Welcome to the first installment of Lunarthon, our weekly read-along of The Lunar Chronicles! This week, we’re reading chapters 1-12 of Cinder, the first book in the series, and discussing the diverse setting of Meyer’s futuristic fairy tale retelling.
There’s a lot to love about the Lunar Chronicles series. The sci-fi spin on classic tales, the diverse ensemble cast, the relationships (romantic and platonic!) between Meyer’s characters. But re-reading the first twelve chapters of Cinder, I was reminded of what drew me into the series the first time around: the international scope of the story.
As a Brit who reads a lot of American YA literature, I’m always excited to read books set in different countries. I remember the first time I read the blurb of Cinder and discovered that it wasn’t set in America. It wasn’t even set in a Western country. For once, in a series written by an American author, America was completely irrelevant.
And why not? Why do so many futuristic YA series begin with lengthy descriptions of how only North America survived the apocalypse while the rest of the world crumbled into insignificance? Why do so many otherwise brilliant dystopian YA stories fail to even acknowledge that the rest of the world exists in their fictional future? Not only is it offensive, frankly, it’s bad worldbuilding.
In the first few chapters of Cinder, Meyer introduces her readers to New Beijing and the power structures of Cinder’s world with sparse but vivid descriptions:
Towering offices and shopping centres gradually melded with a messy assortment of apartment buildings, built so close that they became an unending stretch of glass and concrete. Apartments in this corner of the city had once been spacious and desirable but had been so subdivided and remodelled over time – always trying to cram more people into the same square footage – that the buildings had become labyrinths of corridors and stairwells.
But all the crowded ugliness was briefly forgotten as Cinder turned the corner onto her own street. For half a step, New Beijing Palace could be glimpsed between complexes, sprawling and serene on the cliff that overlooked the city.
Meyer’s Earth is remarkably similar to other futuristic YA stories; an overpopulated, poverty-stricken world which prides itself on a hundred years of peace, but is now threatened by a deadly disease and on the verge of a fourth world war. The one major difference? The non-Western setting.
When I first read Cinder, I’d become so used to America being the default setting of any massively popular series – be it contemporary realistic, fantasy or science fiction – that it had never occurred to me to question it.
The setting of New Beijing has been criticised by many Asian readers for orientalism, and it’s a completely valid criticism – it’s unfortunately left unclear as to when and why the pan-Asian society of the Eastern Commonwealth was formed, or how so many countries with conflicting cultures were able to settle their differences and unify, and the result is a society which feels at times only vaguely Asian-inspired.
But although Meyer’s future world is far from perfect (both within the text and without) re-reading these first twelve chapters and being introduced to Cinder’s world all over again, I’m more thankful than ever that a story like this, featuring non-American POC main characters in a non-American setting has become so successful.
What do you make of Meyer’s futuristic Beijing? Sound off in the comments below – and make sure to join us next week for our discussion of chapters 13-25!