Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Immortals by Tracy Hickman

The Immortals is a near future novel with a political message that was written in the 1990's. It hypothesises a new Aids like disease that is even more deadly which leads to a panicked population electing a totalitarian government in the United States. It is scary stuff with victims of the disease being carted off to concentration camps and right wing hysteria leading to condemnation and persecution of gays and other marginal communities. The book was very clearly influenced by reactions to the Aids epidemic and you could possibly accuse it of being out of date for that reason. Despite negative reactions in some quarters the final response to Aids in most Western countries at any rate has been compassionate and I think it is fair to say there is a less discrimination against the gay community now than there was twenty years ago (Western countries again). Nevertheless there is a lasting message in Hickman's book: a warning against intolerance and a warning against allowing hysteria and fear to cloud our political judgement. Perhaps the scariest concept in the whole book is the idea that a new legal status of "pre-deceased" is invented for anyone who contracts the illness. The illness is invariably fatal so this simplifies the paperwork. It also allows the state to do anything they want to individuals so declared because the dead have no rights.

Political message aside it is a well written and interesting story about a Father who gets himself admitted to one of the concentration camps on the trail of his gay son. He shakes things up a bit once he gets in. I wasn't entirely convinced by Hickman's descriptions of life inside the camp though. One the one hand it is portrayed as a hopeless place of constant death presided over by a cadre prisoners acting as willing jailors but on the other hand the control structures seem extremely loose and rather easy to subvert when someone actually tries.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The Pillars of the Earth is a good old fashioned historical melodrama set in Britain during the troubled period during the reigns of King Stephen and King Henry II. The central theme involves the prior of Kingsbridge priory who is determined to build a Cathedral despite many obstacles placed in his way by baddies both within and without the church. It is an old fashioned tale in the sense that the good guys are throughly good and the bad guys are thoroughly bad but it is a rich story none the less with many layers that gives a great flavour of the times. Several well known characters put in an appearance including the various Kings and Archbishop Thomas Beckett but I suspect that the author has used poetic license in interpreting the historical record.

Pillars of the Earth was published in 1989 and was a best seller at the time spawning a television adaptation and a sequel. I certainly enjoyed reading it, particularly the historical flavour. One word of warning:  the book contains several graphically depicted rape scenes which I found unpleasant to read. They do more or less fit in with the plot but for some folks (my wife for example) this would be a deal breaker.