Author: Neal Shusterman
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Read: Dec. 2017
Scythe is another one of those 3-star books that is just so hard to rate. It raises a lot of really interesting questions and the second half of the book is pretty great, but the first half is such a snooze-fest!
I didn’t plan to read this series because it sounded pretty dark, but then I got a galley of the second book in the series, Thunderhead, so I decided to give it a go. Scythe is a utopian novel set in a version of the world where we’ve have basically perfected technology and solved all the problems of the world. Humans have reached the pinnacle of medical discovery and figured out how to make themselves immortal, as well as the pinnacle of technological advancements and have created a perfect artificial intelligence called the Thunderhead that now governs the planet. There’s no more sickness, no more poverty, and no more crime.
The only thing that remains outside of the jurisdiction of the Thunderhead is the Scythedom. Once humans obtained immortality, they had to find some way to manage population control, so they selected and trained an elite group of scythes to “glean” (kill) humans in order to maintain the earth’s population relative to the amount of available resources to continue living a comfortable existence. No one but a Scythe can permanently kill a human (if they die any other way they are just revived, Scythes carry out a permanent death). The Scythes are supposed to be live a humble existence separate from the rest of humanity and demonstrate compassion and justice in their gleanings. But over the hundreds of years of the Scythedom, some of them have started developing alternative opinions on the role of Scythes.
This story is about 2 teenagers, Rowan and Citra, who have been selected to apprentice to become Scythes. What I really liked about this book was how much it made me think. It raises some really great themes about living. In a world where we have made ourselves immortal and eliminated all forms of oppression, what really makes life worth living? We can’t really feel pain anymore and all of our accomplishments are meaningless because there’s nothing else left to be discovered or improved. In a world without suffering, can we really understand emotions like happiness and joy? Are these things humans can even experience anymore?
Then there’s the question of who deserves life and death? The Scythes all have their own strategies for “gleaning” and we are slowly introduced to several of them over the course of the novel. Should Scythes try and emulate the kinds of deaths that occurred in the age of mortality and target the same demographics? Should they look for people to “glean” who seem ready to move on or seem to have become stagnant in this life? Or just say ‘to hell with it’ and glean whoever they want? It’s up to Rowan and Citra to determine what kind of Scythes they want to be.
What I didn’t like about this book is that it took so freaking long to get going! I was really intrigued with the concepts, but Rowan and Citra are asked to basically give up their entire lives and to KILL people and it felt like it wasn’t even that big a deal. Where was the emotion? the drama? the angst?! They are 16 years old afterall and they just felt way too mature. I guess that is kind of the point though. They are selected for their maturity and empathy and in this new age where your emotions are constantly monitored and tweaked by “nanites” in your bloodstream, it’s almost impossible to emote in the same way that humans do now.
I get the whole exploration of how to be a Scythe, but I also felt like the whole thing was stupid and should have just been left to the Thunderhead to glean an appropriate percentage of old people every year. Why emulate deaths of the past when you don’t have to anymore? Why have to live in a world where children and young people die? In this world though, you have the option of “turning the corner” and returning your body to any age you want over the age of about 25, so there’s not really old people anymore and even though people are old in mind, they’re still able to have kids whenever they want. So theoretically, you’d still always be gleaning someone’s mother or grandmother, even if you didn’t glean children.
But I’m getting too far into the details. The second half of the book was happening! It has way more action and I found it hard to put down once I got past the halfway point. The plot reminded me a little bit of Hunger Games though. I feel like I’m going to be thinking about this book for awhile, so it’s definitely got that going for it, it was just a more detached kind of writing style. I tend to gravitate towards books that really emote and make me FEEL all the things. This book definitely made me think, but I always felt a degree removed from the characters and it made it a little harder to empathize with them.
Anyways, this is a much longer review than I thought I would write, but it did help me figure out some of my feelings on this book. So let’s call it a 3.5 stars. On to Thunderhead!