Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 23, 2011

1+1=2

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I read Among the Hidden a few years ago, probably somewhere around early middle school. Even then I found Margaret Peterson Haddix’s writing style to be simplistic… so don’t expect a very sophisticated vocabulary or overly complicated plot line from Among the Hidden. However, you can expect a very entertaining and thought-provoking quick read.

Luke, our main character, is the youngest boy in his family and has grown up living with his family on their farm. He had always assumed that he was treated differently because he was the baby of the family, that he was never allowed to go to school or drive in the truck with his dad because he was too young. However he finds out from his mother that he is different from his brothers for a very important reason. He isn’t the first born. Nor is he the second born. Luke is his parent’s third child, which is illegal according to the Population Law in Luke’s world. Luke’s mother explains,

“The Population Law hadn’t been around long, then, and I had always wanted lots of kids. Before, I mean. Getting pregnant with you was like – a miracle. I thought the Government would get over their foolishness… then they started running all that on TV about the Population Police, how the Population Police had ways of finding out everything, how they’d do anything to enforce the law. And your dad started hearing rumors in town, about other babies…”

-pg. 11, Among the Hidden

For his entire life, Luke has lived in isolation from anyone but his family. And now that the Government has bought his parent’s farm land, he is forced to stay indoors indefinitely, hiding at all times. Can you imagine what it would be like, to have to fear constantly and live in hiding?

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Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 19, 2011

The end as we know it…?

You know I just can’t help myself when it comes to dystopian fiction, especially when the world the characters live in is a post-apocalyptic one. I have this strange fascination with imagining all of these terrible scenarios and what I would do if they were to come true. So it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to you that although Thomas and his friends have been living in a nightmare known as the Maze, the real world outside their Maze is even more dangerous.

In my last post I asked a question that hung over my shoulder throughout The Maze Runner. Why are these boys being put through such elaborate experiments? And guess what… I still can’t give you the answer. However, I can tell you that James Dashner is very good at giving us cliffhanger endings.

As The Maze Runner races to its conclusion, Thomas and his friends are finally figuring their way out of the Maze. Once escaped, they meet a panelist of their captors only to soon witness a violent exchange and be rescued from their previous captors by a group of renegades. One of the rebels finally begins to explain what has been happening in the past few years, before the Maze.

The sun flares couldn’t have been predicted. Sun flares are normal, but these were unprecedented, massive, spiking higher and higher- and once they were noticed, it was only minutes before their heat slammed into Earth. First our satellites were burned out, and thousands died instantly, millions within days, countless miles became wastelands. Then came the sickness. … People call it the Flare now. It’s a horrible, horrible thing…

-pg. 366, The Maze Runnner

The rebel then continues to explain to Thomas exactly how the Flare relates to their Maze.

As for you, all of you … they tested thousands, chose you for the big one. The ultimate test. Everything you lived through was calculated and thought through. Catalysts to study your reactions, your brain waves, your thoughts. All in an attempt to find those capable of helping us find a way to beat the Flare.

-pg. 366, The Maze Runner

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

Confused and disturbed by the new reality that they have entered, Thomas and company realize that they have much to learn (or relearn?) about their lives. However, they find themselves relieved to have been rescued by a group of people so strongly opposed to the psychological testing that they underwent, encouraged that they may finally be able to live without survival being the foremost thought in their minds. Of course, what kind of trilogy would this be if the first book ended like that? Dashner concludes the last few pages of The Maze Runner as follows; I hope it sparks your interest enough to want to read the next book, The Scorch Trials.

WICKED Memorandum, Date 232.1.27, Time 22:45

By any reckoning, I think we’d all agree that the Trials were a success. Twenty survivors, all well qualified for our planned endeavor. The responses to the Variables were satisfactory and encouraging… Oddly enough, seeing them this way, thinking all is well, has been the hardest thing for me to observe. But there’s no time for regret.”

-pg. 373, The Maze Runner

Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 17, 2011

Extreme psychology

Well, throughout the book the boys believe that they are being watched, perhaps observed, as if they are in some elaborate experiment. Their captors certainly do not want them to simply die, for the boys receive supplies from the mysterious elevator. Even though they live relatively rustic and simple lives in the Glade (the inset of the Maze that is safe from the monsters beyond its walls) they are safe from any immediate danger. That is, until Thomas shows up and everything begins to change; no new boys are delivered to the Glade, nor any supplies. New alliances are formed amongst the boys of the Maze and new dangers present themselves.

Edited from cureheadachesnow.com

As the reader, I found myself questioning again and again the possibility that the Maze might be some type of sick psychology study. The Maze itself would have to have been extremely difficult to have built, let alone maintain. The authenticity of the sun, plants and living creatures in the Maze all seem difficult to simulate as well. And again, how could all of the boys have lost their memories? Even if these hypothetical mad scientists/psychologists wanted to erase the boys’ memories, how could they?

One of the great things about dystopian fiction is that we can almost always expect the future (at least in these books!) to have very advanced technology. However I don’t like a fictional technology that isn’t at least founded in some root of truth… again after a bit more research, I found out that we’re actually making some progress on the science of purposefully “deleting” memories. According to Discover (one of my favorite science magazines), a team of scientists

“…planted two separate traumatic memories in the rats’ brains. The memories were in the form of sounds (a siren and a beep), each paired with an electric shock. The researchers later replayed the sounds, forcing the rats to retrieve the memories. When playing back the beeping sound (without a shock) for half the animals, the team administered the enzyme inhibitor U0126 directly into the rats’ amygdala, a section of the brain associated with emotion. The next day, when both sounds were played, the rats who had been given the drug were fearful of the siren but not of the beep, suggesting that the beep-plus-shock memory was blocked.”

-Susan Kruglinski, “How to Erase a Single Memory”, Discover 2008

So taking this seed of a technology and imagining its growth, perhaps it is plausible that one day a person’s memories could be deleted selectively. But the question still remains: why are these boys being studied in such an elaborate (and dangerous) experiment?

Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 16, 2011

Just keep swimming

Not only are the boys of the Maze trapped, but none of them have any recollection of their past. With ages ranging from about twelve to seventeen, none of the boys remember anything about their family, homes or friends before the Maze. The furthest back each boy can remember is when they were transported to the Maze in an elevator-like box and discovered as a new member of the Maze by the rest of the boys. The Maze Runner begins with Thomas’ arrival to the Maze and his own panicked thoughts as he realizes he is suffering a tremendous memory loss.

My name is Thomas, he thought.

That… that was the only thing he could remember about his life.

He didn’t understand how this could be possible. His mind functioned without flaw, trying to calculate his surroundings and predicament. Knowledge flooded his thoughts, facts and images, memories and details of the world and how it works. He pictured snow on trees, running down a leaf-strewn road, eating a hamburger, the moon casting a pale glow on a grassy meadow, swimming in a lake, a busy city square with hundreds of people bustling about their business. … And yet he didn’t know where he came from, or how he’d gotten inside the dark life, or who his parents were. He didn’t even know his last name. Images of people flashed across his mind, but there was no recognition, their faces replaced with haunted smears of color. He couldn’t think of one person he knew, or recall a single conversation.

-pg. 1-2, The Maze Runner

But how could such a peculiar type of memory loss occur? Even though Hollywood likes to portray amnesia as a quick blow to the head that results in a complete loss of one’s past with the maintained ability to function normally in society, this type of amnesia does not really exist. I decided to research memory loss a bit to see if I could determine what type of amnesia Thomas and his friends could be suffering from.

Dory (from the movie Finding Nemo) suffers short-term memory loss

Hysterical amnesia seems like a good contender at first, for it is a loss of memory triggered by a traumatic event. Perhaps all of our boys experienced something extremely traumatic in their past? Strange that they would all forget equally and no one would recover though… Posthypnotic amnesia also seems somewhat plausible, however there would have to be some major advances in hypnotism for all of the boys to forget so many memories entirely. Finally, I found a particular type of psychogenic amnesia called dissociative fugue, in which “the patient forgets his current identity and wanders off, yet remains mentally together enough to start a new life, sometimes remembering his old self only years later”. However this last theory of mine is also thwarted, for most people experiencing dissociative fugue also experience severe depression or other serious mental illnesses; none of our characters in The Maze Runner exhibit any symptoms of these mental illnesses.

So what could possibly be happening to Thomas and his friends? Why are they trapped in the Maze and why can’t they remember their pasts? Do you have any theories about how the boys could have lost their memories?

Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 15, 2011

Trapped like rats

Human Maze at Park City Mountain Resorts

Have you ever felt like you were trapped? Trapped in a relationship? Trapped in your own mind? Some people start to panic and I’m certainly one of them. Maybe I inherited a bit of claustrophobia from my mother; once I’m in a situation that I don’t know how to get out of, I freak. However I’d like to think that there are people out there who excel in those situations, who revel in the adrenaline rush they get from the unknown. I’d also like to think that those people are good with logic puzzles, that they get a certain satisfaction in solving a new problem. They are calm and collected, but take action when necessary.

This all relates to The Maze Runner in that our characters are trapped in a maze for nearly the entire book. Faring a bit better than the boys of Lord of the Flies, there is a very well organized way of life in the Maze. But still, they don’t know why they are in the Maze. And they haven’t given up trying to figure out how to escape and exact revenge upon those who imprisoned them. There are a few chosen boys that are “runners”, these runners venture out of safety into the depths of the Maze in an effort to find a route of escape. Thomas, our main character, feels a strong desire to become a runner, despite the many associated occupational dangers. As The Maze Runner progresses we see that he is defiantly one of those calm, collected take-action types.

The below video is certainly more comical than the predicaments that the runners often find themselves in, but it probably gives us a good idea of what the runners would be seeing while searching the Maze.

Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 15, 2011

Plot Puzzling

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Honestly, I’m scared to write this week’s blog posts. You see, not only am I writing 5 posts instead of 3 as usual, I am writing about Maze Runner… the first book in an incomplete trilogy. James Dashner is currently revising (or perhaps recently finished?) the third book The Death Cure which follows The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials. Which means that I do not have the luxury of having 20/20 hindsight. (It’s hard to pass judgment on characters whose intentions we don’t entirely understand. Or maybe I’m just a wimp and cringe at the thought of reading, years from now, my wildly inaccurate predictions in the next few posts.)

Hopefully this will make things a bit more exciting for my readers, since I don’t have much more of an idea of what’s going on than those who haven’t read the book! James Dashner is kind enough to include a pdf excerpt of the book on it’s website, so feel free to peruse. We’ll figure this book out together, much like a puzzle…

Rubix Cube by http://johncorr.com/

Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 12, 2011

Sticks and stones

But the entertainment value of the Hunger Games for the people of the Capitol doesn’t revolve around silly love stories. Oh, no. As I’ve alluded to, the true entertainment lies in the violence.

The entire Games, from every tributes’ perspective, is videotaped and broadcasted across Panem. And everyone must watch the nightly show. Of course such an exciting diversion would never be missed by the people of the Capitol, however even the devastated families of the tributes must watch, often witnessing the brutal murders of their own children.

The contestants face all types of adversaries from the harsh conditions of the locations of the Games to their cold-blooded competitors to even their own inner demons. While there are very few reality television shows today that feature competitors in situations that are seriously life-threatening, I think that there are many reality shows that poke and prod their contestants into emotional instability. Instead of being like the Romans at the Colosseum, relishing in the physical pain of others, we are watching the psychological pain of participants on shows like 16 & Pregnant, Wife Swap or Survivor.

While I recognize the obvious differences between the Hunger Games and these reality shows (the contestants are voluntary, for examples) I think that our attraction to watching others in psychological or emotional pain is nearly as disturbing as an attraction to watching those in physical pain. After doing a bit of research, I found out that I might feel that way because these very different types of pain may be more similar than we think.

The similarity between reality TV and ancient bloodsport is compounded when considering neuroscientific and psychological evidence showing quite a bit of similarity between socially painful events like rejection and physical pain. At a purely linguistic level, people tend to describe their rejection experiences using words commonly associated with physical pain. Rejected people say their feelings were “hurt,” that they felt “crushed” or even “broken-hearted.” This similarity extends beyond mere metaphor. Experiencing rejection activates the same brain regions that become activated when people experience physical pain.

“Reality TV: Harmless Entertainment or Bloodsport?” by C. Nathan DeWall, Ph.D. in Psychology Today

Why are we so fascinated by the pain of others? What really is the difference between the below clip from Maury and the below clip of the Hunger Games (an excellent fan-made video)?

Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 11, 2011

Til death do us part?

At this point you may have already guessed it, but Katniss ends up being the District 12 female tribute for the Hunger Games. After promising her safe return to her younger sister, she is whisked away from her family and her home along with Peeta, the handsome, vaguely familiar boy chosen to be the male tribute from her district. Katniss is treated to an unimaginable number of luxuries while traveling to the Capitol to prepare for the Games; everything from roast chicken to warm showers is new to Katniss. As she prepares herself for a task that will test her emotionally and physically, Katniss begins to learn that life at the Capitol is entirely different from life in District 12.

The Capitol prospers at the expense of its Districts. The wealthy citizens of the Capitol don’t really work, but spend much of their time working on their own image and enjoying themselves at parties. The Hunger Games offers them a fascinating diversion from their daily lives, a source of entertainment unlike any other. Yes, to the people of the Capitol, the Hunger Games are simply a reality television show; any political subtext is buried by the superficial distractions, such as the tribute makeovers and interviews with celebrity talk-show host Caesar Flickerman.

But why should Katniss care? Well, to make the Games more entertaining and less predictable, the location and resources of the Games change each year. From desert wasteland to frozen tundra, Katniss has seen tributes die from hunger, thirst and disease almost as often as from a murderous competing tribute. However, tributes who prove especially entertaining can garnish sponsors who send gifts of food, weapons or medicine at critical points in the Games.  Katniss knows that gaining sponsors is critical to her survival, but doesn’t realize her coach Haymitch’s plan, until it’s too late. Peeta confesses his undying love for Katniss during his inverview, shocking and charming the entire country.

“You’re all they’re talking about. The star-crossed lovers from District Twelve!” says Haymitch.

“But we’re not star-crossed lovers!” I say.

Haymitch grabs my shoulders and pins me against the wall. “Who cares? It’s all a big show. It’s all how you’re perceived. The most I could say about you was that you were nice enough… now I can say you’re a heartbreaker. Oh, oh, oh how the boys back home fall longingly at your feet. Which do you think will get you more sponsors?”

-Pg. 135, The Hunger Games

For the rest of the book, Katniss tries to not only survive the Games, but keep up the appearances of her romantic situation with Peeta. You’d think that people would notice, right? But I begin to think that much like our own reality television, we’re having a hard time figuring out what’s actually real. I’m guessing that we aren’t the only ones, either. Katniss begins to questions whether her feelings for Peeta are entirely fabricated. Do you think that Bret Michaels, Tila Tequila or any of the Bachelorettes ever wondered if it was love talking or the competition talking?

Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 10, 2011

May the odds be ever in your favor!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the first book in one of my favorite trilogies ever. The trilogy (aptly titled The Hunger Games trilogy… how creative) includes the books The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. This final installment, Mockingjay, was only recently released this past August; I actually got a copy at Barnes and Noble the day before it was officially released… yay! Not only has the series become popular for being generally AMAZING and recent in publication, but it is in a promising pre-production state for a film adaptation.

The book starts with our main character, Katniss, who lives with her mother and younger sister in a country called Panem, in the twelfth district. Each district is ruled (with an iron fist) by the Capitol and produces a specific resource for the Capitol. District 12 is known for its mining, which is how Katniss lost her father when she was just eleven. Over the past five years she has been the main provider for her mother and sister, hunting illegally with her long-time friend (maybe more?), Gale.

Not exactly an uplifting story. I’m afraid to tell you that things don’t exactly get better from here on out, but they certainly do get more interesting. The book begins during a special time of year in Panem, just before the start of the 74th annual Hunger Games. What exactly does that mean? Well according to the Capitol, Panem used to be a little place called North America. That is, until a number of apocalyptic-like natural disasters occurred, leaving the survivors in a war over the remaining resources. Like a knight in shining armor the Capitol rescued the people from themselves, divided the country into Districts and ruled in peace until the Dark Days. During the Dark Days the districts rebelled against the Capitol; upon the conclusion of this brutal war, exactly 74 years prior to the start of our book, the Capitol arose victorious.

Katniss then explains how this history lesson relates to the Hunger Games,

In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena… Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins. To make it humiliating as well as torturous, the Capitol requires us to treat the Hunger Games as a festivity, a sporting event pitting every district against the others.

-Pg. 18-19, The Hunger Games

Fan-made movie poster by skellingt0n at DeviantArt.com

I was terrified and disturbed at first, too. Whenever I try to describe this book, it’s at this point in my explanation that I immediately get questioning looks, almost as if asking me “Seriously? Do you have a penchant for depressing storylines and needless violence?”. But stay with me. For as graphic and as hopeless as the story may seem (and is, for the most part), The Hunger Games explored some very relevant topics and contained characters I’ll never forget.

Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 5, 2011

He thought, she thought

Communication Today (edited from NoHoldingBack.com)

One of the most fascinating ways that the technology present in Feed affects the daily lives of its users concerns communication. As I’ve already explained, nearly everyone in Titus’ world is connected to the feed and able to navigate through this vast source of information by simply thinking. While we have to use our hands to operate a mouse or our fingers to move across a touch-screen, Titus and his friends can think of an object and receive search results. However, the feed is capable of offering much more to its users than definitions or images; the feed also serves as a method of communication between any number of people connected to the feed. Much like instant messaging or texting, the feed allows people to “talk” to one another without words and Anderson calls it “chatting”. But this is where it gets tricky – when someone chats someone else over the feed it’s not like you are reading a text or listening to a voicemail. You are actually hearing what that person is thinking to you.

That difference may seem subtle; texting is nearly an instant form of communication and the flow of information seems to essential go directly from one mind to another, with only the mechanical writing of the text and the mechanical reading of the text in between. But without either mechanical action I argue that what Titus and his friends are experiencing in chatting on the feed is basically telepathy. In an effort to see whether anyone else might agree with me, I looked up the definition of telepathy with the following results:

communication between minds by some means other than sensory perception; knowledge conveyed from one individual to another without means of the five senses; mind reading

-Definition of “telepathy”, dictionary.com

Communication in Feed (edited from HerCafe.net)

Seems like telepathy to me, although a much more controlled form since I’m guessing that Titus has to specifically think and “send” his thoughts when chatting with a friend; as far as Anderson explained his friend probably could not delve into Titus’ mind, extracting whichever thoughts at will unless there were a serious glitch with feed security. Even barring this frightening idea that our thoughts could someday no longer be our own, this form of telepathy offers a crazy advance in that particularly popular form of communication: gossip. Throughout Feed many of the girls (okay, the guys sometimes too) fully take advantage of their ability to talk think about someone behind her (okay, sometimes his) back. Can you even imagine how complicated social situations could get with telepathy?

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