Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

The tale of a troublemaker

One of the things that resonates about the best fiction is its ability to point us in the direction of truths that somehow transcend the mundane factual reality that surrounds us every day.  I know that there are books that have changed my life and my worldview permanently, twisting my perception around and leaving me fundamentally altered afterward.  The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder.  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.  Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco.  The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula LeGuin.  1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.

These kinds of books may not come along often, but when they do, they can leave you reeling.  As science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany put it, "Fiction isn't just thinking about the world out there.  It's also thinking about how that world might be -- a particularly important exercise for those who are oppressed, because if they're going to change the world we live in, they -- and all of us -- have to be able to think about a world that works differently."

This quote immediately came to mind when I read the new book by Andrew Butters (that I was privileged enough to have a copy of prior to release), Known Order Girls.

The story's protagonist is Katherine Webb, a teenage girl who has grown up as part of the "Known Order" -- a programmed society where everything is run by a sentient AI called Commander.  Commander is the ostensibly benevolent dictator that keeps everything stable, making sure the trains are on time and the economy hums along -- and that each man, woman, and child knows exactly what their place is.

And stays there.

But Katherine is too smart for her own good, and sees that the rules that keep the society stable are also a straitjacket to creativity and growth and individuality.  So she starts to rebel -- in small ways, at first.  The penalties for breaking the Known Order are dramatic and terrifying.  But soon she finds out that the price for compliance might be higher still.

I can honestly say that I have seldom met a protagonist whom I was so invested in, whom I so deeply wanted to win the day.  I won't spoil the story by giving you any details other than a suggestion that there are points you'll want to have plenty of tissues handy.  Stories with teenage main characters are usually targeted toward the Young Adult market, but this is a novel that can (and should) be read by all ages.

In an interesting synchronicity, while I was making dinner yesterday evening, I had my iTunes going, and the wonderful song "I Was Born" by Hanson popped up.

The lyrics immediately put me in mind of Katherine Webb's fight against the monolithic control of Commander.  Sometimes there are people who are born to go places no one's ever gone, do something no one's ever done, and be someone no one's ever been; after reading Known Order Girls, I think you'll agree that Katherine is one of those.

This story is one of those infrequent deeply moving, wildly inspiring tales, reminding us that one determined, defiant troublemaker can indeed change the world for the better.

Do yourself a favor.  Get yourself a copy of Known Order Girls by Andrew Butters.  I promise you won't regret it.

Better still, buy a copy for every teenager you know.  There are features of our own Known Order that could use some defiance right about now.


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