Sunday, May 15, 2005

City Underground

City Underground by Suzanne Martel is another one of those books that frequently shows up as a stumper.

"I read it when I was a kid... there were these people living under a mountain, in the future, after some disaster... and they didn't have hair...and they escape the mountain and meet people with hair..."

Luke is the boy living in an underground city; and wow, as a kid reading it, I loved this future city. Pills for food; go into a shower and it would be programmed at the temperature you wanted; it was all so organized and well run and functional. Luke explores and goes outside the city, where me meets Marie. And as the stumper says: Luke's people have no hair (genetically, its been decided there is no need for hair). Luke and his scientist ancestors had fled nuclear war; Marie and her village are descendants of the people left behind, who survived. Who, of course, have hair. So much time has passed that both groups of people initially believe that the others are only a myth.

I loved this book as a kid because I loved the order and structure of Luke's world. I still love the idea of stepping into the shower and it being all preprogrammed for you: water temperature, soap, etc. I also loved how Luke explored and found the world outside the city. And while the city was fairly controlling of the lives of its citizens (tracking what they ate, their exercise, etc.) a part of me really liked that.

I tracked this down and read it last year and what surprised me the most was the lack of details. I really thought that Luke's city was described more fully than it was; I guess as a kid I filled in additional details and believed them to be part of the book.

What appealed to me as a child -- the structure of Luke's world -- was now a turn off. I saw now -- but didn't see then -- the problems with Luke's city. Problems that the author clearly meant to be there: lack of free will, lack of artistic expression, lack of choice. While I didn't pick up on all the drawbacks of the city underground, I did realize that Luke was right in seeking life outside the city and exploring and finding Marie's world. Another thing I didn't realize as a kid: that it was set in Canada. Not that it matters.

Oh, and the pills for food thing? I love food. I'm not one of those people who don't care about food. So I have no idea why a book where people don't enjoy food made such an impression; I think the reason I liked it was that at dinner, each person could choose what their meal would be, so it wasn't the idea of food in a pill that appealed to me, but rather the idea of eating whatever you wanted rather than what someone else made.

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