Welcome to another Thoughts On book review. You’ll see these pop up on my blog whenever I’ve found a book I just can’t put down.
Ross City, Antarctica is a fascinating place.
When outsiders arrive they don a special set of visitor glasses, which enables them to see things the way the natives do. Glittering numbers float above the heads of every person in the city, marking their different scores.
Because in Ross City, life is a game and everyone is a player.
Everywhere you look, points linger, enticing you to do positive deeds for the city in order to reap the rewards.
Explaining this to June during her tour, the chancellor gestures to a potted plant in need of hydration. Hovering above the plant are the words “Water Plant Plus One,” indicating that one point will be awarded to the individual who performs the act. By understanding this, we see that points are bestowed for good, nurturing behavior.
However, as June is shown through one of the city’s schools, she witnesses how the system also functions to maintain order. June watches as the words “Cheating Minus One Point” appear above the head of a cheating student, deducting points for bad behavior and further punishing him with the shame of public admonishment. As the chancellor explains to June, “Your level means everything in Ross City…Our citizens are so engrossed in this game of life that most of them know better than to do things that will decrease their scores.” Here the subtraction of points provides both corrective discipline and public embarrassment. It is through this two-pronged approach that the city’s system of levels actively works to keep citizens on the right track.
But who decides what that right track is?
June picks up on this, but doesn’t dare speak it to her native tour guide. Instead she keeps her thoughts to herself, allowing readers of Marie Lu’s Champion to mull things over while they read. But I am not interested in how this system will affect June and her fellow bespectacled visitors during their stay. Instead, I am interested in the natives.
Because only visitors need glasses to see the truth. Natives have been surgically altered to see it.
At the age of thirteen, every native-born Antarctican undergoes an operation. At this time, a silicon chip is implanted into their brains, enabling (eh hem, forcing) them to see the point system without the help of corrective lenses. But what does it mean when people are limited to experiencing life in accordance with someone else’s perception of right and wrong? When individuals are forced to see things in a certain, predetermined way, are their decisions really even theirs anymore? Or are they simply a collection of anticipated responses to a set of calculated stimuli?
And most importantly, how does this affect the value of those decisions?
In the end, the contrast remains. Visitors can remove their glasses at any time and see the country for what it is, unadorned by the intense, intricate programming that supports this game. Natives, however, are trapped in their government’s system of guided compliance forever, constantly viewing the world around them through a lens someone else has chosen.
The natives of Ross City have undergone this corrective surgery, and yet remain completely blind to the reality around them.
Ironic, isn’t it?