“I was born during the second holocaust. People had told us legends of a time when human beings lived longer. I thought they were just stories. Nobody even lived to see forty in my world.”
Duece has never heard of the sun. Born and bred in the tunnels of a now long-decrepit subway tunnel system, she has trained to become a hunter for her tribe, for the honor of patroling the tunnels and protecting her people from the Freaks (think zombies meet mutants) who wander them, looking for meat.
The world is post-apocalyptic, but Duece’s tribe is dystopian. Duece doesn’t mind it; it is all she knows, and obedience has been deeply ingrained in her personality. But a few have noticed that the elders lie, that independent thought is discouraged, that *incoming cliche* all is not what it seems. Enclave (2011, Square Fish/Macmillan) is one of those books that shows (though not in much detail) how an apocalyptic situation can lead to a dystopian society and why that totally sucks.
Enclave is, above all, a fun book. As Aguirre says herself in an interview that follows the text, her books “…are meant to be entertaining.” That’s not a bad thing, in fact, it was quite a wonderful thing. But if there was something you could say that Enclave lacked, it was complexity. We get a glimpse of a lot of interesting social issues here: leadership and control, obediance and independence, partnership, trust, and love, but Aguirre doesn’t take them apart and put them back together again. And that’s ok. Just something you should know when you’re deciding if your brain currently needs candy or meat.
I loved Enclave for its tunnels (my favorite non-fiction tunnel-dweller book—The Mole People by Jennifer Toth—was an inspiration, Aguirre says), its library scenes, and for the way it describes relics from our present as seen for the first time by Duece. The novel doesn’t tell us what happened to Duece’s world exactly, something something plague, though Aguirre does so explicitly in the afterward. But I’ll leave that for you to find out as that particular question drives much of the book’s plot.
Tiresome, however, were the rigidly assigned roles in Duece’s tribe (something pretty popular in YA dystopias these days). Why, if you were so concerned about resources and the population dying out, would you limit your human capital to one job a person? Specialization makes sense, but rigid segregation? Hmm. Why wouldn’t a hunter know how to build a thing or two? Why would breeding be seen as the lowest of the low (while only being assigned to the most attractive)? Oh wait, because nobody else is allowed to have sex, and a taboo on breeding helps the elders enforce this. Had sex but aren’t a breeder? Into the tunnels with the Freaks you go! Though I am sure the threat of exile would keep repression high and sexual satisfaction low, the fact that this doesn’t cause a fuck ton of tension and conflict among the tribe was utterly unbelievable. Especially among teenagers. Did I mention that almost everybody is a teenager because 27 is about as old as you get underground? Huh.
The repetition of the tribe’s mantra that “Rules exist for our protection” was a bit of a straw man. We saw a few situations where this was true, but mostly we saw situations where this was dangerous or hurtful. We’ve all seen The Croods. We all know Daddy Rule Face changes his mind at the end because adapting rules to changing situations is an important part of survival. This is what I meant by “lacking complexity.” Still, I sped through it in a day, enjoying every apocalyptic detail. Sometimes it is the books I enjoy the most that are the easiest to pick apart.
Alas, the whitewashing
Hearing about all Aguirre’s research in the afterward, however, I found myself becoming more and more puzzled by the book’s biggest issue: there are no people of color in this book. If Aguirre based this story on extensive research on Katrina, if Aguirre means us to see the tribes and gangs we meet as the people left behind by an evacuation plan that favored the rich and priveledged in big-city America, then where the fuck are the black people? Where are any people of color? What the fuck? Hearing that Aguirre extrapolated Enclave‘s story from facts, this makes even less sense than it would in an SFF book that claims no source but fantasy. Why weave your story around facts if you are going to leave out something so crucial? (Of course, we can and should also ask: why leave people of color out at all, ever?)
According to wikipedia, “Immigrant Africans, Caribbeans, and African Americans make up 25.1% of New York City’s population.” Add to that a few statistics about poverty, “In 2010, 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics were poor” (thanks again wikipedia), and you have to wonder how a plot based around an evacuation of New York City that left the poor behind to rot, that makes the children and grandchildren of those poor residents the center of its story, ends up being entirely white.
Five out of ten cans of spam. (Is getting a single can of spam a good thing? At the end of the world, yes. On the other side of your computer in the century of luxury, probably less so.)
Where you can get it: Book Depository, Amazon