Tag Archives: Dystopia

Wombs for Rent: A Review of The Farm

I’ve decided to start reviewing more books on this blog. All of the rest of the titles I’ve set aside for this purpose for the foreseeable future are indie, but I thought I’d start off with something mainstream. The star rating below is out of a possible five stars.

Title: The Farm

Author: Joanne Ramos

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Genres:  Dystopian, Contemporary, and a pinch of Science Fiction

Page Count: 326 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library

Rating: 3 Stars

 

 

Blurb:

Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

Review:

The first time I heard of The Farm was a few months ago when another reviewer compared it to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, one of my all-time favourite books. As soon as I read that line, I was hooked. Like Ms. Atwood’s famous story, this one is also about fertile, generally lower-class women being used to gestate babies for the most powerful members of society.

Unlike the characters in The Handmaid’s Tale, Jane and the other surrogates chose to become impregnated. Whether they knew what they were really consenting to is something I can’t discuss much in this review without wandering into spoiler territory. Let’s just say that the glossy description of what this job was like didn’t necessarily match Jane’s actual experiences with it.

What I would have loved to see from this book were more details. The most frightening parts of it were glossed over so much that I had to make educated guesses about how they played out. While Jane’s perspective was a limited one, it was a little frustrating as a reader to get so far into the plot only to receive the same vague hints that were contained in the blurb and early chapters.

There was a satisfying payoff for a subplot involving the woman who first introduced Jane to the idea of gestating a pregnancy at The Farm. If only the other clues at the beginning were given the same treatment. Not every dystopia is necessarily going to include a government being overthrown or other major signs that a society has gone terribly wrong. I loved the more subtle approach Ms. Ramos took with the assumptions she made about how people might respond if they couldn’t find decent paying work and selling the use of their reproductive organs seemed like the best option to make some semi-quick cash. If only she’d developed these thoughts further.

With that being said, one of the things I liked the most about this storywas how realistic it was. Yes, there were little snippets of what could be interpreted as science fiction and dystopian content in it, but everything in it is either really happening in our world today or could easily occur with a few small tweaks to how science works and what society tolerates. This is the kind of soft science fiction that grabs my attention because of how close it is to our reality.

I can sleep easily at night knowing that little green men from Mars aren’t actually ever going to invade Earth. The thought that women could so easily be coerced or enslaved into producing babies for wealthy, powerful families, on the other hand, is chilling because it has happened in the past, it is currently going on in some parts of the world, and it will almost certainly occur again in the future.

That’s frightening. Despite it’s flaws, The Farm’s no-nonsense approach to this topic is why I’ll recommend it to anyone who finds the blurb interesting.

No More Dystopias: A Hopeful Science Fiction Reading Challenge

 I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty tired of the bleak, dystopian themes in a lot of modern science fiction.

For example, I used to be a huge fan of The Walking Dead. The idea of struggling to keep   one’s children alive in such a dangerous setting was appealing when I first began reading the original graphic novels before the television show was created.

Most previous zombie movies and novels I’d heard of had killed off their child characters pretty early on, so I was curious to see how Rick, the protagonist, and the other parents in this universe would break with this tradition.

While there were many things I enjoyed about The Walking Dead early on, the graphic, relentless violence and catastrophic loss of hope for key characters eventually lead me to stop watching and reading it. It was all too much for me.

I do read recaps of what is currently going on in that universe every so often. If it eventually ends on an uplifting note, I might even go back and catch up on everything I’ve missed.

For now, though, I need a very long break from these kinds of tales. The news is already overflowing with stories about miserable things happening to good people through no fault of their own. When I read fiction these days, I’m now looking for an escape from injustices that are never made right again.

One of my goals for 2018 is to find, read, and then eventually compile a long list of science fiction tales that end on a hopeful note. This post is the beginning of that journey, and I’m tentatively planning to write an entire series of posts on this topic as I find books, TV shows, and other forms of entertainment that belong in it.

What It Won’t Be

When I say I want hopeful science fiction, I don’t mean that I want to avoid serious or difficult subject matter altogether.

There may very well be wars, battles, or other violent scenes in the stuff I read for this series.

The beginnings could include descriptions of places that are no one’s idea of a pleasant place to live. I won’t necessarily be turned off by an opening scene that sounds dystopian so long as the narrator doesn’t dwell there for every single scene from that point until the end.

The good guys might not always make the right decisions. It’s okay with me if they occasionally say or do things that deeply irritate me. In fact, I strongly prefer characters who are rough around the edges as long as they’re not antiheroes.

An occasional moment of despair is completely understandable, but I don’t want to read about or watch anyone be dragged from one traumatic event or response to the next with no end in sight.

Some of the stuff I add to this list could very well include themes related to any number of different types of prejudice, from homophobia to racism to sexism.

If a key main character must die at some point to further the plot or fulfill his or her destiny, I will accept it. (See also: Harry Potter).

What It Will Be

What I will require from these books, though, is hope.

They definitely don’t have to act Pollyannaish, but the characters should have a optimistic approach to their quest or mission most of the time.

When something terrible happens, it should be written into the plot for a specific reason that will be revealed to the audience sooner rather than later.

The good guys should win in the end.

The storylines should end on a positive note.

Will You Join Me?

You might have noticed that I haven’t listed any specific titles yet here.

That was done on purpose because:

  1. I’m still researching titles that will fit my criteria, and
  2. I wanted to get reader feedback first without influencing your suggestions for me.

There are some very knowledgable and well-read people who follow this blog. If you have any suggestions of what to add to this list, will you share them?

If you’re ready for some hopeful stories, will you join me? I can’t wait to share my ideas with you as well!