Tag Archives: Dystopian Novels

The Books of Mortals: Forbidden

Forbidden is the first in a planned trilogy for authors Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee called The Books of Mortals. I got this book having already read and enjoyed a number of Dekker’s novels, so I was excited. With solid works like Blink, Obsession, and Three in mind, I cracked open this collaboration with Lee, a name new to me, eagerly.

Set in a future dystopia controlled by an oligarchy known as The Order, Forbidden centers around Rom Elias, a common artisan living in the world’s capital of Byzantium. All human emotions save fear have been genetically suppressed, and dire warnings abound about the time of Chaos, where lust and greed and hatred ruled humanity and led to all sorts of atrocities. Murder and war have been eradicated, but in the process, we have also lost our capacity for love and aspiration to create. Is the tranquility of a passionless society really worth the loss of all of our finer emotions? This is the question that Forbidden sets out to explore.

The book starts off with trademark Dekker action. Rom receives from a mysterious stranger an ancient scroll of vellum and a vial of blood that will restore emotions to whomever drinks it. The man reveals that Rom’s father was murdered for these things, and that he was a member of a secret society known as the Order of Keepers. This messenger is in turn murdered before Rom’s eyes, forcing Rom to take these items and run for his life just moments ahead of the assassins that are not supposed to exist at all in this ostensibly violence free world.

Rom and his friends are charged with deciphering the scroll and using the information it contains along with the vial of blood to overthrow the Order and try to bring passion and love back to a world that has been robbed of all feeling. In the process, Rom falls in love—twice!—and has to work to save the woman he loves as well as all of humanity. It’s a solid and believable combination.

The story line is intriguing, and the book moves at the fast pace that I have come to expect from Dekker. The setting is a unique blend of the ancient world with enough residual technology to set it firmly in the future. I especially enjoyed the political machinations of the Order’s leaders and while I’m not certain I understand the mechanism of choosing the world’s sovereign, I give the authors props for an original concept.

But right out of the gate, a glaring flaw tripped me up. How is a five hundred-year-old vial of blood still in a liquid form and thin enough to drink, and how does it counteract a change to one’s DNA? It was tough for me to get past, to be honest. I’m surprised this sort of glaring error made it past the editors.

Ah, but after all is said, do we read a work of fiction for a biology lesson or for the story? The story here is compelling, and not easy to predict. I like it when a book can surprise as well as entertain, and there are several surprises here.

While a sufficient amount of the story lines are resolved to make it a nice stand alone read, enough is left open to keep me anticipating the two volumes to come, Mortal and Sovereign. I also intend to catch up on Tosca Lee.

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A Night to Remember

One of the hallmarks of speculative fiction is an attempt to predict the future. From science fiction to alternate histories to apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic fiction, an attempt to map out future events is a constant and takes many forms. Dystopian novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four or Brave New World were intentionally trying to portray future events and technology. With prediction as a goal, you would expect them to get at least some things right.

(By the way, I’m still waiting for those killer view-screens, but only if they are one way.)

Of course, many books are written for simple entertainment, not to predict future events; but in hindsight we can always pick up similarities between old novels and current events that can be passed off as coincidence.

And then there are times when the coincidences can get downright creepy.

The sinking of the RMS Titanic was an appalling disaster. One thousand five hundred and seventeen lives were lost, more than two-thirds of the people on board. It has spawned a large number of literary and film versions, but none of them are as interesting as the first one, titled Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan, by Morgan Robertson.

In his book, Robinson writes of an 800-foot British luxury liner named Titan. Titan has a three-thousand passenger capacity and is considered to be a crowning achievement of maritime technology and virtually unsinkable. Because of this presumed invulnerability, only the minimum number of lifeboats required by law are on board, with a capacity far below the number of passengers and crew. On an icy April night in the North Atlantic, 400 miles from Newfoundland, Titan strikes an iceberg. The accident happens right around midnight while traveling at 25 knots (too fast for conditions). Titan sinks, killing most people aboard.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s the same basic plot that has been used for every other movie or book based on the Titanic disaster, from the Third Reich to that other guy. You know, the one that did The Terminator? The big difference is Robinson’s book was published in 1898, fourteen years before the RMS Titanic was even built, yet the similarities between the book and the actual events are so spot on that you could read the book and think it was a fictionalized account.

In your face, Philip K. Dick!

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