Exactly one year ago, I had just finished reading Headspace from J.D. Edwin (go check it out and read it, I’ll never get tired of saying that). It was the first time in years that I consumed a piece of media entered around a cruel survival game, and the only examples I knew of the genre were Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.
365 days later, the number of media I consumed carrying such theme has doubled, so much that I begin to wonder whether I should put the reviews of said books/shows in a category of their own on this blog. The best part about it is that none of these books sounds like each other, and everyone of them is unique in their own flaws and in their own highs.
A question that had been looming in the unconscious part of my brain since I watched Battle Royale and began to grasp the differences between Western and Far Eastern culture is the following. What if Battle Royale was set in the US? Or in any Western country, for what matters. Well, Moneyland from Michael Botur promised to deliver an answer to that question and I couldn’t say no to the chance of reading it.
The first thing I noticed as soon as I read the first couple of chapters is how good the author was at describing the horrible attitude of spoiled American teenagers. Yes, the main characters are all gigantic assholes in their own way, naive and careless about anything other than themselves. The only one who seems a lot less spoiled by the others, and end up being victim of their bullying at the beginning of the book, take a sudden and dark turn and becomes a psychopath in a matter of pages (more on that later).
Let’s start from the beginning. In a not so distant future, machines are beginning to take over humanity. They replace humans in a lot of jobs and occupations and it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish who is human and who is not. A sort of resistance to this takeover is introduced in the book, but it’s not relevant in the first part of the story. What matters is that every year, a bunch of high school kids is selected to receive one million dollars. But to receive the prize, they have to spend an entire year on a deserted piece of land and sort of start a new form of civilisation from zero.
And of course, Eden Shepard and her “friends” are selected to participate in this year’s edition of the contest. Eden is the typical spoiled teenager who only cares about being popular, and would do literally anything that could help her with that. She’s naive (in the bad meaning of the word) and careless about pretty much anything not concerning her. No empathy, no skills, nothing at all. A zero that has been cancelled with an eraser, as my dad loves to say. To make it all worse, she thinks she’s this independent girl and natural born leader because her favourite book is one about the 50 most influential women of all times, and she claim to take them as role models.
Her friends are just the same as her, with a few exceptions, but none of them could be described as someone I’d enjoy spending my time with. As you can imagine, Eden is super thrilled to get paid a full million to spend an entire year with her circle of friends (and no school, no responsibilities whatsoever). And as you can imagine if you know me, thirty pages into the book I was already hoping they all died.
I don’t know if he did it on purpose or not, but either way Michael Botur has a talent for describing horrible people. He really nailed it: all the twelve main characters are different from each other, and unbearable in their own unique way. As writers we’re usually told that we should give our protagonists at least a good quality, make them save a cat to have the audience care about them, but Michael Botur broke this golden rule and I really admire him for that. It made it harder to care about how the year would play out, but it was a brave choice and I’m all in for people breaking the sacred rules of writing when they know what they’re doing.
Besides, I was only thirty pages in when I made these considerations, so there was a lot of room for character development and improvement. Right?
The answer, my friends (no, it’s not blowing in the wind), is hidden for those of you who don’t want to spoil the final two thirds of the book, together with a few considerations about the story. I guess you’ll recognise my change of strategy in that: the white text on white background for spoiler was brilliant, but I got tired of having all that empty space and to ask you to highlight the text to be able to read it. Now you just have to click on the section title.Spoiler Section
In my opinion, Eden and her friends (the ones who survive, at least), don’t grow up to be better people, not even in the slightest. No sign of understanding how shallow they were before their year in Moneyland, nothing at all except for a slight grief for the ones who didn’t make it. And yes, Eden gets over her obsession for Chan and ends up saving his girlfriend Esther, but to me it’s not enough to consider it as a positive change.
And I get that Watson was a robot and all of a sudden everyone seems to be ready to go to war against technology (they’re called the Luddites for a reason I think), but he was the most decent individual among all them. He didn’t deserve to die so gratuitously.
Adam’s transformation into a monster was understandable, but excessive. I guess he was a smart guy, and he should have known how to keep his revenge against the bullies a bit more subtle in order to succeed. I hated the way they treated him in the beginning, and I was totally on his side before he went totally crazy and dictatorial.
It would have made it funnier to read for me, but I guess the author had to find a bigger evil for Eden to fight so that we tried to care for her. And finding someone worse than her and her friends pre-Moneyland is an impossible task, unless you confront her against the personification of a crazy-ass dictator.
Finally, a non-spoiler consideration about the ending. The human-machine relationship is introduced well in the beginning but it doesn’t go very deep in the rest of the book (with some notable exceptions), and as a STEM girl with a passion for philosophy I hoped to get more about that. But I found out that there’s a sequel to the book so maybe it’s just a matter of reading on.
Summing it up
I realise that all the comments I’ve made so far make it look like I didn’t like the book, but there’s nothing farther from the truth. I actually liked it a lot, from the premise to the way Michael Botur was able to mimic the style of a posh spoiled kid with his writing, both in the phrasing and in the vocabulary. I was reading a book, but I could totally see the protagonists as if they were in front of me.
As I said before, the most interesting reads are the ones that give us food for thought and for discussion with others, and I think this Moneyland falls straight into this category. There are countless book I’ve read that I labeled as “ok” and didn’t have very much to say about, but they didn’t fire up my brain in thinking “I thought it was going there”, “I would have done it like this” or “I wonder how the author came up with this, and why”. As you can see, on the other hand, Moneyland did it.
And so it doesn’t matter if the story wasn’t what I expected or what I would have gone for, because I wasn’t the one who wrote the book and nothing prevents me from writing my own one if I feel I’ve got something to say. I loved to debate with myself about it, and I’d love to do it with you in case you want to comment down below.