Imagine a world with no hunger, no disease, no terrorism, no crime, no war, no mortality. The digital cloud has transformed into the Thunderhead, whose good and generous totalitarian rule has turned the planet into a utopia. There is no such thing as old age, once you reach a certain age you can ‘turn a corner’ and choose to go back to any age you wish; which means that there can be people who are 140 years old in a body of a 30-year-old. The world’s population lives in harmony, all knowledge has been acquired, and there is nothing left to learn. Depending on how you feel about it, it could either be wonderful or exhausting. I think it would be exhausting, but that’s my opinion. In a perfect world where there isn’t much to achieve, what do we live for? What are our goals in life? What’s our purpose? I would imagine that after a period of time life would become quite monotonous and weary. The book left me with many questions, and I always say that is the sign of a good book – one that makes you question. The book isn’t perfect, and at times I don’t think the author thought through all the elements of such a utopia, but that’s okay because it really is quite cleverly thought out in most ways.
Of course, if we live in a world where people no longer die from accidents, natural causes or diseases, how do we keep the population under control and this is where the title of the book comes into play. In this world, we have Scythes, society-sanctioned killers. The Scythes operate independently from the governing AI (Thunderhead) and rely on their own moral code to control the population. The appointed Scythes must carry out ‘gleanings’ – true deaths which one cannot be rejuvenated back from, death at the hands of a Scythe is permanent.
We are introduced to two sixteen-year-olds, Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova who have both impressed the Honourable Scythe Faraday with their empathy and humanity. He offers them both an apprenticeship, and they reluctantly accept. They leave their families and go and live with Faraday who teaches them all there is to know about the world of Scythedom. Being a Scythe is an honourable position in society and Scythes are meant to be noble characters. Though, even in a perfect world, there is always going to be those who are not moral or decent. We are after all dealing with people, and even though the world may be perfect, humans are not, and Scythes are not machines, they are people. One would hope that people are drawn to the profession of Scythe because they have a strong sense of justice and right and wrong, but of course, some people are drawn to the job because they like killing. In the days of mortality, we would call these people, ‘murderers’.
This is a book that is meant to be thought-provoking. It is a fascinating read, and I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys being challenged. It will have you questioning life, death and the meaning of both. Shusterman manages to inject humour into the book which allows the book to not get too dark or depressing.