I’d like to talk about dystopian societies for a second. When an author wants us to see a society as bad, it’s best to get that out of the way right off. I don’t expect Cassia to gripe and whine about how unjust everything is right off, she’s steeped in it and should be used to it. But authors can show us, the reader, why their society—or the Society in this case—isn’t a Utopia. Show us the consequences of the forced pairings by showing how unhappy the parents are or show a news story about the increase in murdered spouses. It sets the tone right out the gate which cues the audience to what’s going on. For example, in Soylent Green, it’s quickly established that there’s an overpopulation problem and rampant violence.
Now a skilled author can do a surprise reveal and make it work very well. That’s when the future society looks perfect on the surface or better than our own but it’s revealed that there’s a price to pay. But being as Ally is aiming for the cheap seats, with the straight forward premise that it is, I doubt she has the skill to make that work.
We begin with a cryptic paragraph about Cassia wondering what her dreams look like on paper. Then she removes some sensors from her head and complains about how it hurts to peel them off of the back of her head. From what she says, we’re supposed to gather that “the Society” monitors dreams. Because that’s not only possible, it’s also useful. Hey Ally? Do they also watch the skies and note down any Reindeer aerial activity?
Seriously, what would monitoring people’s dreams tell them? Dreams aren’t a conscious thing so it’s not like people who’d rebel are going to maintain a mask which only falls when they’re asleep. ‘Ah ha! We have a code six in sector seven!’ ‘No! You can’t mean…’ ‘Yes, they’re dreaming about flying over the ocean.’ ‘My god. That monster.’ ‘Prepare the Lemur cannon and have a cleaning squad at the ready. Tell them to leave no one alive.’
Cassia also says she did not dream of Xander and she doesn’t know why. Uh, probably the same reason you can’t stop your heart, stupid. But she did sleep late and she has to hurry to the “morning breakfast delivery” which is oatmeal, “gray-brown and expected.”
[…]We eat for health and performance, not for taste. Holidays and celebrations are exceptions. Since our calories had been moderated all week long, last night at the Banquet we could eat everything in front of us without significant impact.
This may be the most obvious question, but who the hell is Cassia talking to? Yes, I know she’s addressing us the reader but why is she telling us this? This is told in present tense, meaning that the narrator knows nothing more than the character does at that exact moment. So this isn’t a retrospective diary or her recounting it her daughter in the future. So she’s basically talking about things that are perfectly normal to her for no reason. That’d be like walking around talking about how your tongue tastes, something you wouldn’t do unless it was strange.
Besides, if they really ate for health and performance and not taste they wouldn’t bother with oatmeal. They’d get little edible cubes of cellulose full of vitamins and nutrients.
Cassia briefly worries about her brother being late for school, not to be confused with the capitalized Second School, for a moment. He runs off and she hopes he doesn’t get a citation. If it’s for having a name similar to a Paolini character, he deserves it.
Then Cassia and her mother look at the dress and regret that they don’t get to keep it. Her mom says that at least they send her a little square of the fabric to remember. She also says that Cassia was the only one who picked the green dress and that the most popular one was pink dress number twenty two. Yeah, green is just one of those colors no one likes so they’d never pick it. Except some rare and valuable snowflake like Cassia, of course. And in case you think I’m reading too much into it, Cassia then remember what happened when she went to pick out her dress.
I knew the moment I saw it that it was the one I wanted. When I made my selection, the woman at the clothing distribution center smiled after she punched the number—seventy-three—into the computer. “That’s the one you were most likely to pick,” she said. “Your personal data indicated it, and so did general psychology. You’ve picked things outside of the majority in the past, and girls like their dresses to bring out their eyes.”
Hello there, Cassia, I want you to meet my friend, stabby the clown. Stabby likes to take care of people who are “special” just like you. Then Bram runs out of the house to catch the “air train” and breaks a rule about running in public. He stops before getting on and Cassia hopes no one saw him running. I’m guessing that the dictator of the land is a fussy old English teacher who swats everyone on the wrist with a ruler when they break one of the rules.
Cassia’s mom says she has to hurry to catch the last “City air train”. Is that supposed to be some sort of hovering bus, Ally? Because so far, that’s what it sounds like. Then mom asks Cassia what she’s doing with her “free-rec hours”. Cassia says Xander will want to go play games because they’ve already seen all the “showings” and music.
“And I’m using the last hour to visit Grandfather.” The Officials don’t often allow a deviation from the usual free-rec options; but on the eve of someone’s Final Banquet, visiting is encouraged and permitted.
Because how else do you know it’s a totalitarian state if they don’t control your free time? This only bolsters my theory that this society is run by a crotchety geriatric. They probably have laws about skateboarding on the sidewalk or listening to their music too loud.
Cassia gets on the bus, I’m not calling it anything else from here on, and rides towards work. They see snow in the air and stop because how can there be snow in June? Weather is never anomalous, it’s as predictable as a sunrise and never deviates. Cassia stops and examines the little white thing and says that it’s a cottonwood seed. This makes everyone calm down and talk about how they’re glad it’s not a sign of another “Warming” and that “the Society” has everything under control. She says it reminds her of a poem and then how there are only a hundred peoms.
That’s part of “the Society” is keeping only a hundred of anything. They claimed that culture was too cluttered and they only got to keep a hundred poems, paintings and so on. Of course each group is referred to as the “Hundred Poems” or the “Hundred Plays” or even the “Hundred Acceptable Ways to Swallow”.
My own great-grandmother was one of the cultural historians who helped select the Hundred Poems almost seventy years ago. Grandfather has told me the story a thousand times, how his mother had to help decide which poems to keep and which to lose forever. She used to sing him parts of the poems as lullabies. She whispered, sang them, he said, and I tried to remember them after she had gone.
Now there’s something we hadn’t seen yet, the Unicus feeding off of Cassia’s ancestors. Usually the author waits until they can’t think of any new traits to staple on to their character before giving them special ancestors.
At the sorting house, where they work under a Mr S. Hat, Cassia says Norah tells her they’re sorting numbers today. Cassia says she doesn’t talk to Norah much because she doesn’t make mistakes. Then Norah says that it’s almost time for Cassia’s formal test to become a full time sorter which can eventually lead to sorting people for the “Matches”.
So Cassia sits down at her station and then proceeds to criticize us. First she says that there are computers that could do their jobs but you never know when technology will fail. Yeah, like when inclined planes just stop working or simple axels transform themselves into piles of pudding.
That’s what happened to the society before ours. Everyone had technology, too much of it, and the consequences were disastrous. Now, we have the basic technology we need—ports, readers, scribes—and our information intake is much more specific. Nutrition specialists don’t need to know how to program air trains, for example, and programmers, in turn, don’t need to know how to prepare food. Such specialization keeps people from becoming overwhelmed. We don’t need to understand everything. And, as the Society reminds us, there’s a difference between knowledge and technology. Knowledge doesn’t fail us.
That sounds like Ally taking a swipe at people in the now but I’ll allow it for two reasons. One, I’d expect the current government to try and convince their citizens that they’re better off without much technology. It’s only in their benefit that they have people that believe that everything they’ve done is for the better. Two, Cassia has no reason to doubt it and would probably parrot it given a chance. It’s really the only thing she’s said that fits her character so far.
So Cassia sorts and she’s very good. I can hear the wet slap of fatten lips hungering for praise. Then she goes home and puts in the “microcard”—which I’m calling a usb drive from now on—to read about Xander. So she’s going to read up on the guy she already knows everything about. It plays a little intro saying they are pleased to present her with her match and it begins showing her Xander’s basic stats while his picture comes up. Then it suddenly goes away and the message repeats and when this new picture comes up, it’s not Xander.
If they have the technology to monitor dreams (and put them onto paper in some coherent way) you think they could easily make the technology to create dreams, or suggest dreams – which would be a more productive way to control the masses.
“I dreamt again about how awesome my life is and how joyous it is to be a part of the Society. I also had a horrid nightmare about what life would be like if I didn’t marry my Matched match.”
You know, things like that 😛
That’s because no one in “the Society” is any smarter than Cassia. Which is why people are constantly dying from stubbed toes and infected paper cuts.