Review: Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck WendigUnder the Empyrean Sky on July 30, 2013
Pages: 354
Format: eBook
Goodreads
four-stars
Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow ? and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie ? his first mate and the love of his life ? forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry ? angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. Cael's ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

This book foretells the near-future dystopian conclusion to our recent political history: Occupy Wallstreet and the 1%, GMO food scandals, domestic government spying campaigns, and the health detriments of high fructose corn syrup. In this somewhere-in-the-future world, the richest 1% literally float high above the rest. Below, spouses are chosen by government dictate and everyone gets hitched and is expected to procreate whether they’re reproductive or heterosexually inclined or not.

The farming heartland has become filled from horizon to horizon with one crop only: a strain of corn that has carnivorous tendencies. Other crops are forbidden, and whole towns have been completely depopulated over the merest whisper of a fresh vegetable, with no trace left of where the residents may have been taken — if they were ‘taken’ anywhere at all. Cancer runs rampant through the population and a deadlier, more virulent strain of plant-like growths pop up to devastating effects.

In the midst of all this bleakness, we have a group of teenagers coming of age. Their government-chosen spouses are about to be announced and they’ll be expected to abandon any pretense they had of hope for their future in favor of factory or farm work that will without doubt one day kill them.

Our main character — for he isn’t at all a hero — is Cael. Seventeen and about to arbitrarily be declared a man, he resents his lot in life and is angry with just about everyone. Most teenagers are, but Cael has more reason than most. He’s ashamed of his father for not standing up to their bully of a mayor. He’s lost his ship and his hopes for a different livelihood to the mayor’s arrogant son. His mother is bed-ridden with tumors and cancer. His lover is most likely about to be pledged to wed another against both of their wills.

All of this is completely understandable. All of this also turns Cael into a little asshole. He is arrogant, head-strong, selfish, and focused only on the usual and generally misplaced dreams of glory and triumph of the young. He treats just about everyone, including his friends and girlfriend, badly.

But there is hope at the end of this book, even if only a glimmer. There is clear indication that there is still story left to tell, at least. To be completely honest with you, I found this story terrifying. Not because there is anything particularly horror-genre-like to be had. There is suspense, surely, and moments of tension but nothing that can be pointed to and named as the Big Bad Monster. Except, of course, when you take into account all of those things that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Maybe I am just old and embittered, but I find this world Wendig has created not so very far fetched at all, and that scares the daylights out of me. My own fear and feelings of helplessness at the circumstances of right now, today, in the real world make this story sound more like science than science fiction. With that said, I want young people to read this. I want lots of young people to read this. I want them to read this with hope in their hearts rather than the despair I have in mine, and I want them to make better choices than we have been making.

I haven’t felt this petrified that a story might actually happen since Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother. And since we actually did get NSA spying after all, I’m hoping we as a society can nip this particular narrative in the bud before we end up growing some killer corn.

Note: If you’re interested in reading this book, there’s a giveaway over on Goodreads

four-stars