Book Review – FIRST by Chanda Stafford
When I was young(er) I used to look at pictures of, say, Mick Jagger sharing a beer with Paul McCartney, or learn that Keith Moon was godfather to Ringo Starr’s son and be flabbergasted. In my mind, these guys were in competition with each other. Competition for the charts, competitions for sales, competition for awards and accolades. How could they hang out together? It was like finding out Churchill used to babysit Hitler’s children or something.
Now that I’m a little bit older and little bit wiser (okay, okay, a lot older and not wiser at all) I finally figured out what I was missing. I had assumed that artists who were contemporaries had to be rivals. Now that I’m an author (of sorts) I realize that contemporaries actually form a tribe. We’re united by our knowledge of the industry (or lack thereof), our love of our shared craft, and our favorite artists. Mick and Paul and Ringo and Keith were all trying to make it at the same time and they all loved Muddy Waters, right?
Anyway, I’m pleased this week to introduce you to three members of my tribe, which is something I don’t get to focus on very much. Chanda Stafford, Collin Tobin, Laura Kolar, and I all share a publisher in Red Adept. I’ve read and enjoyed their books and the reason I haven’t left starred reviews in the past isn’t because we’re all trying to gut each other on a race to the top of the charts. It’s because it’s generally a conflict of interest for me to do so. But this week, in my capacity as an industry blogger (boy, don’t that sound fancy) rather than as an author, I’ve joined RAP’s Young at Heart tour. Fittingly, our first spotlight is on FIRST by Chanda Stafford.
Long-time readers of the blog may recall that I first (ha!) read FIRST last year as part of the 2013 Hundie Challenge. Since then the book has actually gotten a total facelift. I still have the original or “classic” cover on my copy of FIRST, but the rest of you will have to make do with this pretty new thing.
So what the heck does the title mean? Well, Firsts are the (theoretically) wisest and smartest of all people, certainly they’re the oldest, technically speaking. Technology allows the mind of a First to be downloaded into a new body, essentially erasing the “Second.” This process can be repeated multiple times, presumably forever, so that Firsts become effectively immortal as long as they have a pool of Seconds to draw from. But who would volunteer to give up their bodies in such a grotesque manner, you might ask?
In the future, the United States is rocked by a second civil war, which the victors primarily blame on “Texans.” I gather that the rebels were not exclusively from Texas, but the term is used as kind of a non-PC catchall, for instance the way today we might say “The Arab World” even though that area is full of Persians, Copts, Kurds, and countless other minorities. Anyway, the “Texans” of the future form a slave class, and the only real hope for a Texan to be anything other than a slave is to be chosen as a Second.
The reality of a Second’s duty is hidden from the Texans. They only understand it to be a great honor. And so, with this set-up, Chanda Stafford opens up a whole world of heady philosophical questions. Are some people inherently better than others? If so, isn’t it a small sacrifice to give up a lesser person for a better one? Are there ethical limitations to the pursuit of medicine? Just because we can live forever, should we? Is there still dignity in death?
You’d think from the way I’ve described it so far that FIRST was a densely plotted political treatise of interest only to intellectuals and politicians, but quite the opposite is true. This is a Young Adult novel, with teenage characters dealing with the world and raging against the unfairness of it all just as I did when I was a teen (although perhaps main character Mira has more legitimacy for her angst than I did.) It is much to Chanda’s credit, I think, that she managed to slip such dense, thinky themes into such a fast-paced, crowd-pleasing story.
Whether you’re shopping for a teen or YA is your guilty pleasure, you should definitely pick up a copy of FIRST.
Check out the full review and enter the contest on Stephen’s website, Manuscripts Burn. While you’re there, also check out Stephen’s own zombie novel, Braineater Jones, which is a unique and refreshing take on the zombie genre.