The Long Way Out of Shitsville

Riot - Sarah Mussi
We are the people!
We are the image of the future.
We are the first drops of a flood.
We are the lightning on the horizon.
We are the sound of the coming storm.
We are the wolves at your door.

Well there’s hating a book and there’s hating THIS book. It’s quite strange, this dumbfounded feeling after reading something that I found so terrible. I’m usually left speechless when I’m graced by something so good that conveying how much I love it is a pain. Riot is certainly a pain to remember, so much so that I’m having a great difficulty expressing just how bad it was. 

The story opens with someone being forced to undergo a surgical procedure. Elsewhere, a group of protesters is staging a rally against the Snip Bill which provisions the forced sterilisation of youths who have discontinued their education without any prospects for employment or wealthy sponsors. This “flash mob” (which confuses me because I usually associate that term with organised dancing) was put together by Tia Thomson, a self-professed hacktivist and daughter of the Minister of State who in turn has been lobbying for strong legislative changes to counteract the growing population, poverty and unemployment. The protest ends violently with Tia finding herself being helped by an unlikely ally, Cobain Reilly, the notorious self-styled anarchist with a penchant for looting, as she evades capture. Together they discover the depth of the Minister’s deception and the appalling steps he’s intent on taking to get what he wants.

I suppose Riot did pull a fast one on me in making me believe that this was going to delve into birth control and feminist issues when it was really about a conspiracy theory that belongs right beside the man on the moon hoax, vaccination kills babies and global warming is God hugging us a little closer (credit to Tina Fey). So while the premise was interesting in terms of shock value, the gravity was lost on the fact that the very transparent twist hinges on utter bullcrap. This posits that the government is deceiving its people that there’s overpopulation when there’s none. And the unemployment, the poverty, the depleting resources is just a product of the government’s manipulative tactics... or perhaps the people's hallucinations out of starvation.

Tia is possibly the worst heroine I’ve ever read in a long while. She’s an armchair activist. A privileged brat who hates her dad for beating up her mom and for telling her Santa Claus isn’t real. Her braveness to oppose her father’s abominable plans only goes up to a certain point such that soon as she gets injured in a protest rally, she can’t wait to get back to her boarding school, worrying about some test she has to take. She’s a snob who looks down at looters, calling Cobain a yob an astounding 12 times just on the first time they’ve met alone. She’s also a hypocrite seeing as she detests looters but downloads illegal music off illegal sites. And when asked why she thinks her mom is the most awesome mom ever:

”She is saving the world - well, a small part of it. You don’t even know what she does.” Suddenly I want to tell him, make him ashamed. “She’s got a clinic with another doctor - he’s Indian - they use microsurgery to repair bladders and internal pelvic organs of girls who’ve been raped or forced to deliver children too young.”

That racial qualifier just rubs me so very wrong. Like a form of reverse racism of some sort, the way someone would brag that he helped the poor and the hungry. Not in your neighbourhood but in AFRICA, bitchez!

Her thought process is so bizarrely naive one has to wonder how she manages to not kill herself just by stepping outside of her house.

I’m ready.
I’m going to team up with him.
I untrust him.
It’s a new kind of trust. I trust him to be a yob, to think like one. I trust him to at least do that, like trusting a snake to bite or something. Or a star to shine. And I untrust him with my life.

Oh my gad why can’t you just DIE already?!?! 

Because there has to be that romance where she falls for the yob she has so judged from the very beginning… right after he bashes some random guy’s head right in front of her. I suppose the flying brain matter and skull fragments enhanced her attraction to Cobain better than his supposed yobby ways. Usually, when all else fails in a book, I’d have the romance to hope for at the very least to pull me through the pages. These two just made me want to quit this all the more. I suppose some chemistry is asking for far too much from a a pair of soggy cardboard cut-outs (yes, because being cardboardish is not enough of an insult to these people).

When I first started being a serial reader/reviewer, I used to gripe a lot about the use of the word “conscious” when the speaker means “conscience” in stories set in Britain. I’ve seen it quite a lot of times that I’m beginning to believe it’s the norm. In which case I have to ask if this is a British thing to say:

I’m writing this now from my little veranda outside the back of the clinic Dr. Shah has started. Yes, he has a surgery in India! And I am employed in it!

Because I’d interpret the use of ‘a surgery’ as clinic… but the speaker made use of ‘clinic’ beforehand. Or Dr. Shah is about to undergo a surgical procedure and Tia’s mom is scrubbing in. Or Tia’s mom just has poor sentence construction skills.

I wish my rant ends here but the idea of a British Minister of State quoting Goebbels is just one of the WTF highlights of this bizarre book. I suppose it was meant to make him more threatening but I’m sorry, any evil mastermind who maps out his evil plans to eradicate the poor people, enumerating the steps in fucking BULLETPOINT and saving it in ONE convenient document (probably labeled as evilplans.doc) just loses any points of credibility in my book. The vilification of her father was overly simplified to the point of making him cartoonish. What else was in her father's computer that Tia so quickly “hacked in to”? Plans to steal the moon?

There were continuity issues (with Tia’s busted shoulder turning up in an as needed basis), plausibility problems (the Minister’s apartment has one guard and one CCTV camera) and just plain stupid things that you don’t do while being on the run for your life.

”Can you send out a message for me too?”
“Yep,” I reply. “What d’you wanna say?”
‘Prisoners unite, you have nothing to lose but your freedom.’
I start typing.
“Not really,” he says.
I obediently stop keying it in. “I want you to message out: COBAIN HEARTS TI,” he says, “in caps. To the universe.”

Usually I’d get the strongest desire for a time machine after a phenomenal read, wanting to recapture the first read high. This one makes me want to go forward, to when I’ve already forgotten about this catastrophe.

Review Copy courtesy of the publishers.