Monday, September 24, 2007


Book: Rash
Author: Pete Hautman
Published: 2006

Welcome to the United Safer States of America, where everyone wears helmets and road rage is punishable by prison time. Bo Marsten’s got a few strikes against him already--criminal behavior runs in his family. Both his dad and his brother are doing time for getting in fights. So it’s no real surprise when his temper gets the best of him after a classmate plays a nasty trick. He gets sent up the river . . . or in this case, up to the tundra.

Sentenced to hard time in a pizza factory that has only a wire fence between the prisoners and the hungry polar bears, Bo is suddenly hip-deep in an unsafe world that’s been outlawed for a hundred years, out in civilized America. He catches a break when he makes the prison football team (another outlawed sport). They get special privileges--among them, carte blanche to be as violent as possible in the name of football. It’s like some lawless mirror world that exists in the shadows of a country wrapped about with as many rules as possible.

Initially, Bo revels in it. But he begins to understand that somewhere in between utter safety and utter freedom lies an important question--who is responsible for his actions? Society, with all its rules and regulations? Or himself?

I really enjoy sci-fi, especially dystopic, society-questioning sci-fi. Especially especially dystopic, society-questioning sci-fi with the world all thought through and rendered in just enough detail to light up the story but not send everyone to sleep. (J.R.R. Tolkein, I am LOOKING AT YOU.) Little details really put Bo’s world into three dimensions, like Bo’s complaint that most normal mothers would call the ambulance for a bee sting, or the wild popularity of a “survivor chair” that can extend someone’s life up to seventeen months--if they stay in it 24/7.

But aside from this well-realized world, the story is one familiar to everyone who’s ever come to realize that blaming others can only take you so far, and at some point, the only person controlling your fate is going to be yourself.

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