Reading Level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 384 pages
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Source: purchased copy
Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she's never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim.
Then Aria meets an outsider named Perry. He's searching for someone too. He's also wild—a savage—but might be her best hope at staying alive.
If they can survive, they are each other's best hope for finding answers.
Before someone once again accuses me of not liking or not "getting" dystopian fiction let me say that I am in fact a fan of the genre and that I do understand and appreciate it.
At its core dystopian fiction is about exploring the intricacy & dysfunction of human nature with its main focus being the pitfalls/problems of societal, political, and cultural trends as well as the consequences that follow them. Dystopian fiction serves as a cautionary tale—a warning against certain communal behaviors, choices, and ways of living that lead human kind on a slippery slope towards widespread chaos & destruction and/or extreme oppression & inequality. And what I find most fascinating about the genre is that it reflects, magnifies, and examines current worldwide concerns (e.g. perpetual damage to the environment, bioterrorism, government's infringement of its people's rights, overpopulation coupled with diminishing resources, etc).
The thing is though that 9 out of 10 YA dystopian books being released these days are not (in my opinion) true representations of the genre. In reality, they are melodramatic teen soap operas featuring extraordinarily beautiful and super duper special young people running around being angsty & lovey-dovey against a post-apocalyptic, totalitarian, militant, or neo-tribal backdrop. There's no depth, no complexity, and no examination of anything not directly & immediately pertaining to the protagonist(s). Dystopian elements are tacked on as gimmicky plot devices or reduced to window dressings in order to make the story appear more edgy & dramatic.
Unfortunately, Under the Never Sky is no exception and falls into the aforementioned underachieving majority.
Yep, I'm sorry to say that I found the book to be incredibly superficial and mind-numbingly boring. I never felt any real tension or suspense. The action scenes were blink-and-you'll-miss-them brief and completely devoid of excitement. Furthermore, I thought that the dystopian, fantasy, and sci-fi components were significantly underdeveloped and seemed to be just a haphazard assortment of bells & whistles serving no other purpose aside from making the reader go "Ooh-ahh!".
I was also totally not feeling the relationship between Aria and Perry, which unsurprisingly was the predominant focus of the story. Actually, to be quite frank, I thought their romance was awkwardly developed and nauseatingly lame. Come to think of it, the following dramatization would probably summarize it quite nicely:
Perry: "You're a stinky Mole that stinks."
Aria: "You're a dirty Savage that's dirty."
Perry: "I don't like you."
Aria: "I don't like you infinity squared."
Aria: *double glare*
Aria: "I'm bleeding and I have stomach cramps. I'm obviously dying. Goodbye cruel world!"
Perry: *sniff-sniff* What's that intoxicating aroma? *sniff-sniff* "O-M-G! You've got your period!"
Perry: "This is great! You're now a woman who can get pregnant and bear children!"
Perry: *sniff-sniff* Damn, she smells good. Forget what I said before. This chick's smokin'. *officially smitten*
[More shit happens.]
Aria: I don't really know him, a part of me still thinks he's a homicidal savage, and I hate the fact he can smell what I'm feeling while I can't read him at all, but whateva. He's really sexy with all those scars & tattoos, hot violent temper, and bad boy broodiness. *swoon*
Perry: *sniff-sniff* Oh, no! I think I just rendered to her. This can't be happening!! Now we're bonded foreva! *sniff-sniff* Damn it! Why does she have to smell like violets? I love violets. *sniff-sniff* Bloody hell, I can't stop sniffing her. Might as well just give in. *sniiiffff*
[Snogging ensues followed by a PG sex scene that's proceeded by more snogging, cuddling and other sappy expressions of lurve.]
So, yeah, I can't say that that their relationship made sense to me...because it didn't...not at all. Aria and Perry were so very different and had almost nothing in common on top of barely knowing anything about one another. Plus, their feelings toward each other made a complete 180 degree turn out of absolutely nowhere. I was confuzzled and a bit skeeved out by all of the sniffing involved.
Another major issue I had with the book was all of the science fails and inconsistencies that were running rampant through this book and making my inner nerd very, very sad. The biggest offender would probably be the proposed idea of Degenerative Limbic Syndrome (DLS). Aria's mother described it thusly:
"It's called the limbic system. It controls many of our most basic processes. Our drive to mate. Our comprehension of stress and fear and reaction to it. Our quick decision-making capability. We say gut reaction, but actually these reflexes come from here. Simply put, this is our animal mind. Over generations in the Realms, the usefulness of this part of our brain has vastly diminished. It degenerates. This has catastrophic consequences when we do need to rely on instinct. Pleasure and pain become confused. Fear can become thrilling. Rather than avoid stress, we seek it and even revel in it. The will to give life becomes the need to take it. The result is a collapse of reason and cognition. Put simply, it results in a psychotic break."Okay, first of all, the limbic system is responsible for more than what was mentioned above. It functions to regulate the body's homeostasis, hunger, thirst, sexual arousal/satisfaction, pain response, perception of pleasure, anger/aggression, and formation of memories (among other things). Secondly, even in a virtual reality, the limbic system is still going to be stimulated and used. Even if you eliminate fear & physical pain from an environment and regulate hunger/thirst by external means, this part of the brain will continue to be in charge of other essential operations. Thirdly, studies have shown that damage to or removal of parts of the limbic system can result in passiveness and unresponsiveness to certain stimuli NOT psychotic fear/stress-seeking behavior. Lastly, degeneration of the limbic system would not automatically result in the "collapse of reason and cognition" because other parts of the brain are responsible for that.
And speaking of things that did not make sense, I also did not understand what the point was of living most of your life in the Realms. When asked about it by Perry, Aria responds that without them the residents of the Pods would go insane with boredom. Well, what about building things, expanding the Pods, studying, and working to improve life out in reality? All these things could be done to stay active & productive without the total dependency on virtual environments. Moreover, Aria's people have all this advanced technology and yet they limit themselves to living in Pods instead of exploring the outside world, which is clearly habitable despite its dangers. Given their tech-savviness, I would think they'd jump at the chance of finding a way to harvest or control the power of the aether, but no; instead, they waste their time engineering frivolous genetic traits.
Anyways, to sum things up all I have to say is that I found Under the Never Sky to be extremely underwhelming & disappointing. There was too little info, too little explanation, too little development, too little world-building, too little action, and a bunch of stuff that did not add up. I did not connect with the characters, the story, or the romance.