Books

The House of the Scorpion

Over the weekend I finished Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and an honorable mention in several other major North American book awards in 2002, Farmer crafts a stunning tale of a future dystopia. If you’re interested in alternate history, general science fiction, or simply enjoy a great story, this is a fascinating book.

image
Matteo Alacrán is a clone of El Patrón, drug magnate in a small country called Opium, sandwiched between the southern border of the United States and Aztlán, the land that we call Mexico today. This story takes place at some point in the future when hovercrafts are a normal mode of transportation, and cloning and brain implantations are commonplace. Opium, however, is frozen in time for the most part, with few modern amenities, as El Patrón prefers being reminded of the simple life of his childhood in Aztlán. In the book he reaches his 148th birthday. Such extended old age is only possible through morally dubious surgeries and organ transplants. Matt is El Patrón’s ninth clone.

El Patrón has allowed Matt to become educated and musically skilled only to keep him content and docile until his body parts are needed. El Patrón doesn’t count on Matt’s allies, however: Celia the cook, who raised Matt as a little boy, and Tam Lin, the bodyguard who loathes El Patrón’s way of life and gives Matt the clues and tools he needs to escape to Aztlán and avoid certain death. Until his escape, Matt is treated by most people as worse than livestock; they don’t believe that clones are human or have souls.

Even once Matt reaches Aztlán, his troubles are far from over. He finds that hypocrisy and unfair treatment are not human behaviors confined to El Patrón’s domain, but uses his instinct for survival to keep moving. Matt is drawn into a plan by certain government powers of both Aztlán and the US to bring down Opium and shut down El Patrón’s empire. Matt is only too happy to help free the enslaved farm workers and end the unequal treatment he sees in Opium; through his own suffering he has developed a deep sense of empathy for those considered to be undeserving of happiness.

The supporting characters are detailed and very consistent. Each has their own back-story, and Farmer does a wonderful job of weaving these finer points in with Matt’s own story. It is chilling to read about Matt’s treatment at the hands of people who see clones as less than human. It is equally satisfying to read about Matt growing up to become self-reliant, recognizing the dignity with which all people should be treated, and finally finding friendship with his peers. Highly recommended.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.