Pills and Starships, written by: Lydia Millet
Review Written by: Jessica Curtis
Publisher: Akashic Books
Release Date: May 19,2014
If you could dream or really have a nightmare of a future where the population is controlled by the government you would be dreaming of the world portrayed in Lydia Millet’s ‘Pills and Starships‘. Welcome to the future where the big business and governments are in control and maintain that control with distributed drugs.
It’s not a future that seems that unrealistic when you take into consideration Millet’s outlook on the present day ecological damage of our planet and how it can create the world found in Pills and Starships. For those of us that are such avid fans of Facebook and our social media sites you might just appreciate the possibility of Millet’s dystopian future… that is if you like your only social interaction to be strictly through these sites. In Pills and Starshipsthere is no such thing as human interaction unless it is involving your core family, otherwise your friends are nothing more than faces on a screen.
The reader is introduced to the narrator Nat through her journal entries. Nat relates to the readers her experiences and her reflections on her parents decision to pay the corporation to take out contracts to end their lives. Yes, you read that right. In Millet’s future people pay to die and babies are illegal.
It seems such an impossible notion to contemplate a world and an existence where there is no social interaction with ‘strangers’, and where people take out contracts to die and it is illegal to have children. The corporation has an overwhelming control on the population, not only by life and death maintenance but control of human emotion through pharmaceuticals that are called pharms. To me it seems crazy to believe that anyone, much less an entire population would be so willing to take drugs to control their emotions like mindless drones. You cannot help but wonder just how much the control of the pharms is impacting the actions and nature of the human population.
Pills and Starships. The title makes so much sense throughout the book when Nat’s world is controlled by pills and the belief that those she is writing to in her journal, the reader, now exist and call space their home. We are her space friends and we are saturated in the feelings of a girl that appreciates the art and history that to her no longer exist. Nat has lost touch and connection with so much the reader is left questioning how much of her detachment is due to pharms and how much is her own lack of awareness.
As the story progresses we see the nature of a girl dependent on her family slowly blossom into a self-sufficient individual. The possibility of love and hope bloom in moments that are usually meant for desperation and loss. A key moment in the novel of this very message of beauty within destruction and despair is found in Sam’s own ironic statement when Nat and Sam witness their parent’s death.
So this is what Happiness looks like…
At the setting of such a beautiful sunset in the background of Hawaii, which to so many of can be viewed as paradise, Nat and Sam are privy to the end of their parent’s lives and the finality of the death contract. The imagery of this very moment in the book is just so stunning and breathtakingly displayed that everything Millet is trying to voice in Pills and Starships comes to the reader full force. Prisoners may be sent to death row to walk that final green mile by the choice of judge and jury but the comparison of those under contract heading to their own deaths, by choice, is a heavy stone of uncanniness to weigh in the mind of the reader.
Despite Millet’s underlying message that carbon footprints and our actions can cause ecological damage to the world which could lead to the dystopian portrait she paints, Millet does not smother the reader with this message. Millet in truth provides a portrait of quite the opposite. Even though disaster, despair, loss, and destruction are painted in such dark ink throughout the novel the reader comes to find that there is beauty to it all.
Without all that has happened in Nat’s life and her experiences in the Final Week she would not have found that what she needed the most: Strength, Freedom, and above all… Hope.
That is truly the beauty of Pills and Starships, no matter how dark the future may seem you still have Hope.
For my dystopian fans out there Pills and Starships is recommended. It isn’t the Hunger Games or Divergent but it fits so nicely within the dystopian niche that you won’t even think to compare it. So come June, my space friends, don’t leave Nat behind.
Till next time!