Speculative Chic Book Club: Bannerless

Welcome to the Speculative Chic Book Club! Each month, we invite you to join us in reading a book that will sometimes be picked beforehand and sometimes be voted on by you, our readers. We’re still working on the format, so following the review of the book and some starter questions, we invite you all to discuss your thoughts in the comments.

bannerless

Bannerless (2017)
Written by: Carrie Vaughn
Pages: 290 (Trade Paperback)
Series: The Bannerless Saga Book 1
Publisher: Mariner Books

Why I Chose It For Book Club: I’m trying, at least at first, to keep the books to an easy read. Not all of us read at the same pace or have the same amount of free time to devote, and at 290 pages this wouldn’t be too big of a time investment. Plus, Carrie Vaughn’s Hugo nominated short story “The Games We Played During the War” reminded me that I quite like her writing and I wanted to read more.

Premise:

Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory.

Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn’t yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him?

In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.

This review is spoiler-free.


Discussion: This book is an incredible bit of worldbuilding in the small number of pages it has at hand. No, we aren’t given the nature of the Fall of civilization, but we are shown its effects on the population, and how the Coast Road in particular has carved civilization out of the ruins. We’re shown this both in the present narration, which is the murder investigation, and the past storyline, which is woven into the present storyline through interweaving chapters and is about a trip that Enid takes with an itinerant musician in her youth.

Grown-up Enid is an Investigator, a law enforcement role that takes the place of police, jury, and judge. She and her partner are called down the Coast Road to investigate this murder, and one of the inhabitants of the town happens to be a man she knew long ago. The murder investigation is not the strongest part of this story, though it was interesting to see civilian reaction to Investigators, as they are sort of given ultimate power in this scenario.

Bannerless is a quiet story. There’s not a lot of bombast, there’s no epic battles for survival against impossible odds. Society has already been reborn, of a sort, in this agrarian ideal. It reminded me a lot of Station Eleven, though that book had more depth and breadth than this did. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Bannerless is that the society created in this post-apocalyptic era isn’t dystopian, it’s a society that actually works for its occupants and is based on trust, sharing, and responsibility. For all that it’s about a post-apocalyptic world, it’s ultimately a rather hopeful ending for civilization, that something of it might survive, in however strict a society.

Discussion topics: (A reminder, these are just a jumping off point for discussion, and you don’t need to actually answer them to comment. You can just kick off with whatever floats your boat in the comments!)

  1. I actually really liked the way the plot jumped back and forth between the present and the past. It was an effective way to draw out the world building without having to do narrative dumps. But based on a perusal of Goodreads, that device can be divisive. Do you think it helped or hurt the narrative to jump around in time? What did you especially like or dislike about the jumps? Was the past narrative truly necessary to understanding the murder investigation?
  1. There were a few aspects of the book that I didn’t necessarily think were the best thought through. The fact that a lot of their police work was based on guesswork because no one had survived that could tell them how to do it, but does that actually make sense? Literally no cop survived? Anyone who had ever mainlined one of the ubiquitous formula police procedural shows? And the solar cars? How is this society able to keep solar powered machines going for decades with no means of manufacturing replacement parts? Was there anything that stuck out like that for you?
  1. Strict population control has been done before, probably most famously in A Brave New World. It’s generally shown in a negative light though, where Bannerless clearly contrasts the almost utopian society of the Coast Road with those starving further south in the city with unchecked population growth. What other ways is this shown to be a good thing? Is population control like this sustainable over time? What are the benefits to a society like the Coast Road?

November is National Novel Writing Month! For this month, we’re choosing from past NaNoWriMo projects. Pick your poison!

8 Comments

  • Shara White September 23, 2017 at 11:50 am

    I will hopefully get to comment on the book later next week, after I finish reading on my trip! Thanks for hosting this!

    Reply
  • Shara White September 27, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    I’M BACK! Okay, let’s start with the questions, to a point:

    1) I’m actually a huge fan on that device. The first time I remember running into is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, and it worked really well there in that the end of the flashback story literally leads the reader to the next scene, which is the first scene of the present story, aka the first scene of the book. It’s REALLY effective when done well. Here? It’s done well enough, every once in a while I got lost in time and couldn’t place myself right away. That may be partially due to how long it took me to read, though.

    2) Huh. I didn’t read that the same way. I read it that people who were cops did survive, but in terms of saving procedures and things, people saved what really mattered, and what mattered was learning how to grow crops, how to take care of people (medical), and if any equipment survived, that knowledge was passed down generation to generation. I thought that some manner of police investigation was known, because Enid was away that in old days, there were better ways to figure it out but she was aware they didn’t have the ability. But my memory is fuzzy. I just don’t remember it as reading, no police survived.

    That being said, I thought it was cool that people took special care if they had a machine and dedicated themselves to the knowledge and working of it and passed that information down. They must be, what, three generations from the fall? Four? The talk of Aunt Kath had me trying to place how long ago the Fall really happened.

    3) Vaughn presents a rather interesting kind-of utopia, and I don’t want to speak too much here, because I’ve actually read more stories set in this world. Vaughn published Amaryllis and Other Stories, and there’s like three or four of them that are set in this world, and one of them features Enid on an investigation and one of them is a sequel to that story. I highly recommend the collection, because those stories are some of the strongest in the bunch.

    I liked this well enough to put the sequel on my pre-order list for next year!

    Reply
    • Merrin September 29, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      I’ve already returned it to the library, but I’m pretty sure the fact that no cops survived is explicitly mentioned in the book, which I thought was strange.

      I didn’t realize there were short stories in this world! I’ve gotta check those out.

      Reply
  • Kelly McCarty September 28, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    I have actually read The Night Circus at least twice but I love it so much that I am willing to read it a third time.

    Reply
    • Merrin September 29, 2017 at 1:13 pm

      I’ve never read any of the books on this list so I’m pumped about all of them, but I actually already own the Night Circus so I’m also pulling for that one.

      Reply
  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier October 2, 2017 at 9:40 am

    Just finished this one last night! Sorry I’m late but it took a while to get a copy from my library.

    I ended up enjoying this one, and found it to be a good start to a new series. As far as the two perspectives go, it actually didn’t work out for me at first, but the further I got into the book, the more I enjoyed it. I just think that it took me longer than usual to get emotionally invested in both stories, because of the back and forth, but the more I learned about the world, the more fascinating I found it.

    The strict population control (or really, the strict control of everything) was pretty interesting to me, especially as someone who’s read a lot into minimalism/zero waste lifestyles. Only using what you need is so dramatically different then how most of us live in the modern world, that the lives featured in Bannerless end up feeling incredibly restrictive. I did start to wonder about population size, though. Shouldn’t they at least be concerned with maintaining the current population? Given how many people died in the Fall?

    I kind of felt like the current day Dak story was undercut somewhat by the fact that both Enid and Dak had romantic interests in the present (and Enid’s was so under developed). I felt that it would have been much more powerful if Dak was actually a temptation to Enid in present day. That way, showing her walking away from him and going back home at the end, would have really highlighted how much of a different person she is in the present day. I guess it was a nice reflection on how people change from young adult to adulthood, at least.

    Also, reading this so soon after finishing Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes, and Brandon Sanderson Snapshot is making me wonder, is sci-fi mystery becoming a new thing? There’s also Scalzi’s Lock In and The Dispatcher too.

    Reply
    • Shara White October 2, 2017 at 12:50 pm

      So who’s right on the cop question? Did ALL THE COPS die? I’d have to search my Kindle to find out but I haven’t figured out that function on the new device yet!

      Reply
    • Merrin October 8, 2017 at 3:13 pm

      I did wonder if they were strictly concerned with, like, simply replacing those that die or if they’re trying to grow at all. I wonder if that’s something that will be explored in later books.

      Reply

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