Aberrant, by Ruth Silver

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Publication date – April 16, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReadsIn the future dystopian society of Cabal, the government instills equality for all and offers its citizens the perfect system. There is food, shelter and jobs for everyone. The one requirement is to follow the rules without question, including the government’s match in marriage and “The Day of the Chosen”, a lottery that randomly selects families to conceive children as natural means hasn’t existed in generations. Following her eighteenth birthday, Olivia Parker accepts her requirement to marry her childhood best friend, Joshua Warren, and is eager to start her work assignment and new life when it all comes abruptly to an end as she’s arrested and thrown in prison. The only crime committed, her existence. Olivia is unlike the rest of the world born not from “The Day of the Chosen.” The truth haunts the government and puts her life in grave danger as one simple fact would destroy the perfect system.

With Joshua’s help, Olivia breaks free of prison and is forced on the run. Together they set out to find the promised rebel town in search of a new home and new life together. Their situation seems less than promising as they reach the town of Haven. New rules and customs must be adhered to in order to stay. Leaving would mean most certain death in the large expanse of the Gravelands. Time is running out as the government mounts an attack to destroy Olivia and bury her secret with her. Thrown into a world unlike their own, they must quickly adapt to survive.

Thoughts: In a safe world where cities are the only refuge from harsh death at the hands of nature, where the government assigns your spouse and job and provides all you need, one dissatisfied young woman flees for her life and joins the rebel alliance in order to bring down the oppressive regime of the life she grew up in.

Sound familiar? Sound like a dozen and one YA dystopian novels on the shelves already? Welcome to Ruth Silver’s Aberrant.

The book follows the story of Olivia, recently turned 18 and newly assigned to her best friend Joshua as a spouse, and quite happily so. Until she’s arrested one night, freed, and then flees into the wasteland surrounding her city of Genesis, running across problems and secrets as she goes. For a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, this one’s fairly standard. Nothing surprising ever really happens, and the characters are bland enough that the reader can put any face they choose upon them. Nobody really stands out, and the main character herself would be fairly forgettable if she wasn’t the main character and everybody’s paying attention to her because of her assumed specialness.

I’m not saying that to be harsh. Really, everybody does assume she’s special. Females in the book are infertile, a side-effect of a vaccine that saved the human race from a great plague. Government intervention is needed for a woman to fall pregnant. Except that Olivia was conceived naturally, and so as her mother is now past child-bearing age, everyone’s turning to Olivia as the great savior of humanity, a figurehead to give people hope that they can rise above the government and no longer need their help simply to keep humanity going.

Enter plot problem 1. The assumption is that because Olivia was conceived naturally, she herself must be able to conceive naturally too. No tests are done to confirm this before everyone decides that she has to bear kids and be a figurehead. No mention of how her mother conceived naturally in the first place, and so maybe anybody can. Just that she did, and so they assume Olivia can too.

Plot problem 2: nobody in Genesis seems to understand about, well, how babies are made. The logic behind this is presented as if getting pregnant involves some mysterious governmental intervention, then nobody would sleep with anyone because there’s just no point. This ignores that vast majority of human sexuality and assumes that humans are, by default, asexual, and unless reproduction is a factor then nobody even feels any urges. At least in Lois Lowry’s The Giver, these urges were eliminated by medication. They weren’t just handwaved.

As with many dystopian stories that have a focus on population control, the math doesn’t add up. Families are chosen by the government by a lottery in order to get that intervention and produce a child. A single sentence indicates this happens once a month, to one woman. Assuming every pregnancy is carried to term, this means 12 children born each year. Any children past the first child are taken and given to other cities, for reasons that are never really explained. But that’s still pretty much a maximum of 12 children per year to any given city. But Olivia notes that there are 16 males and 16 females, 18 years old, being matched for spouses that year. Unless every spare child from every other city is given to Genesis, that math doesn’t really work.

Also the inherent problems with a “1 child per family” policy essentially halving the count of the next generation, which is only feasible if you’re already dealing with major overpopulation. Which they aren’t.

Aberrant tries to take the best parts of many other popular dystopias and combine them into one, and while that may be appealing to fans of the genre who are looking for more of the same, I find that it made for more of an unfocused story. Olivia gets arrested for being different, flees the city and falls into the hands of people who want to use her in a different ways, flees again and finds herself in a situation where she has to pass tests in order to gain a place in the society. Nothing is settled, nothing is sure, and very few characters get enough time or development for me to really want to care about any of them. Even Olivia and Joshua are fairly bland and uninteresting, with little to define them beyond, “These people are the main characters and are in love.”

As I said, for those who are looking for just another dystopian novel, you could do worse, and if genre standards are your thing then you may find yourself liking Aberrant. If you’re looking for a book that adds something to the genre, however, or really stands out, then you’d do best to look elsewhere.

(Provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.)