle censorship and literally give life to books.

Both novels describe societies that are terrifying to imagine, but not as far-fetched as we might believe.

But there is hope because these books have been written. As I put the finishing touches on Counteract, I feel humbled to join the ranks.

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Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.
26V9E new tag

TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!

Cover Reveal: Forging Freedom Volume 2

FF2_Final_cover_frontWe’re pleased to reveal the cover for Forging Freedom Volume 2. Released on the heels of our sci-fi-themed Dimensions, Forging Freedom Volume 2 features nineteen fictional and non-fiction stories highlighting our favorite theme—freedom.

This book draws from a variety of sources to include stories based on family history, imagined and stylized stories recounting actual events, and stories that aren’t quite real, but perhaps eerily enough could be given the right set of circumstances and events. The anthology takes readers from a village near Ramallah during World War I, to Saint John’s Anglican Church in Stratford, London, in 1556, to a modern-day night in jail—and many places in between.

In the cover, we envision freedom as a lush and attractive landscape that is either accessible, or something that is just beyond reach. No matter the obstacle, we believe the natural state of human beings is to be free. In all of the stories of this anthology, something stands in the way of realizing individual freedom. And it’s up to the characters in the story to break down any barriers that stand in their way—whether they be a physical wall or an intangible one.

At this time we are projecting a March 1, 2015 release date. Pre-order opportunities are also available. If you place your order now, you can score a copy of Forging Freedom Volume 2 for a pre-release price of $12.00. Pre-orders can also get copies of our other titles at a discount (check out the store link below for details).

We will accept pre-orders until February 21, 2015. Orders will be filled as soon as the title is available with some allowance of time for shipping.

If you use code SHIPFREE-FFPVOL2 at checkout, we’ll ship the order for free. You can order using the link to our secure online store, below:

on Square Market