Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dystopian Delight

by Shirley Drew

Several years ago, my husband and I were browsing the shelves at a local Books-A-Million store when he handed me a book titled, Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. “This looks like something you might like,” he said. I read the synopsis on the back cover:
When a meteor hits the moon and knocks it closer in orbit to the earth, nothing will ever be the same. World tidal waves. Earthquakes. Volcanic eruptions. And that’s just the beginning. 

I love dystopian novels, so I bought it. In the following months, I read the sequels to what is often referred to as the Moon series. Before long, I was reading The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies. Most recently I finished the first two installments of The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin.

At some point I became curious about why people like to read novels about environmental destruction, oppression, and totalitarian governments. Seems kind of depressing, but this genre has been around for a long time. I think my first dystopian novel was probably Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Anyway, I started surfing the Internet for answers. I found a post by blogger Josh Corman. This is what he says:

“The simple answer (which probably, I know, also means the incomplete answer) is fear. Fear is the root of every dystopia, and it’s the glue that keeps the reader stuck to its characters and conflicts for the book’s duration. If you harbor any distrust of your government (or governments in general)…if you’re concerned about climate change and corporate power…And if you suspect that our reliance on technological devices is doing at least as much harm as good…” then dystopian novels will lure you in.

These stories are clearly metaphors for today’s problems—both large and small, and they serve an important function for us as readers. They validate our worries and the way we view our world while allowing us to immerse ourselves in them from a safe distance. And of course they provide us with brave protagonists that take the necessary risks to fight against the dangers and dehumanization of a dystopian society. Most of all, though, through the protagonists, we are allowed to hope for something better. And that makes reading dystopian stories, problems and all, worthwhile.

“Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear.” ~The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Do you read dystopian novels? What are your favorites?


Anonymous said...

When I was in high school, I took a science fiction class where I read quite a few dystopian novels including 1984 and Brave New World. Now as an adult, I don`t care for them that much. Isn`t it funny how tastes change?

Ruth said...

Thank you for sharing. Why do we like dystopian? I would agree with fear, but I think there's also a curiosity of the future. A ever present question about what the world would be like under different circumstances or sometimes under the our current situation 50 years down the road.

Shirley Drew said...

Thanks for your comments, Abbie and Ruth!

Sarah Reichert said...

I love them! Along with the occasional world-destruction movie. I think, for me, its the study of how human kind survives, and what we would chose to do differently to avoid the same calamity later on. Its a great stew-pot for building amazing characters, because they're forced into the most dire of situations. And the best ones emerge on the other side as shining examples of the good one human can do in a world gone made. Good article.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I read them, too, Shirley. In addition to 1984 (1949) and Brave New World (1932) mentioned by abbiescorner, there's Animal Farm (1945) which is both dystopian and an allegory. And not so long ago I read Hugh Howey's Wool which I liked a lot. Now you've added Life As We Knew It to my list, and I've been wanting to read The Giver as well. Can't get enough of this genre.

Kelly in Kansas said...

I haven't really "understood" all of the fantasy writing although I did enjoy books like "Around the World in 80 Days" when I was in school as well as The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings trilogy (which I hear is really about college professors!).

Your post gave me some insight into what the genre represents. And I am reading a young adult novel, "Dorothy Must Die" - with obvious ties to Kansas. ;-)

Sarah Sullivan said...

I am amazed by the consistent dystopian theme featured in todays YA writing. I'm not sure what to make of it, but I do enjoy it.

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