I don’t remember now how I learned about The Core of the Sun, but I am so glad I did, and so glad my public librarians are astute and consistently have almost every book I want to read. Johanna Sinisalo is Finnish, so that is unusual to have the opportunity to read books by Finnish authors. But, WOW, this book is so original and odd and the dystopia envisioned is akin to what all the critics are saying when they compare it to The Handmaid’s Tale, one of my favorite books ever.
On Goodreads, after reading some of the reviews, I wrote:
Michael’s description was well done, but did include an error: it is Vanna, the morlock lead character who becomes addicted to chilies. Manna is the sister she is looking for. And it must have been important to the author to also head the chapters with Vanna/Vera because it represents how they even took her original name away from her, just because they could or as a deliberate psychological ploy. The comment is made a bit later about not allowing women to have r in their names, but it was not explored or explained further, beyond her later meeting a morlock woman with an r in her name. But she just leaves it there, without attributing any significance to it. So I was kind of waiting for that to be a foreshadowing of a twist of some sort, or some further exploration on gendered names, but none was developed. It is a slim book, and probably would be too digressive from the narrative if she didn’t have a consistent basis for it in her world-building.
One thing I have never quite understood is why in totalitarian dystopias they want to keep the people confined to the state rather than let them go elsewhere. That way they would be rid of the potential troublemakers and have the people left who don’t care or even like the oppressive system.
Many other world-building paths of potential deeper exploration were mentioned, tantalizing tidbits, like what are obviously restricted mental health facilities for eloi who cannot carry on or maybe also are sent by husbands to insane asylums when insufficiently submissive to them. The ease of men to basically say “I divorce you” leaving no where for the rejected to go or to live. The simple remark about how it is mostly eloi who disappear, or men who are on second and third wives when their first is “loose” from bearing them six children. But she just stops there. Which I guess is enough for the main narrative, but perhaps leaves the reader wanting a more complex world like The Handmaid’s Tale it is also uniformly referenced with, as it well should be.
But the boldness of the premise, the possible reality of it actually happening given what is happening to women in America today, is chilling. When I have tried to write dystopian stories like this, I always get bogged down in questioning: how could anyone, everyone, not see this was bad and fight to stop it? What would it take to stop this future? My answer always seems to be sacrificial death by millions of women, which I would perhaps gladly make but less so if it was for a futile cause., suppressed by media, and lost to history. That’s the rub. Thinking about this makes me all the more aware of how much we owe to the men and women who fought and died and lived broken lives trying to form unions, obtain reproductive rights, and totalitarianism by demonizing people as commies (McCarthyism) and soon it will be come a much more intimate and personal battle like those days with the increased fuel of hate by Trump and his minions or worse Ted Cruz or any republican. Or especially John Kasich, governor of Ohio who tried to eliminate public sector unions as his first act as a “jobs jobs jobs” platform. Thankfully, Ohio has a referendum so he was overruled by the people – an option Wisconsin voters did not have. And by gosh, they should have, states all should have referendums available to check the abuse of the authority of the governors. All states should all be consistent in the UNITED States, from form and nature of remedies, and non-gerrymandered districts, to primaries, open to independents to vote as well to reduce the distorted disenfranchised voices of independents.
I like the nod to H.G. Wells using eloi and morlock for the categories for women. I don’t recall the one of the two kinds of men, and she doesn’t detail how it is achieved that non macho men don’t get to reproduce. But ultimately I always think, you never know who will be the genius we need to create a cancer cure breakthrough, or the right combination of genetics and environment to see a way to stop climate change, or ways to get all the contaminants out of our majority polluted sources of water when water = life. Think what equal opportunity and good education makes possible with raw talent! That is, unless it is all buried by corporations with too much money too lose in patents they don’t act on. Or militarize any developments that are discovered.
But the terrifying aspect of this book is that I believe there are many many many men who would absolutely support genetic modification of women to be their sex slaves and breeders – and accept it. However, I am not sure they would allow the morlock women to live at all, unless in some kind of forced labor camp. After all, what use is an angry, smart, independent woman?