Dystopia Review: ‘Astra’ by Naomi Foyle

AstraOn second thought, let’s not go to Camelot.  Tis a silly place.

Well I finished Astra.  Didn’t think I would.  I was so excited to start it but ended up putting it down and reading two or three other books instead.  I didn’t really expect to pick it back up because I wasn’t enjoying it all that much.  But on a whim I regrabbed it, and I am pleased to say that it got a little better in the last third.

Just not enough to save it for me.

Perhaps it is the nature of dystopias, something I have certainly struggled with lately.  I put some of this on me, picking up a book from a sub-genre I just don’t seem to enjoy.  There is a certain amount of disbelief required that I don’t seem to have the ability to give.  But there is a certain amount of silliness in Astra that runs contrary to the message it is trying to convey, and I can’t seem to get over it.

Stop trying to make fetch happen.  It’s not going to happen!

Some of the language conventions were the first to get to me.  This is a post war Earth we are dealing with, and there are some major illusions to our current world.  But there is also the suggestion that a variety of English is still spoken, and it isn’t the main language of ‘the island’ that the story takes place in.  Cutesy turns of words like ‘airpain’ for airplane would drive me nuts, and don’t even get me started on ‘borno’ movies.

But those are minor things.  To me the suspension of belief I struggled with the most came from the basic set up of the book.  This is a future based upon a green peace utopia.  Love of earth is number one, communal living is the norm, and even food relies on not harming a single thinking creature without specific permissions.  Yet in this future an entire generation is convinced to give their children a shot that turns them into complacent drones of the state.  I know full acceptance of authoritative government is the norm for the genre, but a 99% acceptance of such a drastic measure within a single generation doesn’t compute to me.

Throw in a slow moving plot that didn’t hold enough interesting ideas to justify the pace (chants and bead weaving just don’t do it for me) and I checked out.

If you can’t say anything nice…

It’s a shame because there were a few things this book did well.  I have never seen a book play with notions of sexuality quite like this.  Everything taboo about it is removed and it is in fact taught and encouraged as a healthy part of growing up.  It was hard to drop all of my western notions and wrap my head around this, uncomfortable reading but presented well.  And after a long and often unnecessary set up the book did get more interesting at the end.  Of course it involves everything falling apart and the true nature of the benevolent government coming out, perhaps this is the only way a dystopia can go.

Chalk this one up to personal disconnect, but this was a big disappointment for me.

2 Stars

Review copy provided by publisher.

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