Sunday, July 06, 2014

Pills and Starships

I heard an interview with Lydia Millet, author of Pills and Starships, on NPR that sort of sparked my interest.  It's a dystopian YA novel, told over the course of 7 days.   The "tipping point" has passed and the environment is in ruins and the whole planet is dying.  Nat and her brother Sam are supposedly the last generation, because no one is having babies anymore, at least in the "First".  Nat's parents have a "contract" which means they have decided to die, and gone on a 7 day vacation where their death is managed by the "Service".  Nat's parents are in their 80s and 90s, but have the health of people in their 40s because people live longer due to vaccines and whoknowswhat.   I found that bit the most improbable - I don't know any parents who would willingly die and leave their 17 and 14-year-old children to fend for themselves in a horror landscape.  Also, say this couple doesn't have a kid until they're in the 60s/70s, in an increasingly unlivable environment where they suddenly decide, hey, let's have 2 kids?   Doesn't make sense.

This book was really disappointing to me because I'm always on the lookout for my next fave dystopian novel, YA or otherwise.  Aside from the unbelievable premise with the parents, the author simply didn't trust her readers enough to let the details unfold elegantly.  Millet spelled everything out as she went, defining her futuristic vocabulary instead of just letting her audience figure it out, laying out the schedule for the 7 days instead of letting it happen.  It felt like coddling to be held by the hand like that, and I really don't think it matters whether your reader is an adult or a teenager.

As you might guess from the title, there's a lot of focus on medicine, vaccines and "mood stabilizers".  Everyone takes pills to avoid depression and to achieve whatever type of mood they desire.  Nat's parents are on a heavy regimen of pills to keep them calm and tranquil as they approach their death.  It reads as a critic of the Prozac Nation, kids on ADHD medication and whatnot... More than once I found myself wondering if Millet's one of those anti-vaccine crazies.

I haven't read Millet's other work - they seem to be pretty well-received.  Let me know if you've read her stuff and enjoyed it, I would like to hear.

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