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Game Control by Lionel Shriver

Game Control

Meet Calvin Piper, a demographer, elephant culling, vengeful misanthrope, celibate, humanity psychopath who talks to his dead girlfriend. Calvin heads an organisation called QUIETUS – Quorum of United International Efforts at Triage for Ultimate Sustainability that aspire to kill 2 billion of the human population with a designer virus called Pachyderms. 

Eleanor Merritt, a do-gooding American family-planning worker for Pathfinder, was drawn to Kenya to improve the lot of the poor. Unnervingly, she finds herself falling in love with the beguiling Calvin Piper – despite, or perhaps because of, his misanthrope theories about population control and the future of the human race. 

Wallace Treadgill, an epidemiologist, the arch enemy of Calvin, plot to sabotage Calvin appalling plan for mass murder. It is only a matter of time before he began to issue death threat and execute them. 

About over crowding rats

Calvin and his researcher, Norman discovered that when rats lived in high density and crowded conditions, when you cramped 80 rats in a pen meant for 10, half the rat boys will turn out to be gay, and the girls become lousy mothers. Courtship rituals disappeared. The males usually do this little jig outside the female’s nest. With over-population, no more two-step. The biggest problem is cannibalism. Increased crowding also creates a lot more drunkards. Also the more crowded the pen got, the more the animals congregated in a single quarter of the compound. Like Nairobi, New York or Rat-Tokyo! 

“Don’t you think the parallels between rats and people are a bit tenuous?” asked Eleanor, well, Calvin doesn’t think so. 

About reincarnation

‘There’s something attractive about reincarnation – with a basis in physics – that energy is neither created nor destroyed. But when you’ve a worldwide population that doubles every 40 years, the theory has some simple arithmetic problems: where do you get all those extra souls? So I reason the species started out with, say, a hundred whole, possibly even noble spirits. When we exceeded our pool of a hundred, these great souls had to start subdividing. Every time a generation doubles, it halves the interior content of the individual. As we’ve multiplied, the whole race has become spiritually dilute. Like it? I’m a science fiction fan.’ said Calvin. 

So what is the most effective way of population control? Birth control? Family planning? Why stop infant mortality programmes if we are trying to curb population growth? If earth resources are depleted, why not sacrifice some to ensure the survival of the rest? *Aghast* Surely, if the poor are a responsibility they are also an imposition? 

This is the central thesis that permeates throughout the whole book. When Shriver wrote this book in the early 1990’s, scientists were sending completely contradictory signals about Africa. (FYI, they still are.) Demographers were alarmed by the continent’s soaring population; epidemiologists were alarmed by its prospectively plummeting population due to AIDS. So were Africans over-producing or dying off? Surely, you wouldn’t have it both ways? Shriver found out that computer models by demographers predicted that AIDS would have a modest to negligible effect on population growth. Computer models by epidemiologists predicted that AIDS would eventually cause Africa’s population to implode. However unconsciously, each scientific community managed to rig the results so that their problem of choice would be the most dire – thus making their own field the more important. 

I was watching Beyond Borders (played by Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen, about two aid workers who fell in love while working in Ethiopia and Cambodia) while reading this book, one of the many coincidences in my life, always reading two consecutive books (About Kenya from Barack Obama and now this book) with the same theme or read a book and watch a movie with the same theme. Had my upbringing and circumstances be different, being a war correspondent and an aid worker would be my ultimate career goal. 8)

It was possible to be too understanding. Eleanor wondered if it was preferable to keep the same insufferable, obdurate opinions your whole life, piggishly, even if they are wrong, since they bound to be, because once you opened the emergency exit to the white wide expanse of all it was plausible to believe you broke the seal on your neat pressurised world and got sucked into space.

The novel central theme was inspired by Shriver’s guilt ridden liberal household. Her parents were always making her feel bad about being privileged (although she was merely middle-middle class). She is perpetually reminded of the starving Chinese or starving Armenians. So she resented all those poor people, and sometimes wished that they would go away. J The novel did not achieve modest success. Commercially it went nowhere, Shriver quipped that all effort in writing this novel would seem wasted but between reading dozen books and moving to Africa, she obtain one of the great educations of her life and would never wish to have them those time any other way. 

Last but not least, is there no hope for the overcrowding rats?

Previously the sample Norwegian rats identified a variety of types: the hyper-sexed, the homosexual, the delinquent mother. The researchers discerned a small, discreet subsection of males, however, which Norman had christened the Cool Rats. These unruffled loners refused to take part in the struggle for dominance. They ignored all the other rats of both sexes, and all the other rats ignored them. They moved passively through the community like somnambulists. They were never attacked or approached for play. And these were the sleekest, healthiest animals in the pen, with thick, unmolested fur. The Cool Rats were pretending they weren’t there. Calvin was suffering stress in density and Calvin bought sun-glasses. Indeed all his altruism for human kind happened because of a tragic incident that happened to his life. 

Maybe there is hope. There is still hope in humanity. 

Verdict: 4/5

What I like most about the book: The book challenges and stimulates me intellectually, like most Shriver’s writings do. Combining research data and fiction, Shriver produces a cocktail concoction of dark comedy, intellectual sparring, doomsday thrills, psychological thriller. Shriver is an intelligent writer, one of my favourite. This is a wry, grimly comic tale of bad ideas and good intentions, and the hypocrisy of lofty intellectuals who would “save” humanity but who don’t like people. Shriver is so wicked. I love her books.

What I like least about the book: Calvin Piper. The main character of Calvin Piper is loathsome and weird. Eleanor is not too endearing either. It could be Shriver’s quirk to create heroine such as Eleanor, which is just as two-minded and naïve as Irina in The Post-birthday world.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.



  1. Pingback: Library Loot: April 28 to May 4 « Bibliojunkie - April 30, 2010

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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