Caveat

With regards the reviews I write, I feel it is necessary to provide this caveat.
The initial section right up to the button that opens the full synopsis is the teaser where I try to give a look into the book without revealing too much.

The section within the button is a full synopsis. No detail will be hidden at all.

Be warned!
The final section (Food for thought) is a series of thoughts on the book. This is a personal take on the book and does mention important parts of the books. It should be considered as much of a spoiler as the previous section!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Book Review: The Killables by Gemma Malley - 4thwallfly

Welcome to the Fly on the 4th Wall. Today's book review is set in a dystopian future, a world where Order (with a capital O) has prevailed over the chaos that had preceded it, but at a terrible cost.
We're looking at:
The Killables by Gemma Malley
Cover art copyright of Jonathan Minster

'EVERYONE ACCEPTED THAT PEOPLE WERE DIFFERENT PHYSICALLY.
BUT INSIDE?
INSIDE, THEY WERE DIFFERENT TOO. YOU JUST HAD TO KNOW HOW TO TELL, WHAT TO LOOK FOR.

Evil has been eradicated. The City has been established. And citizens may only enter after having the 'evil' part of their brain removed. They are labelled on the System according to how 'good' they are. If they show signs of evil emerging, they are labelled a K... But no one knows quite that that means. Only that they disappear, never to be seen again...' The Killables, Gemma Malley [2012]

The Killables is a brave new glance at the conceptual ideas raised by Aldous Huxley's novel 'Brave New World' that shares some similarities to George Orwell's '1984.' This is the story of Evie, citizen of the City. The City is the only remaining bastion of civilisation in a world ravaged by the scars of a long-past disaster. The City protects its inhabitants from the disorder beyond its walls, provided that its citizens continue to repress the evil amongst them. They have all undergone surgery to remove the evil parts of their brains at birth. A City's citizen can easily identify one another thanks to the identical scar they bear on their heads as a result. But Evie is different. She has nightmares. She isn't happy with her lot in life and she's all too aware that she's deviant. She isn't the ideal the City demands. Most importantly... she's not in love with the man she's promised to.

The Killables is set in a post apocalyptic future where most of the world is recovering from the wars that had raged across the planet. However, the City stands as a bastion of peace and calm in a world of survivors. It does so by maintaining a controlling System that grades the citizens within the City, rating them in a series of ranks that denote a citizen's potential for evil (i.e. an "A" is considered the safest and most selfless type of citizen while a K is someone to be shunned for their evil). Though Evie comes to realise there is more to the City than there appears at first glance. The majority of the book is told from Evie's point of view with occasional switches.

The Killables is part of a series called the same name and will continue with 'The Disappearances.'


Click below for the full synopsis (click to open/close):



Food for thought:

This is a story where the main theme, like the Puppet Masters, is about information, the effect that control of information can have and the price of freedom. Admittedly, being a 'teen'-fiction (where the principle characters are 'young adults') it doesn't go quite as far as Heinlein's story. For example, no one actually dies in the book, sure there are people who were labelled K and left to die, but Linus reveals that all those people had been saved. The only deaths that really occur in the entire novel happen as part of the story's setting, during the Horrors.

The citizens of the City in this book live in what they perceive as the last bastion of civilisation in a world left ruined by wars. Their lives are set and run entirely by the System that governs them and by the Brother that governs the System, though of course, they don't realise it. They are like the proverbial frog at the bottom of the well that looks up and sees the entirety of the world. The sky, the walls of the well and the land the frog stands on, totally unaware of the existence of a larger world beyond the wall's exterior. Just like that frog, the City's citizens live a peaceful but ignorant lifestyle. Their behaviour and lives have been controlled not by any harsh implement or physical force but by the simple fact that they have been told that their world is all that there is. To all intents and purposes they experience a closed understanding of the world that is enforced by the cult-like behaviour.

However, freedom is not necessarily better. It is a powerful concept and evokes strong emotions because as individuals, we all consider ourselves masters of our own destinies. To have freedom is something many people take for granted, but sometimes what is perceived as freedom can actually be another form of control with the illusion of free will. For example, if I asked you to pick between a blue or yellow item. I've given the illusion of freedom by granting a choice, but I have presented only two definite options without alternatives, thereby controlling the response.

Moving back to the concept of freedom, freedom is not inherently competent or even 'good.' You see elements of that in the chaos caused at the end when they have overridden the System. The citizens are not jumping up and down with joy at their new circumstance, they are mostly confused and none of them actually show direct support for or against the Brother after the accusations. Life is easier without freedom, less effort is required to exert one's desires upon the world. The Killables, like last week's The Puppet Masters, highlights the danger of never questioning the world you live in.

It also features a small link to the nature of the soul. The soul is a subject that is often separated from our 'chemical' selves. From the neurological perspective, our morality, logic and personality is linked to the chemicals received in our brains and the reactions of various parts of it to that stimuli. However, such a clinical understanding degrades the concept of the soul, something which is seen as indefinably human, this idea that our personality (what makes us 'us') is sacrosanct. You see it in the form of the experiments to remove the amygdala. Instead of resulting in human beings who are now 'good' the operation results in morally bankrupt individuals (who also appear to have lost some of their intelligence too), giving rise to this idea that you cannot clinically remove 'evil' without destroying the 'soul' of that person.

Finally, as a little something I noticed, Linus' dream for his ideal System is not unlike the dreams of the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The idea that a computing system could be developed to optimise the life of the Union's citizens was part of 1959 in the USSR where slogans such as "Soviet scientists! Raise the effectiveness of scientific research, strengthen the connection between science and industry!" could be found. In some ways, The Killables can be said to be analogous of the USSR. Like the USSR, the City claimed to be an utopia for the masses within its walls but in truth was an autocratic and oppressive regime. The City had itself a wall designed to keep the outside world away from itself, much like the Iron Curtain that descended (to quote Churchill again).
Mind you, only in a minor way, does the analogy fit, but nonetheless, Linus' dream of optimisation through a computing system is remarkably similar to the Soviet dreams of the late 1950s where the long sought 'utopia' was due to arrive (much as Linus' dream was built to provide utopia) only for both dreams to collapse on themselves.