Sunday, January 15, 2017

Think Galactic- Lizard Radio

For January's Think Galactic meeting, we discussed Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz.

One of our YA picks, Lizard Radio takes place in a vaguely dystopian world that seems like it might be a alternate Earth (not clearly a near-future or otherwise tied to the our timeline). The story follows Kevali, aka Lizard, who is a 15 year-old sent to "Camp", a kind of vocational-training-slash-indoctrination facility. While there, Lizard learns a bit more about this world's system of control, sparks some localized acts of rebellion, and explores the mysterious "lizard radio" (and other mysterious phenomena).

Brief notes and possible spoilers below:

In our intial go-around/quick thoughts, we mooted:

  • For me, lots of interesting points about the book were overshadowed by the question of supernatural/fantastic elements. Particularly the Radio--the telepathic (?) connection Kivali has with a vast group of "saurians" (mostly actual terrestrial lizards, but possibly "space saurians" or some such). Also, there's the epidemic of "vaping", which seems to be a sort of voluntary spontaneous combustion. Possibly an allegory for suicide, possibly some other kind of liberation.
  • One Think Galactagon was actually involved a bit in the book's creative history (and thanked in the afterword), and talked a bit about how that worked.
  • Idea of balance in the book, how it doesn't take you too far in any direction in terms of figuring out different story elements.
  • SF/F elements almost peripheral to "teen survival" story.
  • We liked the "gaps in the boundary" motif and final line.
  • It's a story without infodumping, which is rare, and works well here. However, the wrap-up was a bit too neat, too convenient--bit of a "Vader reveal".
  • We liked the imagery and descriptive language throughout, as well as the description of Lizard's meditation technique.
Moving onwards!
  • We liked the Clockwork Orange-y neologisms (CropCamp, SayFree), but they really seem to fade in frequency and impact after the first third of the book or so.
  • We totally liked the "pies" (radially separated communal tents), and the tiny, effective bit of world-building in that Lizard is familiar with their existence.
  • The book's a bit hokey, but then again, hokeyness is endemic to summer camps. It was also pointed out that Schmatz grew up in such camps.
  • There's some real plotting problems in the last act, with lots of running back and forth between a few locations. Compared to the kinds of set-reusing endemic to low-budget televised SF, such as classic Dr. Who.
  • Discussed "kickshaw" as this world's version of Brave New World's soma or some such (causing me to get that Strokes song stuck in my head). Idea of implants and/or regular government checks on appropriate neuropharm level reminded me of Equilibrium and also that one Sliders episode.
  • Much discussion of vaping. Is it escape? Is it suicide? It's definitely tied to some of the gender & sexuality themes of the novel. The hand-wavey explanation about particle/wave phenomena actually seems like it's touching on something important in the book--the way that our often-binary categorizing schemes don't actually match reality.
  • At points, the novel is addressing bits of a thing that has long bothered me, which I've never sufficiently verbalized: the pathologies of "leadership dialectic". Lizard's refusal to self-categorize as leader or follower is cool, as is the way Machete's bullshittery is confronted--one of the more realistic & infuriating portrayals of a certain kind of paternalistic authority.
  • Noted the way this novel is dealing with generations of different kinds of resistance, with Sheila, Korm, and Machete all taking different paths.
  • We had much to say about the binary & fluidity mechanics here. The society here is both strangely open-minded in having non-genetic, non-physiological "gender testing" at an early age, with a course of action for those who don't fall definitely into male or female--but then pretty much like ours in its insistence on binary heterosexuality and norm-policing once gender is established. We talked for a bit about the current "binary valorization" that's impeding civil rights progress by focusing strongly on gay rights that fit neatly into heterosex models. We also talked about Lizard's flashback to her childhood bullying--an effective scene that also shows how much gender-policing can be baked in to even a child's social peers.
  • Also talked about the subtlety of control in this society, carrots & sticks, the drive to get people to buy-in voluntarily, to self-censor, rather like gender control more generally.
  • Returning to the question of worldbuilding and reality-within-the-book, compared this to Larbalestier's Liar, which TG discussed a while back. Like Liar, it's possible to read Lizard Radio two ways (either the radio & komodo transformations are real, or they're elaborate coping fantasies, much like Liar's lycanthropy). However, Liar doesn't work particularly well if you don't believe the narrator on that point, whereas Lizard Radio remains pretty ambiguous.
  • Also tried to suss out what we think about the Blight--is the rest of this world kind of like the radioactive dust-ruined world of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, or perhaps a kind of hand-to-mouth wasteland like Logan's Run? "The Blight" also had me thinking of Dragon Age, although it's clearly not that bad.
Great discussion! Also, a bit of pre-planning for Wiscon: Think Galactic is planning on hosting a party again, some of us are cycling up, and there's at least the potential that some of us might be involved in the programming or academic tracks.

In February, we're discussing Naomi Novik's Uprooted. You can keep up with Think Galactic on their website, Facebook, and Goodreads.

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