Mockingbird by Walter Tevis
Mockingbird takes place a few hundred years in the future where highly advanced, humanoid robots have all but eliminated the entire human population. They have done so using specially formulated, widely available drugs plus new rules for society which encourage extreme privacy and individualism. Out of nowhere, one man innocently learns to read, something that a human hasn’t done for years and years. Hoping to build on this new skill and help others, he travels to New York City where he intends to teach reading. Instead, he launches himself on a path of self-discovery during which he falls in love with a woman who shares his same curious, rebellious spirit; uses his “newly awoken by books brain” to battle back against the robots; and ultimately reveals the true secrets of what’s happened to the world.

The set-up sounds like many futuristic, dystopian, robot-filled books that populate the sci-fi market, right? However, Mockingbird was different for me because it was slower, more thoughtful and highly realistic. No lasers, no fights, no chase scenes, no action at all. Which all seems like a bad thing I suppose, given the entertainment level we’ve come to expect. However, the writing was so smart, crisp and clean and the three main characters were so engaging, I absolutely blazed through this book and enjoyed every word. Also, Mr. Tevis created this book in 1980 and I’m always impressed by writers from decades ago who were able to imagine such scarily accurate things for our collective futures.

Mockingbird is an adult book and is best for sci-fi fans. It does have some small, non-graphic sex bits in it, but the main reasons it’s for mature readers are the drug use, the bleak conditions of future America, and the slow, thoughtful pace of the writing. An obvious comparison would be “1984”, just for a quick frame of reference. If you or someone you know likes futuristic books where society is crumbling and one man stands against it all, definitely give this one a try. Just remember that it will mostly appeal to intellectual readers since the hero fights back with his mind and the strength of his will - not with guns and action.

To close, here’s a passage I highlighted because it really spoke to me. Obviously I too love books and reading, so anytime writers sneak in phrases like this one, they always catch my eye!

“Driving along the rutted, ancient green highways as I am now, with the ocean on my right and the empty fields on my left under the bright springtime sun, I feel free and strong. If I were not a reader of books I could not feel this way. Whatever may happen to me, thank God that I can read, that I have truly touched the minds of other men.”

Happy Reading!