This book came to me on January 27, 2015.
I requested it after hearing the author on The Future and You podcast (now in a hiatus of almost a year since Stephen Euin Cobb has taken up ghostwriting).
Simone Pond was an interesting subject. She spoke of her dissatisfaction about working in advertising and the details of self-publishing. When she said The City Center was partially influenced by Logan’s Run and review copies were available, I asked for one despite its pedigree as a young adult title.
Weirdly enough, Pond seems to have gone on to a successful career in self-publishing despite never before being mentioned in the MarzAat blog and never benefitting from its worldwide reach and millions of eyeballs.
I tackled this one after reading the Logan Trilogy.
Review: The City Center, Simone Pond, 2013.
Ava has always wanted a simple life. But that’s not the way things work inside the Los Angeles City Center. Not when you’re a top Successor Candidate for Queen. The only way to break free is to leave the city center, but that’s impossible. There’s no foreseeable way out, and it’s far too dangerous on the Outside. Or so they’ve been told by the city’s leader, Chief Morray.
When Ava learns from a rebel named Joseph that everything about her city is a lie, she escapes with him to the Outside. Now she’s on the run in an unknown world with a stranger, while Chief Morray obsessively hunts her down. She discovers an even more gruesome truth about the city center and if she doesn’t return to save her people, she might lose them forever..
This thrilling young adult sci-fi series follows Ava Rhodes as she fights against Chief Morray to save her people from his maniacal new agenda to control all human life.
You can tell this book didn’t rile up a lot of feeling in me one way or another. I stole Pond’s plot blurb instead of writing up even a perfunctory summary of my own.
We’ll get the complaints out of the way first.
Ava Rhodes is the usual pretty, conveniently talented, courageous, and smart heroine. Combat trained, of course.
The rebels are cunning, technologically proficient, and, of course, pass on the Knowledge of How Things Are to Ava.
Young man and young woman predictably bond in romantic pairs.
It’s all formulaic and not a formula I like.
And I don’t generally like stories with teenaged characters.
But Pond does do some interesting stuff around the periphery though probably not enough to lure me to the rest of the series.
The motives of the dystopian order of Los Angeles City Center in the year 2130 are more detailed than I expected, her villains more interesting, and Pond’s political targets not what I expected. Morray’s obsession with Ava is because she doesn’t meet the design specs for his utopia.
If I was going to return to this world, it would probably be for the series prequel, The New Agenda, rather than Ava’s story.
Additional Thoughts with Spoilers
Given her website and the book’s opening epigraphs, including one from Jon Rappoport (presumably this guy), there is an interesting conservative, Christian, and conspiratorial tinge to Pond’s dystopia.
“The New Agenda” motivating Morray and his fellow body-snatching elites evokes the name of United Nations’ Agenda 21, and it’s not much of a stretch, if you’re concerned about that, to think the Davos crowd might want to wipe out 90% of the population.
While personally don’t know any conservatives (whatever that means these days in the context of American politics) who link the alleged evils of genetic engineering of food and people, psychotropic pharmaceuticals, and global banking, the mixture doesn’t surprise me. American conservatives seems to be increasingly skeptical of concentrations of economic power as well as political power. (At least I hope so.) The religiosity of Pond’s rebels also push them more to the conservative side of the spectrum. (Though the idea of a two-dimensional right-left spectrum is pretty simplistic.) However, Pond’s complaints are probably more often thought of as coming from the left.
The details of Pond’s elites and their world further muddy clear classficiation.
During the closing of the book, one of the elites gives an account of all the methods his fellows used to preserve their idea of civilization in the past, the past before the New Agenda: consumerism, “social conditioning and niche marketing”, “total information awareness and mass-spectrum surveillance, stricter indoctrination through better programming”.
Eventually, it becomes easier just to crash the system with bank failures, cull the morons with diseases, destroy computer servers and libraries, and build a new society from scratch with its human cogs made interchangeable with genetic engineering.
Thus Pond’s work partakes of some leftist criticisms of the modern world as well as conservatives. The internet, for instance, is depicted as a tool for social repression and a danger to the elite.
I like the relative novelty of that perspective as prepared to often more vague satire and jeremiads this sort of story gets saddled with.
However, while I thought Pond’s elite provide more than a pro forma defense and rationale for their actions, they don’t provide much more than that. They are given no rebuttal.
Sometimes elites do know more about running things than their subjects. The problem isn’t the idea of the elite. Every society is going to have them.
The problem is choosing a good elite, one that can do the job, keep itself uncorrupted, and vital.
Pond’s elite’s fail on the latter two counts whatever their early merits or the validity of their observations.
Pond interestingly does not criticize the notion of genetically engineering castes for a clockwork utopia. She shows it doesn’t work in the case of Ava’s unplanned emotionalism. However, in one scene, one of Morray’s minions, captured by rebels, commits suicide rather than reveal information – just as designed.
If a society exists long enough and its ruling elite are allowed to sexually reproduce, the personality and physical traits that society values are going to show up more often. Artificial selection of an unplanned sort takes place since those traits are genetically determined. One does not have to resort to technologically mediated reproduction and gene editing.
As for the implicit argument that we don’t need to worry about overpopulation, check out those projected population growth figures for Africa. Since the locals have opted not to practice “moral restraint”, as Thomas Malthus called it, I guess the answer is going to be disease, famine, and war – in Europe or Africa.
And, yes, there’s is a bit of the films Logan’s Run and The Island in this book.
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