by Suzanne Weyn
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Empty / 978-0-545-17278-3
I'm a greenie in good standing - I know the difference between "recycled content" and "post-consumer recycled content", I avoid petroleum based products as much as possible, and I drive as little as possible. Even if I hadn't been interested in doing these things for my own health and the health of the planet, it's been good sense to wean off of petroleum products ever since the market started demonstrating just how volatile it really is. So I'm all in favor of a good dystopia novel that can drive home just how dependent America is on oil and how dangerous that dependency can be, but "Empty" by Suzanne Weyn is NOT that novel.
The writing in this novel is atrocious - major plot points are "summarized" at the ends of each chapter with newspaper articles that sound fake, unrealistic, and rushed - as if the author couldn't be bothered to edit them properly before going to print. The entirety of the novel is told from the point of view of several teenage "everymen" characters - all of whom sound identically bland - and the "action" of the novel unfolds by having supporting characters literally walk up to them on the street and lecture them about how dependent we are on gasoline and why the world is rapidly going to heck in a handbasket. The cardinal rule of writing - "Show, don't tell" - is broken on every single page of this novel; for instance, in order to demonstrate how the hot water in our pipes relies on gasoline to heat it, we do NOT see a character wash her hair and get a nasty surprise when the water is ice cold. No, instead we have a character *announce* that she's going to wash her hair so that another character can TELL her that the plan won't work, and why not. This is boring, unimaginative, and reads like a badly-written religious tract.
"Empty" is set "ten years from now", but the author seems not to understand what this might entail. She seems to want a story where everything is going along fine and then *BAM* gasoline shortages, but this would mean that either (1) the story would have to be longer in order to really explore the concept of petroleum shortages, or (2) quite a lot of the shortages would have to be jettisoned from the plot entirely. You see, if all oil were gone tomorrow, we wouldn't immediately run out of shampoo (there's a lot stored up in warehouses waiting to be sold), but the characters of "Empty" *must* run out of shampoo *immediately* after the novel starts, so the reader is flat-out told that the high school girls have been hoarding shampoo and nail polish for awhile now. In the same vein, electricity rationing has been going on in town, if only because people can't afford to run the heat and A/C constantly.
But if rationing has been going on for some time, why does the sudden blackout slam the characters into complete, dumbfounded confusion? Where are the candles and the non-petroleum shampoo? One step further, where are the candle making equipment and the shampoo home recipes? Why does everyone in the area have a gasoline- or lithium-powered generator, but no one has ever even HEARD of a manual- or wind-powered generator? And why, WHY, do all the teenagers have holographic cell phones that they use constantly?
What's most frustrating about "Empty" is the lost potential. I'd LOVE to see a dystopia novel where everyone breaks out their vague memories of "Little House on the Prairie" and of childhood boy scout lessons, and then people start experimenting with boiling water on the charcoal grill for bathwater, and figuring out how to cook food in their fireplace, but all we ever get from "Empty" is lectures masquerading as dialogue, teenagers crushing on each other, and everyone being completely clueless and helpless. It's strange and inhuman to see half the people in town unable to get to work or school because it's "too far to walk" and no one even MENTIONS the possibility of bicycles, not even as a handwave to support the plot (as in, "wow, it's too bad all the bicycles were destroyed in the Great Two-Wheeled Cataclysm of 2020!"); at least not until everyone is shepherded into New Utopia Village where everything is clean and self-sustained, and bicycles are magically dispensed from a company grant. (I'm really not making this up.)
Words really cannot describe how disappointed I am with this book. Everything about this book - the characters, the way they interact, their responses in a crisis, the newspaper articles, the very world around them - comes off as completely unreal, totally fake, and poorly written. The subject of oil dependence is an important one, and it deserves a better novel than this. The problems with oil dependence should be *shown* to the reader, not baldly told to them by supporting characters in between the snogging sessions of the "main" characters. I honestly feel that this novel was rushed out to take advantage of the market and the "greenest" thing to do would be to not buy it at all.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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