For those who study their history, the fact that all-controlling government “utopias” prove to be anything but is no surprise, yet the youth are often schooled to believe that such utopias should be desired if only the “right” people are in power. Actually, this isn’t so much something the young need to be taught, rather than is a youthful belief that arises from the desire to change things for the good. This desire for positive change is something that makes the young so hopeful…and so stupid. As we grow older, we realize true positive change only comes with time, if it comes at all. Rarely is it instantaneous. And as we age we often become cynical about human-run institutions. Often, these institutions do more harm than good. Given too much power, governments tend to turn murderous on a jaw-dropping scale.
One of the ways to deter the young against eagerly campaigning for more government power over their lives, is to have them read and watch stories in which the true nature of such a “utopia” is revealed in all of its gory detail. Dystopian series such as The Hunger Games conclude that any side that has too much power should be considered dangerous to the common man. The Hunger Games is far more effective in showcasing this phenomenon than say the movie V for Vendetta. V showcases an oppressive Right-wing government, but fails to concern itself with the main problem, which is authoritarianism in the form of totalitarianism, an all-powerful, centralized government of any side that must not be questioned. The Hunger Games shows the true story, which is that both Right and Left can be authoritarian, and hints at a political truth, the scale is not R vs. L, but is collective tyranny vs. personal freedom.
Scythe, by Neal Shusterman, is only book one in his new series, so I can’t yet judge the series as a whole in comparison to The Hunger Games, but so far I find Scythe to be a worthy successor. First, there is the necessary government dystopia, masking itself as a utopia as usual. Humans have conquered death by superior technology. Imagine that. They are also run by an internet “cloud” of human knowledge that that records and catalogues everyone and keeps everyone safe. Secondly, despite having their needs cared for (in the Hunger Games this depends on which district you live in), the general populace lives in fear of being murdered by their government. Scythes are the de facto government in place of a president, king, and/or parliament, and they have given themselves authority over death. The reason for this is blandly stated that people must die sometime, but behind that lies the boogeyman of our current time, overpopulation of humanity is the worst thing that can happen to the world. Thirdly, teens are conscripted into the order of the Scythes to become licensed killers, not unlike Katniss and Peeta being forced to kill other kids in the Capitol’s Hunger Games. Both societies are essentially bored with their existence, and these killings are entertainment, both a reflection of the fights in the Roman Colosseum, and a beacon warning us of the dangers of our present society’s boredom and malaise.
A quick, straightforward read, Scythe cuts to heart of the issue in the journal writings of the longterm Scythe members. They live by a number of commandments, feel called to do their work, and are more akin to a religious order than an actual governmental body. The main characters, Citra and Rowan are recruited to be apprentices in the order precisely because they find killing people abhorrent. They soon realize that this abhorrence is not shared by all Scythes and that just as in the governments of old, human corruption and greed reigns in the Scythedom. Just as Katniss and Peeta have to think outside the box to beat the system, so do Citra and Rowan.
As a whole, the Scythe world seems a simpler world than The Hunger Games one, but the board is just getting set up. Scythe is superior in some ways–it’s told in 3rd person instead of 1st, has no love triangle, and makes the slaughters less a game and more of a mission, yet fails in others–at times the story and world seem too simple and non-emotive, and a love story is only hinted when it should have been fully realized. Glaring, is the existence of the Scythedom in the first place. À la The Giver, we get the feeling–or maybe we are just hoping–that there is a big reveal coming, both about the origins of the Scythes and the “cloud” god/government. The biggest similarity to both stories is the truth that when it comes to power, any side, no matter how sanctioned, can prove to be the wrong one when human life is at stake.
Along with believing in utopias on earth, the young often see freedom or liberty as doing whatever you want whenever you want. Grownups know that true liberty and true freedom require core values and adherence and discipline to them. None of the main characters in these stories are hedonists. They believe in protecting the weak and even that they themselves have a duty to do so. They are unwilling to use violence and only use it if they must. They revere human life, and even the corrupt human institutions, only bringing down either or both if it becomes absolutely necessary for them to do so. These stories do not glorify anarchy, but hold life and liberty dear.
Scythe is setting itself up to be one of the more thought-provoking young adult series of recent years. Like The Hunger Games, it stands apart from so many of the others, most of which are purely fluff and fantasy. There is a silence behind the story of Scythe. It is as if humanity in it holds their breath, waiting for all of the pennies to drop, or rather, for the guillotine blade to fall. They have conquered death to no purpose and still run from it, quaking in fear when the very human grim reaper is at their door. They have thrown off religion and God only to make technology their god. No matter how hard they try, they can’t shake the truth: One day or another, somehow or another, everyone dies.