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Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

Under the Empyrean Sky

by Chuck Wendig

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
3.5/5 stars. "That's life in the Heartland," they say. And they say it when life is hard and terrible and there's nothing they can do about it but go on. Welcome to a dystopian world where Heartlanders live on the ground and tend the genetically modified corn, while the Empyreans who live in floating cities high above them make all the rules and reap all the benefits. Welcome to a world where even growing tomatoes can get you arrested or killed and where the corn can't be eaten and is out for your blood.

Something I particularly liked about these books was the language. It's very... in-your-face. Nobody vomits, instead people puke. They endure piss-storms. It's a plain language, that makes a great deal of sense for a group of people who have been denied any education and who spend their lives surrounded by hardship. They don't make anything fancy; they deal with life as it is.

In "Under the Empyrean Sky" Cael McAvoy and his friends the Big Sky Scavengers are coming up on their Obligation day, they day when they'll be told who they'll marry. Cael wants his Obligated to be Gwennie, and when that doesn't happen things start to fall apart for him. When Gwennie's family wins The Lottery and is taken to live on one of the floating cities he can't take it anymore and he and the rest of his crew, minus Gwennie, decide to fight back. (Provided by publisher) ( )
  tldegray | Sep 21, 2018 |
Under the Empyrean Sky is dystopian sci-fi which transports the reader effortlessly into its world and carries them along in a fast paced story with just about everything you could want.

Within the first two pages, the reader immediately knows what is at stake for the main character, Cael, and gets a good glimpse of the broader political and social constructs of this world – brilliant. (I wish I read more books that did this so quickly and so well.)

Cael McAvoy lives in the Heartland and the only crop the government allows the people to grow is a genetically modified strain of corn. This corn is aggressive, wiping out other species and even trying to trap and consume people within its fields. It is also inedible.

Heartland's citizens are malnourished and suffering from different forms of cancer. Cael and his friends are scavengers sailing their ship above the corn looking for anything of value to supplement their families’ incomes. Meanwhile, the Empryean elite live in opulent sky flotillas. The government brutally suppresses all rebellion and controls almost all aspects of the lives of those in the Heartland.

Cael is sick of the injustices of his life…

Ok, so you know how this goes - our hero is going to become involved in a rebellion.

Despite the fact that at its heart this is an age old tale, Wendig executes it brilliantly and the reader is left wanting to read more. There were no surprises for me in this book, yet I loved every minute of it.

Four Stars!
( )
  tracymjoyce | Nov 16, 2017 |
4/5 stars
You can find all my reviews here
*Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

“That’s life in the Heartland.”

What’s life in the Heartland like? Monster corn that isn’t even safe to eat is the only crop that isn’t outlawed, floating cities above that treat the Heartlanders like slaves, and having your spouse chosen by the Empyrean government even if you’re in love with another. Life in the Heartland seems to be a shitty existence. Of course you can always hope you win the lottery and get to join the Empyrean elite on the sky flotillas…but how likely is that?

Something about this book that I couldn’t quite put my finger on had me drawn in right away. I cared for all the characters even with just a brief introduction, nothing makes a story more fun than feeling emotionally invested in it. I rooted for the guys I liked, and against the ones I didn’t. In the end, I loved this book and didn’t want it to end. I’m going to read the second book as soon as possible!

This isn’t your standard young adult book with stupid unbelievable romance, crappy dialogue, and many of the other annoyances that riddle the genre. This was a well written (I read an uncorrected proof and it was better than some finished copies I’ve read lately) entertaining world that you can become to feel a part of. I’m a new Wendig fan because of this book! ( )
  MarandaNicole | Jul 15, 2015 |
I had hoped that this would be a serious examination of GMO projections into the future, but Wendig only uses it as a prop to imagine a new and improved dystopia for class struggles to play out. And those class struggles are clichéd as well. We have the oppressor class, which fortunately for them, have discovered how to live above it all on Hovervilles with their own pure ecologies. Then we have the serf-like rest of the world, held down by law and the bully police and company men.

The world he describes sounds awful, with aggressive corn, rampant tumors from pesticide exposure, etc.; but then our protagonist discovers a clean vegetable garden in the midst of the corn, and it's existence is the only reason I continued reading, but was very disappointed to discover that it was an inadvertent cross GMO. Now we have GOOD vs BAD veggies?

I found all of the young male characters coarse and randomly mean, and the other characters unbelievable.

Pretty lame. I hate to even call it science fiction, it feels more fantasy driven. ( )
  2wonderY | Mar 2, 2015 |
There was a brief period of timing following the publication of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma during which I was keenly aware of corn. Corn is a staple of industrial agriculture. If you read the ingredients of almost any packaged food, you will find there corn, or some corn by-product. Researchers can perform testing on skeletons to determine how much corn the deceased ate during his or her lifetime. Modern Americans far exceed the consumption rates of the Maya, who ate a lot of corn. Corn cultivation, if done carelessly, can be destructive to the environment. It leeches nitrogen from the soil, rendering it unproductive. That's why Native Americans grew beans amid their corn: Not only did the cornstalks function as natural beanpoles, but the beans also returned nitrogen to the soil. It's like Native Americans knew something we don't, like they were all living in harmony with nature and shit.

So, if you look at our reliance on corn, on our ever-expanding cultivation of it, you begin to wonder: Are we eating the corn, or is the corn eating us? Thus is the premise of Chuck Wendig's young adult dystopian novel, Under the Empyrean Sky (2013).

Granted, in Wendig's far-flung future, corn isn't eating people per se, but that's not for lack of trying. Deep in the Heartland, a wide expanse of what must have once been the American Midwest, corn stretches as far as the eye can see. The modified strains that grow in the Heartland are tough, durable, predatory. The husks are sharp as knives. The plants grow fast and, left untended, will consume anything in their way.

It's into this hostile agro-dystopia that we encounter Cael McAvoy, a teenager on the brink of adulthood, who makes his living by scavenging ruined technologies found in the corn. He and his crew, Lane, Rigo, and Gwennie, are at odds with a rival team led by the mayor's son. Their relationship takes a turn for the worse with the Obligation, an annual event during which 17 year old Heartlanders learn to whom they'll be married when they turn 18. Gwen, Cael's love interest, is bound to the mayor's son. And to top it all off, Cael's sister, Mer, has run away, and his Pop is worn out, unwilling or unable to stand up to their Empyrean overlords, who live in luxury on islands floating in the sky above the corn.

If at this point you're scratching your head a bit, that's good: This is definitely a unique premise. Wendig has significant current issues--agriculture, technology, class--and spun them into a setting unlike any other. The first few chapters, in which Cael and his crew travel on foot through the corn, serve as an excellent introduction to this strange new world. That said, Wendig doesn't quite maintain that momentum throughout the rest of the novel.

Some of that sense of "flagging," for lack of a better way of putting it, may be due to the fact that this is a young adult novel. Much has been said lately about whether or not adults should or should not be embarrassed to read YA, but that's not my concern here. Rather, readers familiar with Wendig's other work, for instance, Blackbirds and its successors, know that Wendig is inclined to graphic language and violence; they are the tools with which he makes his art. He has to tone those down for YA, of course, and the loss is palpable. There is violence, mostly fistfights, and there is vulgarity, for instance, "Jeezum Crow," apparently a corrupted, Heartland version of "Jesus Christ," but, for seasoned Wendig readers, Under the Empyrean Sky is decidedly tame.

There are also issues with the plot, as Cael strives to determine his direction. This type of thing might be expected of YA; the protagonist has to discover himself or otherwise learn some lesson, a tendency that appeals to its primary audience, who is (presumably) going through much the same thing. Readers accustomed to Wendig's propulsive momentum will miss that here. The plot wanders, as Cael deals with his wrecked boat, his family, his friends, his girlfriend... Cael has tough luck, but the reader wishes for a respite.

That's not to say that Under the Empyrean Sky is bad. The premise, of course, is fascinating, and there are moments of real promise, for instance, the opening chapters, and, later, when Cael and his buddies explore a neighboring town. Readers will identify with the characters, who are almost exclusively down on their luck, although, as I understand it, some female readers may take issue with Cael's behavior. (Cael is the kind of troubled teenager who gets on one's nerves, and, worse, he treats Gwennie as his property.) Indeed, female characters are few and far between here--surprising, given Wendig's emphasis on Miriam Black in his other novels--and seem to serve as punching bags for the men in their life, sometimes quite literally. The one bright spot is Mer, and she's wise enough to disappear early on.

Under the Empyrean Sky is not a perfect book; its plot sometimes meanders, and it lacks some of the "oomph" of Wendig's other work. Still, it is a unique setting for a story, it grapples with some big ideas, its characters are relatable, and there are some truly stirring scenes. There is YA marketed toward everyone and YA best marketed to its primary audience; Under the Empyrean Sky is among the latter. That said, tried and true Wendig fans will find much here to enjoy. A fun romp through a twisted agro-wasteland, Under the Empyrean Sky is a bit hit-or-miss, and recommended mainly to Wendig's current fan base and readers willing to take a chance on a novel with a truly promising concept. ( )
  LancasterWays | Aug 6, 2014 |
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Angry with the oppressive dictates of the Empyrean government, Heartlander and Captain of the Big Sky Scavengers Cael McAvoy discovers a secret, illegal garden and Cael, together with his crew, decides to make his own luck ... a choice that will bring down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and change life in the Heartland forever.… (more)

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