‘Red Rising’: building a legend

Perhaps “South Park” perpetuated the myth that “gingers have no souls.” Or perhaps the stereotype’s actually came from Biblical times. Whatever the case, 16-year-old Darrow of the Lambda clan is a ginger. Or, as society calls him, a “Red.”

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

“Red Rising”
By Pierce Brown
416 pp. Random House. $15.96.
2014.

In Pierce Brown’s post-apocalyptic debut fantasy/sci-fi novel, “Red Rising” — which takes place more than 700 years after man first toiled on Mars, Colors are everything. As a Red, Darrow’s lower than the fiery-red dirt he spends his day mining under the city of Mars. As a Red, he’s the proletariat, the simple-minded working class, “the backs in which all the other Colors are built on.” But his Hell is eased by smartly disguised Edward Bernays-style propaganda.

“They told us we were man’s only hope,” said Darrow. “That Earth was overcrowded, that all the pain, all the sacrifice, was for mankind. Sacrifice is good. Obedience the highest virtue….”

They, of course, are Hitler’s visions of a superior master race. The Aryan Golds are Darrow’s oppressors, ruled by ArchGovernor Nero au Augustus. The Golds are born faster, stronger, smarter, crueler, bigger and more beautiful — commanding the fleets and highest offices of political power. They are the Machiavellian gods of this futuristic dystopia — who reward and punish (but mostly punish). That’s what they did to Darrow’s father and his wife, Eo.

But, as history has told us again and again, people aren’t happy with suppression. Look at the French and American Revolutions. The Civil Wars. Hundreds and thousands of men have died (and still do) for their ideals.

Brown (who would be a servant in the social hierarchy he created) weaves together a tale of legend, drawing heavily from Greek and Roman myths. The Red clans are letters from the Greek alphabet. The Golds are named after characters from Shakespeare plays: Cassius (“Julius Caesar”), Julian (Julius, “Julius Ceasar”), Antonia (Antonio, “The Merchant of Venice”), and Titus (“Titus Andronicus”).

Darrow’s odyssey teaches him about love and revenge, peace and war. Darrow’s Helen was stolen from him. So Darrow (which come from Old English rather than Latin origins meaning spear) is transformed into a weapon: a Trojan horse infiltrating the Gold empire.

“Red Rising” is reminiscent of many other stories: Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games,” George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” and Glen A. Larson’s “Battlestar Galactica,” just to name a few. But these stories, like the Greek and Roman myths, are just as important as the works of Homer and Virgil, Plato and Aristotle. Someday, we might not remember where these myths originated from, but rather the stories that kept them alive.

“Red Rising” is the first book of Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy. Its sequel, “Golden Son,” was released January 6, 2015. 

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