Many, many…way too many years ago than I care to remember, I watched a movie called Soylent Green, starring Charleton Heston. Set in a dystopian future, in a horrifically overpopulated New York City, Heston played an NYPD officer investigating the murder of one of the higher ups in the Soylent Corporation, a company that had developed a new source of food in the form of a wafer called, what else, Soylent Green. Even with this new source of nutrition, however, food was still at a premium and riots were par for the course, as people fought for every scrap they could get their hands on in an effort to stave off starvation.
Soylent Green was reportedly made from algae or seaweed or some sort of ocean plant life, I can’t recall specifically after all these years, but as Heston digs deeper into the murder investigation, certain disturbing details come to light, not the least of which is that the plant which Soylent Green is supposedly made from no longer exists in the mass quantities the company would need to convert it to food. And the plot thickens. ::insert dramatic music here:: To make a long story short, what Heston ultimately reveals is that–and this is the only line in the entire film that has stuck in my head for all these years–“Soylent Green is people!“ Blech. The Soylent Corporation had effectively turned the entire population of the earth into cannibals. Now, I didn’t say this was a good movie. I only said I’d watched it.
So, what does this have to do with Jordan Castillo Price’s The Starving Years? Admittedly, not so much, though as I was reading the story, there was obviously enough there to trigger memories of this movie. But The Starving Years is light years beyond Soylent Green in terms of quality, and Manna really is made from plants, though that whole cannibalism thing…well, you’ll just have to read the book to figure that one out.
This is a David vs. Goliath story, David (or in this case, several Davids) being a small group of strangers brought together by chance and circumstance that band together to topple corporate giant Canaan Products, the leading producer of the food source Manna. There is no scarcity of the product. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Manna is available in abundance. Yet still, the appetite for more is never sated.
This story is part corporate greed, part social activism–whistle blowers who use the media to their advantage, the supposedly fair and unbiased media that uses good and honest people as playthings to manipulate and boost ratings and to sensationalize the news. This is the story of corporate America and the way in which the general public relies on those corporations to conduct their business fairly, when all the corporations truly care about is their fiscal well being. We trust that the food we consume is safe, but sometimes trust is misplaced. This is the way in which big business drug manufacturers hold the infirm hostage by pricing their medicines so outrageously high that the average person must weigh and measure his pain against the cost of the pill that will help him. The corporate party line is the bottom line.
Jordan Castillo Price tells this story in the third person, from three different perspectives: Nelson Oliver, the brilliant scientist who tries his best to appear shallow and one dimensional; Javier de la Rosa, the taciturn and scarred journalist who has trust issues; and Tim Foster, the computer wiz, the Voice of Reason, and a man whose loneliness and social awkwardness allows him to reach out and to trust a group of total strangers with the hope that they might one day become friends.
They, along with Randy and Marianne, meet just as New York City is falling into a state of social chaos–riots, looting, and general mayhem have turned the city into a near police state. The people are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore, to borrow the quote, and the group is determined to use any means at their disposal to figure out exactly what it is that Canaan Products is hiding. And discover they do, when the city’s children start being taken into police custody.
How can people have unlimited food supplies at their disposal and still be starving? The same way New York City is home to millions of people, and Tim is still lonely, I guess. Nelson, Tim, and Javier are as starved for a human connection in the same way a man can be hungry for food. Starvation comes in many different forms. But that’s the easy explanation. The actual truth lies buried within a chemical composition that only Nelson can decipher, and when he does put all the pieces in place, it creates a frightening picture.
JCP had a story to tell, and tell it she did. In the end, I found myself wishing there’d been just a bit more focus on the developing relationship between Nelson, Javier, and Tim, but if there had been, it might have taken too much focus away from the main storyline. The fact I wanted to know more about the three men is nothing more than a testament to how well I loved what was there.
Buy The Starving Years HERE.