Pills and Starships by Lydia Millet – A Review

Pills & Starships Pills and Starships
Lydia Millet
256 pages, Black Sheep (June 2014)
science fiction/young adult

I received a paperback copy of Lydia Millet’s Pills and Starships as a LibraryThing Early Reviewer. The cover caught my interest when it appeared on the list of giveaways and I was pleased that I won a copy.

Pills and Starships is a young adult future dystopian tale that takes place in Earth’s not too distant future. The protagonist, Natalie (Nat) is a teenaged girl who, with her brother Sam, has traveled to Hawai’i to say goodbye to her parents, who have chosen to commit corporate-sanctioned suicide. Pretty much a story line right up my alley.

Climate change has wrecked the planet and, with resources being slim to none for anyone not incredibly wealthy (that group is called the First), the corporations that run the world encourage older folks who long for the golden days of a healthier planet to check out with a contracted and arranged death. Natalie and Sam’s parents can afford one of the fancier death packages (thanks to a legacy from a long-dead rap star ancestor) and are spending their Final Week together on Hawai’i’s big island. Natalie is telling all this in the blank journal the corporation gave her to help her process her grief. Her imagined reader is an astronaut floating in space who she thinks may someday come across her words.

They want us to unload, download, offload, we’re supposed to use these notebooks like garbage cans for our feelings, suddenly drop the feelings like they’re a pair of dirty pants.

Leaving ourselves looking like naked idiots.

I enjoyed Pills and Starships. Nat is good narrator with a snarky, sarcastic sense of humor and a voice that rings true for a seventeen year-old girl. “A toothbrush looks like it portends the end” is one of Nat’s many comments that amused me.

Millet does a good job building the world Nat and her family live in. She wasn’t afraid to take the possibilities of impending climate change and corporate dominance to their darkest ends. It’s really easy to create a much lighter picture because that darkness seems so “unrealistic,” but as I get older I’m discovering that you can never be too cynical about this sort of thing. I’m glad Millet didn’t restrain herself.

Another aspect of Millet’s world-building that I liked is that, cover picture aside, Nat and Sam are of mixed race heritage as are the majority of the people on this future Earth. Nice to see that reality.

I also love that Nat is a Brain Eno fan. 🙂

Millet’s prose is strong, her neologisms are fun, and the story caught me right up. My only complaint is that the ending felt little too pat to me. A character who supposedly died turns out to be alive; a bad guy turns out not to be so bad; and it feels too much like a sequel could happen, a trend I’m a little sick of. That said, though, I recommend Pills and Starships. If this sounds like your cup o’tea, give it a try.

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