"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Review #2: Mockingbird, by Walter Tevis

Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the wood...

Imagine a world where there are no books, where nobody reads, where nobody thinks for themselves. Where the world is run by machines, by robots. Where the human race is, quite literally, stoned, and often self immolates for no discernable reason. Welcome to a dystopian 25th century America. Reading has been outlawed, books have been destroyed, the public at large has been drugged, and the government is run by an intelligent, never-aging robot whose only desire is to be able to end his life.

Mockingbird centers around three characters: Spofforth, the suicidal leader who was designed to be incapable of killing himself; Paul, a university professor who has illegally taught himself to read by watching early 20th century films; and Mary Lou, a woman who asks questions, refuses to believe the answers, and finds herself the only pregnant woman left in the world.

While Mockingbird is definitely not my usual genre, I really enjoyed it. It reads like an homage to Farenheit 451 and Brave New World, and is not a little scary. We live in a world of machines and electronic devices, all designed to make our lives better. But what if all the artificial intelligence we're manufacturing kills all the natural intelligence we already have? Already, there are studies that suggest we're getting dumber as a species. We don't need to know the answer; there's an app for that. If another country wanted to cripple us, they wouldn't send a nuclear bomb - they would just turn off the internet, and we would be powerless. Mockingbird may be considered science fiction, and while I agree with the science portion of that label, I'm not so sure it's fiction. And that's terrifying.

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