Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Talkin' 'bout my generation gap

by Lissa Price

“Enders gave me the creeps.” That’s the first sentence of Lissa Price’s debut novel, Starters, as thought by her tough, independent protagonist, Callie Woodland. Callie has had to become independent—she’s a Starter. In the futuristic world envisioned by Price, the population has been decimated by a genocidal “spore war.” There was a vaccine against the spores, but there wasn’t enough. Following standard protocols, it was given to the weakest members of society, the oldest and youngest. Now, the survivors are almost exclusively 20 or younger (the Starters) or 60 or older (the Enders).

But society is suffering something far worse than a generation gulf. The Enders have all the money and all the power. Trust me, by and large, these are not kindly old grandparents! And with advances in medicine and technology, they regularly live to be 200 or more. It’s tough times to be a Starter. You’re not legally allowed to work, and if you don’t have an Ender willing to be your legal guardian, you’ll be hunted down and locked in a facility.

So, this is the world that Callie’s been surviving in for the last few years since she lost her parents. She might be relatively okay on her own, she has friends, but she’s responsible for a sick little brother who means everything to her. It’s a constant source of worry which leads her to take desperate measures. She’s going to Prime Destinations, where she can get enough money for food and rent for a year. While never stated explicitly, this is a new form of prostitution. It’s not sex she’s selling, but she’s going there to sell her body—or at least rent it out.

Prime Destinations has developed technology whereby a teen can rent possession of their vigorous, young body to an Ender for a day or week or month at a time. She’s told:

“We insert a tiny neurochip into the back of your head. You won’t feel a thing. Totally painless. Allows us to connect you to the computer at all times. We then connect your brain waves to the computer, and the computer connects the two of you.”

In other words, an Ender in suspended animation would take control of Callie’s body, while her own consciousness is in a coma-like sleep. After just three rentals, she’d get the big pay day and be totally free of obligations. It’s an offer she can’t afford to refuse.

But bargains with the devil are never simple. Something goes wrong, and Callie winds up in a struggle for dominance with an Ender who has her own agenda that has nothing to do with the rental agreement. And this is just the tip of the iceberg in a story that becomes increasingly complex and increasingly compelling as it goes along. There is actually quite a lot going on in this dystopian tale. There are, of course, elements of social commentary, along with some amusing social satire. There are political intrigue and thriller aspects to the tale alongside the science fiction. And, yes, in what has become a familiar YA trope, there a love triangle. (Or square? Pentagram? Whatever, there’s romance afoot.) Additionally, there are some compelling plot lines involving a mystery villain, the Old Man, about whom it is said:

“The one thing that everyone knows is that he’s kept his identity secret. No one’s ever seen his face. Rumors abound… He used to be a software genius, he was in charge of Dark Ops during the war and sustained some injury… Who knows if any of it is true?”

Who knows, indeed? It is these questions that will have fans rushing back for the sequel to this nail-biter, Enders. Price does a great job creating likable and engaging characters and telling a darn entertaining story. It moves at an enjoyably rapid pace. I felt influences of many other sources within the confines of this story, but rather than take away from what Price has created, I felt like they added interesting subtext to the tale.

Finally, it is at least a little ironic that this tale of the young and old should have so very much crossover potential between its intended YA audience, and oldsters like me. I’m not quite an Ender yet, but I’m not a young adult either, and I was captivated. I’m thrilled the sequel is due out in December. Price has set things up for a blockbuster conclusion, and I shall be waiting with bated breath.


  1. Yay! I'm going to have to read this one next. I'm not a YA or an Ender either, but I'm quite enjoying the new YA trends. I think there's a lot that appeals to wide audiences (in terms of age). My TBR stack is growing exponentially!

  2. Yeah, I enjoy quite a few YA books myself, and clearly we're not the only adults reading these books.

    This subject came up at my f2f book group the other night, and a member posed the question of what book was the first really major YA-adult crossover hit. My response was that it was Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which became so popular among adult readers that the publisher went back to press and published versions with adult-looking covers to remove the stigma for adult readers. Anyone else got a better sugggestion?

    Anyway, Becky, I will look forward to hearing your thoughts in this title once you get around to reading it.

  3. Susan, I read it over the weekend and thought it was fantastic. I really enjoy these futuristic dystopians -- possibly because I have a very pessimistic outlook on the future myself! I definitely don't think a company like Prime Destinations is that far off of what might be possible one day -- and with the eternal quest for the fountain of youth...

    As far as YA/Adult cross over, what about Enders Game -- which came first in terms of the adult pb release, Enders or His Dark Materials?

  4. Hey Becky,

    So glad you enjoyed it. And, you know, you may be right about Ender's Game. I've never read it, butI think it predates Pullman's novels.