Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Helper 12 by Jack Blaine

"Blaine? That's not a name! It's a disease!"

Sorry, I have to say that every time I see the name Blaine. It's a reflex.

Anyway, this book was very good. It's a dystopian novel, which isn't unusual for me.

The thing is, I'm sort of getting tired of dystopians. I know that many authors in the past started the dystopian novel, most notably being Aldous Huxley, Orson Scott Card and George Orwell, and the books are revolutionary. I think ever since Thomas Moore wrote Utopia, authors have thought about how horrible it would be to live in perfect harmony with everything around them, and how limiting it would be, so the idea of dystopia was just a natural step in that direction.

Dystopias always look exactly the same, though, and it doesn't take a sociologist to tell you that the societal structure of a dystopia is a lot like communist governments.

I am going to be very honest and say that I get why communism can be popular amongst certain people. After all, there's this ideal behind the equitable sharing of all resources so that all people are equal in all things. That is communism.

Unfortunately, in  practise, communism always ends up like a dystopian society where only an elite percentage of the population is able to live in relative comfort while the rest have to drudge about , eking out a bare living and sometimes not surviving. What dystopian novels do is make the elite few very, very, very elite while making the drudges slaves to the government, often sterilizing them, isolating them, and keeping close watch on them.

In the early 20th century, with the fall of the Russian Tsardom and the rise of powerful players such as Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, and of course, Rasputin, the idea of Big Brother watching held the imaginations of the free world, so it was no surprise that 1984 and Brave New World, Farenheit 451 and Slaughterhouse 5 caught on so hard and fast. This was real! This could happen!

It's easy to see how they caught on, especially in this sort of carnation. But the world is changing. Shouldn't dystopian fiction change as well? I mean, the end for a dystopia is always going to be losing one's identity to a machine, but I can't help but wonder if there is a new and different face we can give this. However, according to my history teacher (oh he of the Harrison Ford face and three-piece suits), communism is still the biggest threat out there, so what do I know?

So, that being neither here nor there, Helper 12 is yet another dystopian fantasy with the communist set-up that 1984 and Brave New World first introduced us to, complete with view screens and the threat of big brother watching at all times. Blaine also includes a bit of Card's Unaccompanied Sonata into the mix by having the government begin testing of babies at birth to see where they'll be "placed" in society, even having an "artistic" track that allows these drudges to create, and "thinker" tracks for thinkers. (Stop being surprised that I know so much about the origins of Sci-Fi. I know my stuff. Tcha.) The elite are the only ones allowed to have "family units" and procreate at their own will. For the drudges of society, birth is controlled and only those marked as "breeders" are allowed to carry babies.

Helper 12 is a baby helper for newborn-through-six month babies, and everything she knows is tied up in her job. There are words she can't read because they don't pertain to her industry, and things she can't know or do because her job is to be a baby helper, nothing more, nothing less.

What's interesting is that everyone has a name and number, a ward, and etcetera. But what no one says is that the baby helpers give all of the numbers a name, a real name, that eventually gets told to that child when they're old enough to start understanding what individuality is. So Helper 12 has a real name, and she gives her charges real names, and she tells that name to whomever takes the child next, and so on.

On the night we meet Helper 12, she is taking care of a baby she particularly loves, whom she has named Jobee, and some people come in and decide to buy both the baby and the Helper, and just like that, it's done. It's highly illegal, but in all societies, communist and free alike, money talks.

The book is very fast-paced, and well written, but it has quite a few flaws. The people who buy the baby buy him just before going on a three-week vacation, which makes no sense. Why not buy him after they get back? And instead of having a plan in place, they buy Helper 12 on the fly, which again makes no sense because one does not simply walk into a dystopian hospital and buy a baby illegally without some sort of forethought, do they? It's pretty stupid if that's all it takes. I get that the government in this society is more lax towards the elite, but one of the plot points is that the labor-class birthrate is down, so it should go without saying that the government would have a high stake in keeping all babies in Labor/Helper as possible, no matter what the whims of the Society are.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book, I just wish the author had taken more time and really thought about the logic of his decisions. One of the big plot points was that homosexuals, or "kinks" are persecuted against, which again doesn't make sense in a future where other people are giving birth to the working class, and then it's not even as a parent but as a breeder. Homosexuality is a threat during low birth-rates, or in religious groups, but I don't see where the persecution would come from in this sort of dystopian society. If the author had helped to make us understand why homosexuality is still a no-no in the future, it would have helped.

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