Friday, May 22, 2015

Red Rising, by Pierce Brown, Book Review:

I am sucker for an author who can create an intriguing world within a novel. Pierce Brown hit it out of the park with Red Rising. Thank goodness for Amazon recommendations, or I would miss out on a ton of good books. Brown creates a world, or solar systems is more apt, that is peeled back for the main character, Darrow, and the reader at the same time. We learn about the world and "the society" a bit at a time. We did not learn everything about Darrow's universe in the first book. Mr. Brown just wets our appetite with a small glimpse behind the curtain. This left me wanting more, and I gladly started reading the second book as soon as I finished the first.
The book starts out simply enough, and it is a tad predictable. I am ok with predictable as long there are interesting characters, and an intriguing plot. I love the backstory and history of the Reds on Mars. I wanted to know about their family units, why they loved to dance. Why Darrow father was killed for signing a song. We get a taste of how hard life is for Darrow, but also how sweet it is for him. He loves his wife, and really just wants to be happy with her. His wife has a little more fire, and does not want to live with the hand she has been dealt.
Our main character is born in the Red Caste. It is the lowest caste in "the society." The highest caste are the Golds. The Reds are slaves in all but name. They have to fight and scrap for every morsel of food they receive. If the Reds don't meet their mining quotas they do not receive rations, which are meager to begin with. I like the explanations Darrow gives in the first few chapters about Red society. There are different groups within the caste. The Gamma's receive more food and better goods, because they have better results every quarter. This gives Darrow hope, he thinks if he can mine more helium 3 for his clan they will get more rewards than the Gammas. Slight spoiler: Darrow and his clan mine more than anyone else, and do not win. The prize still goes to Gamma, and Darrow is crushed. The society takes some aspects of capitalism, working harder gets you more, and communism, everyone working together for the greater good. The society is neither, it is a totalitarian rule of one group over others, and uses these other mechanism to keep control. Brown reveals this aspect in a subtle way through the eyes of Darrow.
Slight Spoiler: Darrow finds himself in Gold society, going to the elite school, which will allow him to start or help the revolution of the other castes. This part of the book can be closely comparted to Hunger Games. Align, divide, and conquer is how you win at the school. Darrow is more apt than others, mainly because of his Red upbringing. What I like most is how Brown makes Darrow befriend the Golds at the school. He does not hate them, he likes most of the people he meets. They become close, and the revolution Darrow hopes to inspire is not going to be as easy as killing all the Golds so the other castes can take over. He laments when he must kill others.
The book is very human. It shows all the good and bad humanity could become. I like the stark contrast, and the fact nothing is clear cut. As the reader you root for the Reds, and want them to rise up, however not all Golds are evil, and should not have to pay the ultimate sacrifice. You could make a parallel, to the United States struggle over slavery. Not all people in the south were evil just because of the place they were born. They however lived with, and did nothing to rid the oppression all around them. How much can we as a culture get away with claiming social norms? What needs to be challenged? Brown's world echoes are own, and had me question social norms in practice today.
The book may not be for all Science Fiction fans. It is not a technical science fiction book. Brown does not get into how all the worlds have been terraformed for humans. Almost every world and moon now is livable. The only explanation Brown gives is the Helium 3 that is mined on Mars. This substance powers humanity, and all we do. I know some science fiction fans will take umbrage in the lack of a true technical explanation. Brown does not go into how his shields, and guns work. They all just work, and I am ok with this fact. I like reading about how things work in the world, but it needs to be sporadic, and cannot replace a good story. I may be in the minority of science fiction book fans on this, but I can suspend my belief and let a good story develop.
The only downside of the book is its predictability. Some of the big revels in the book were fairly obvious. Some may think the surprises Brown had were well done, but I just inferred and knew what was going to happen before it did. This did not take away from my enjoyment of the book. I could not turn the pages fast enough. It was a fast paced adventure, which also made me think. It is a rare book which can do both. I highly suggest anyone, science fiction fan or not to pick up Red Rising.

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