It has come to my attention that perhaps I was a bit hard on Hugh "I'm not a misogynist, some of my best friends have ovaries!
" Howey. Thus, a friend lent me First Shift so I could review the book, not the author. After all, don't I know that Hugh Howey is one of the preeminent science fiction authors of our time, if not ALL TIME?!?!?
So let's review. In the year 2049, a neophyte Congressman from Georgia, Donald Keene (whose intellect is anything but), comes to Washington and does absolutely nothing with regards to politics or governing. Instead, he’s sucked into some sort of building project run under the aegis of a long time Senator from the same state. Donald is told the building project is a benign nuclear waste storage facility - aren't they always - and so he sits down, shuts up, and does what he is told even though warning bells would instantly ring for any normal person with two brain cells to rub together. Civics classes must have been outlawed from all Georgia high schools by 2049, because you'd think a CONGRESSMAN would be, like, dude, I don't think this is how a bicameral legislature in a democracy with three branches of government works.
But *wave hand*
Meanwhile, in the year 2110, a man named Troy is woken out of cryogenic sleep to begin his work shift in Silo One. Shifts last six months and then the worker is put back to sleep until it is time for his next shift. Whoever decided that forced turnover every six months is the most effective and efficient way to run any kind of organization deserves any and all fuck ups and piss poor morale that ensue. Just sayin'.
Oh, and THERE ARE NO WOMEN ALLOWED in this Silo, because they would distract men with "passion." The women and children are kept asleep until some undetermined future date. Because not only did the numbskulls who designed this future society decide that forced turnover ever six months was a viable way to go, they also decided that women hold zero value as contributors to society as thinking, rational human beings. No, the mere presence of their vaginas would somehow poison the men with uncontrollable desire.
This. Is. Just. Wrong. First, it presumes men have zero control of their impulses and emotions and cannot help themselves. It's the basic assumption underlying rape culture: hey, it's not my fault I raped her, it's her fault for wearing that short skirt and see-through shirt. AND IT IS PUTRID.
Second: "Passion" is not just restricted to two people of opposite gender. Hate to break it to the brainiacs who devised this society, but if the thought was to prevent all emotional and sexual relationships by removing women - shyeah, right.
Third: WTF?!? Women can't contribute to this society? Women aren't capable of being doctors, psychologists, systems analysts, etc?! Their only value is to serve as emotional blackmail to the men woken out of sleep, and I'm guessing as potential breeders/mothering units for the new utopia yet to come?!
Back in 2049, Donald is forced to work with Anna, his old girlfriend and the daughter of the patron/patronizing Senator. Anna has a magical hoo-ha, y’all. That’s the only explanation for why Donald is PETRIFIED of being within twenty feet of Anna’s apparently magnetic vagina. PETRIFIED. The mere sight of Anna covered in dust bunnies after installing Donald's new desktop computer is enough to make Little Donald want to come out to play. But Donald holds firm (no pun intended). He will be faithful to his wife Helen. Even though Anna does absolutely nothing that suggests any kind of sexual innuendo and her evil seductive temptress ways appear completely made up in Donald's head.
In fact, Donald reminds me a lot of Brandon Hantz, a two-time “Survivor” contestant. Brandon’s story is a very sad one, and I feel bad bringing him up. But Donald’s reaction to Anna is precisely Brandon’s reaction to the young, pretty female contestants on “Survivor:”
because these two men find the women sexually attractive, the women must be evil harlots with no other purpose in life than to steal the virtuous young men away from their wives.Brandon ended up having a spectacular breakdown on camera his second time on the show.
Donald, I’m afraid, presents about just as stable. And sorry, Donald, but honestly? You’re no prize. You have the intellectual curiosity of a kumquat, for starters. And Anna, even as thinly as she is written, could do WAY better. If she even wanted to. Not every woman wants or needs a man to feel complete, Howey.
Flash forward to 2110: Troy spends his time moping. Emo doesn't even begin to cover it. While I admire books that aren't afraid to show male characters crying, no one needs a watering can as the viewpoint character. Troy stops taking his blue pills (or are they red?
) and memories of another time start to come back. Memories of a time that seem a lot like...
...2052. Donald apparently handily won re-election even though he spent all his time working on architectural plans instead of, y'know, Congressional stuff. It seems Donald didn’t show up to class the day where it was explained Representatives are elected every two years and therefore need to campaign. Donald visits the nuclear waste site where the sitting governor from Oklahoma shows up to personally hand him a clipboard so Donald can sign for supplies. Apparently governing Oklahoma is even less onerous than being a Congressman and leaves one with nothing better to do than play deliveryman in a state thousands of miles away. But what is the TRUE purpose of the nuclear waste storage site? Let's flash forward to...
...2110. OMIGAWD TROY IS DONALD!!! MY SISTER MY DAUGHTER MY SISTER MY DAUGHTER!
MIND, LIKE, TOTALLY
Only kidding. Oh, not about the spoiler - unfortunately, that's true enough - but about the supposed genius of the twist. Didn't I see this in a Twilight Zone episode?
Meanwhile, the true purpose of the nuclear waste storage silos is revealed. They're storage all right...FOR PEOPLE!!!!
See, the Democrats - which makes me laugh, because the Democrats are the party that can't seem to organize the opening of a paper bag, yet Howey credits them with organizing the end of the world - are holding their national convention in Atlanta. And for some reason everyone thought it would be a brilliant idea to hold an event at the facility. "Yay!!! Let's have a big party on top of the world's nuclear waste! Woo Hoo!" Because politicians LOVE reminding their constituents about controversial topics such as nuclear energy in an election year, at a high profile, highly televised election event.
But y'see, there are these nano-thingees, invisible to the eye. The nanos enter the bloodstream through inhalation. They're tiny little nanobots, designed to cure cellular breakdown. But the Axis of Evil ™ has weaponized nanos, y’all. They’re not Weapons of Mass Destruction ™ but Weapons of Micro Destruction.
So to avoid a long, drawn out battle between the good nanos and the bad nanos, with hundreds of thousands dying, the perpetrators decide to take out the entire world (or at least Atlanta) by setting off nukes. The conventioneers are herded into the 50 storage silos, which are actually self-contained ecosystems designed to sustain human life. Forty-nine of the silos start brand new societies, with farms and a stratified class system based on one's occupation and one's level of residence (up is good, down is bad.) One silo - the one containing Donald/Troy - relies on cryo-frozen "legacy" workers, instead of letting people propagate and die. This silo is also the only one that knows there are multiple silos, and it vets all the "heads" of the other silos. The heads are not politicians; they come out of (the all-male) IT, for some reason, even though computing doesn't seem needed or even much called for.
And Troy/Donald remembers, even though the drugs are supposed to make him forget. Donald and Helen were supposed to meet at the Tennessee Silo, but a last minute switch with his best friend, fellow nuclear waste container contractor and Congressman Mick (because Congressmen are always best buddies and qualified to build nuclear waste facilities, of course) sent Donald to the Georgia Silo with Donald's sister Charlotte and the harlot Anna.
But the remembering might be his biggest problem. For THEY (there's always a THEY in stories like these) know he remembers. And Donald is put back to sleep.
Of course not for good, there's like a bajillion more parts to this story.
Fun Facts We Learn About the Future #1: All Georgian congressmen must kiss the ring of a Georgian Senator named Thurman (whose resemblance to Strom Thurmond
, party affiliation aside, is uncanny.) The Congressmen must do whatever the Senator says. Apparently his real first name is "Simon."
Fun Fact #2: In the year 2049 (I keep hearing it sung like this
) Congressmen do not need to meet with constituents, other government officials, or even lobbyists. Nor do they need to campaign for re-election. No, Congressmen spend all their time working on architectural drawings, even when they aren't licensed architects and haven't practiced professionally.
Fun Fact #3: I keep using the word Congressmen, because Future!Washington is even more sexist (and also more racist, since no people of color show up anywhere) than today. Howey writes, "There was a sense in the air that the world was about to change - a woman was about to win nomination for president, only the second such nomination in Donald's lifetime. And if the pollsters could be believed, this one had more than a chance." Since Donald is described as mid-thirties, that makes him born around 2014. So, sorry Hilary. Sorry Sarah. Sorry Condi or whoever might be in the wings. Save the expense now and don't run: Hugh Howey says no girls allowed in the Oval Office. Nuh uh.
Oh, there are women in this book, but they are either the receptionist; the secretary; the wife with no other apparent life except to wait by the phone and/or walk the dog; or the (dum dum DUM) evil temptress ex-girlfriend who does nothing tempting except to deliver a computer and have a meal. Howey does include Donald's sister Charlotte, an Air Force officer who pilots drones in some ongoing conflict with the usual Axis of Evil ™ suspects (c'mon, doesn't a new country get to join the Axis in the next forty years? Is it like the Bad Guy Club for Villains
, and they aren't accepting new members?) but when Charlotte learns they want her to appear on stage with Senator Thurmondan and other members of the armed services, Howey has her say, "Oh God. And I'm the girl
." So obviously, the idea that the other service members might be female is unthinkable.
Fun Fact #4: Congressmen from Georgia are so smart, they only just discover in 2049 that the CDC has a website devoted to surviving the zombie apocalypse
. Quick on the uptake, politicians of the future.
Fun Fact #5: Technology has progressed to the point where nanos are used in medicine to repair cellular structures. On the other hand, people still use desktop computers, cell phones, computer mice, pens, paper, clipboards, etc. Not even a tablet device in sight. The march of progress led by companies such as Apple and Google appears to have been halted and reversed. Perhaps Silicon Valley was the Axis of Terror's™ first target. Still, I find it hard to believe that 2049 will be more like 2003 than 2013 when it comes to office technology.
We'll still be buying bestselling books in paper, however, so that's all right. I bet Simon & Schuster and Random House are happy to know their investment will continue to pay out.
Two stars for the belly laughs.
But if you are looking for a book to convince people that Howey is just woefully misunderstood when it comes to claims of sexism: this isn't the place to start.