Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Review: "Darklandia" by T.S. Welti

Review of Darklandia by T.S. Welti

There are a number of dystopian YA novels on the market these days, using a number of different approaches in terms of how the bleak futures might be achieved and what form they might take. The best known, of course, is The Hunger Games, in which the future is presented as an openly oppressive regime stifling prosperity and doling out punishment in the form of a fight-to-the-death televised tournament amongst children. Another lesser-known series, which starts with Matched, presents a near-opposite view of a seeming utopia: clean and pristine living, plenty to eat, and no death tournaments. That shrouds a society in which all true freedom - and thus all true living - is stripped away, decisions such as career and mate chosen "scientifically" by the "friendly" government. Naturally, in both series, the rebels want a change, which seems intelligent to the oppressed in the first series and absurd to those in the second.

Darklandia takes something of a hybrid approach. Sera Fisk lives in a future New York City in which water is scarce and rationed, and all citizens must spend an hour a day immersed in a virtual reality game called Darklandia, in which players are forced and encouraged to act out their most violent urges and tendencies before returning to the real world. Mad at your boss? Kill them in the game. Annoyed at your spouse? Have a fling in the game. The game was created in response to a massive, decades-long drought which made water scarce and necessitate the banning of alcohol production; without this game, people acted out these urges in the real world. Eventually, a government formed around the use of the game and rationing of water, as well as the selection of careers and mates. Life is wonderful, of course.

Sera figures out, with the help of the dying words of her "darkling" grandmother, that something's not quite right, however. Over time, she learns of a society that oppresses its people through drugging the water supply to deaden emotions, pain, and the ability to sense reality. "Suffering is optional," they say, so long as you take those rations as prescribed. (If you don't, you'll be "purified" or "raptured.") Words which might provoke questions of the government and its Felicity are expunged; all problems are blamed on the evil darklings - like Sera's great-grandmother and missing father - and their creation of the drought and constant war that turns parts of New York City into a war zone. As Sera wakes, with the help of rebel leader Aaron, she starts to realize that she's never truly lived.

This is a well-written, thought-provoking story that will leave you asking questions about human nature and what we might expect in a future world, and I definitely enjoyed it. I thought Sera fought off her lifelong conditioning a bit too easily, and the ending was definitely not something I would have predicted or expected. Still, this is an enjoyable read for dystopian novel fans, and I encourage such readers to check it out.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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