Author: Lydia Millet
Synopsis: In this richly imagined dystopic future brought by global warming, seventeen-year-old Nat and her hacker brother Sam have come by ship to the Big Island of Hawaii for their parents’ Final Week. The few Americans who still live well also live long–so long that older adults bow out not by natural means but by buying death contracts from the corporates who now run the disintegrating society by keeping the people happy through a constant diet of “pharma.” Nat’s family is spending their pharma-guided last week at a luxury resort complex called the Twilight Island Acropolis.
Huge thank you to Black Sheep and Edelweiss for this ARC!
Wow. Just wow. This book was beautiful, deep, poetic, though provoking, and bittersweet. Don’t be fooled by the low page count either, this is not a light, nor is it a quick read. It’s dense and will pull you in and not let you go. I was originally drawn to this book because of the title (it’s rather snappy) and the cover. While there are a lot of pills in the book, there aren’t that many starships so don’t be fooled into thinking that this will take place in outer-space.
The world in Pills and Starships is so well done. Global warming has reached and surpassed a tipping point and now the climate shift has become so bad that not only are people dying from new diseases and the failing eco system, but they’re also living too long and becoming too depressed because of the dying world. This is all managed by corporations, or ‘corps’ that control everything. These corps feed the dying population a steady diet of pills, called pharams, and the world is high or stoned or on antidepressants. And the older generations (who live well into their 100’s due to irradiating cancer and old age), they can’t stand to live in this dying world any longer.
So the coprs have a system where if you want to die you have to take out a contract with them and let them kill you. There’s some stuff in the book about what happens if you DIY (your death, that is) and how it affects those you leave behind. If you do it the right way then the survivors (your family) will be okay and taken care of. So Nat and her brother Sam are both shocked and saddened an angry when their parents take out a contract to end their lives, leaving Nat and Sam behind.
Nat and Sam are in the 1% which means that they live comfortably and have some money. They can afford to live in a clean condo, they can keep themselves fed and drugged. So their parents decide to go out in a fancy, rather expensive way, and they book a week stay in Hawaii for their ‘Final Week’. This is a week of closure, counseling, forgiveness, and goodbyes. As the week goes on Nat’s parents get more and more drugged and further and further away from who they used to be. Nat and Sam are dealing, but Sam, who’s a genius hacker kid, finds out that there is a lot more going on than just the generally accepted social structure and way of things.
I can’t say much more from here because this book took an unexpected turn that I was not expecting and I loved it so much. It was so hopeful and I don’t want to spoil anything. But in the beginning of the book I was horrified that Nat’s parents were leaving her and her brother, that they were being so selfish and then as things became more clear it was just… wow. Unexpected. The things that Sam and Nat learn and see and experience, it was just so sad and it scares me that this could be a future for our world.
The writing in this book is beautiful. It’s told from Nat’s POV and she’s recording the story in a journal. She imagines that she’s writing to a future survivor who lives in space (hence the starships portion of the title) explaining what happened to the world, her family, and herself. I thought this was well done because not only did it allow for a lot of backstory, it didn’t feel too info-dumpy (as it could have with this style of story telling). Nat’s voice was strong (though she did come off a bit younger than 17), and I really loved how she was always not only questioning the world around her, but herself and her own knowledge of it.
If you like post-apocalyptic, dystopian, or just beautiful writing, check this book out. It will blow your mind.