Title: Scythe
(Arc of a Scythe – Book 1)
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Sci-fi Dystopia with a hint of YA
Pages: 464
Rating: 4.5 of 5

I saw several rave reviews for this book and somewhat reluctantly decided to give it a shot. The dystopian elements appealed to me, but I am not a fan of YA fiction. While there are a few YA vibes (teenage protagonists, teenage anger/petulance, star-crossed romantic tension) it wasn’t overdone, believably fit the situation, and avoided what I consider to be the two worst YA tropes: all adults are idiots & love triangles.

In the future death has been eliminated, and a benevolent AI (the Cloud having gained sentience) oversees society in a way that ensures peace and prosperity for all. The population is kept under control by the order of Scythes who are completely above the law (“separation of Scythe and state”) and “glean” (kill) a certain number of people per year. The story follows two high-schoolers chosen as Scythe apprentices.

As you would expect, this book delves into some pretty disturbing subject matter. Each scythe has their own approach to gleaning, and the story deals with a deep ideological divide within the “scythedom.” As I’ve said before in books that feature excellent world-building: I don’t want to say much more since learning more and more about the world as the plot unfolds (and in the journal entries that begin most chapters) is half the fun. I highly recommend this book as a thought-provoking, grim utopia/dystopia.

On a personal philosophical/theological note, I find it interesting that many people (not just authors) seem incapable of imagining immortality and universal peace without assuming stagnation, boredom, and/or something sinister behind the scenes. Books like this seem to have an underlying assumption that it is impossible to be truly happy/fulfilled without the presence of death and/or suffering. On the one hand, I agree that living in a world riven by death and suffering is an essential part of making us who we are meant to be…on the other hand, I believe that there is coming a time when death and suffering are gone forever and that will not be a time of stagnation but of joy and creativity able to find their fullest expression without hindrance (cf. Romans 8:18-28).

2 thoughts on “Death in a Time of Immortality

  1. I really liked your last paragraph.

    I do have to wonder why people are so adverse to a happily ever after? In books and in real life and for the after life? Realizing that perspectives get skewed due to the fall and whatnot, you’d still think that people want something better. I guess it is a working out of the blindness caused by sin.

    Anyway, glad to hear this isn’t just YA. I’ve seen enough reviews that I’ll not be touching this, ya or not. Hope the rest of the trilogy is just as enjoyable and highly rate-able 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that sci-fi tends to be brutally honest about the “total depravity” of human nature and fallen state of creation (though few, if any, authors would phrase it that way), but they generally lack the hope that comes with a Christian worldview that recognizes the earth is broken but will be redeemed (cf. the Romans passage I mentioned in the post)

      Liked by 1 person

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