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I’ve Seen the Future and It’s Not Terribly Bright: Looking at Near-Future Dystopias in Fiction

June 22, 2012

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The post-apocalyptic genre has gotten so crowded lately that you can easily create sub-genres- though they often overlap:

· Natural disasters

· Disease

· Oppressive political regimes

· Zombies/Vampires (this also can fall under disease)

I love them all. OK, full disclosure, I’m less interested in the paranormal, though I do love Carrie Ryan’s Forest of Hands and Teeth series and I’m eagerly awaiting Justin Cronin’s follow up to The Passage, The Twelve.

What’s been interesting to me lately is the crossover element between adult and YA. While I think every young woman should read The Handmaid’s Tale, I certainly don’t think The Road is for a younger audience (nor is the forthcoming book Dog Stars, which has similar elements). The Hunger Games is the most obvious recent example. While it may have been intended for one audience, it has clearly struck a chord with many. A book from Random House’s adult division coming out this month is another great example. The Age of Miracles was brought to my attention last fall by one of my colleagues and I eagerly read the manuscript (yes, I love my job!). I loved it right away and felt that this just as easily could have been published as a young adult novel. It tells the story of a world, exactly like ours, where the Earth’s rotation starts to slow, lengthening the days and nights until they are each several days long. This is not a sudden disaster, but a slow degradation of every day routines and assumptions. In some ways it’s more insidious to realize the implications bit by bit. The perspective is of an adult woman looking back at the beginning of this natural disaster to her early teenage years. While she may have the perspective that comes with age, the story really focuses on what she thought and felt as a young woman.

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Another series along those lines that I read a few years back is called The Last Survivors by Susan Beth Pfeffer . It was published as YA. Life as We Knew It is the first in the series, and like Age of Miracles, it starts off in what is essentially our world now, then quickly spirals into disaster after a meteor hits the moon and sends it slightly closer to Earth. What starts as a fascinating astrological event that everyone stays up to watch quickly turns into a nightmare as tides change, volcanoes erupt and the “everyone for themselves” mentality quickly takes over.

What strikes me most and has stayed with me about both Age of Miracles and Life as We Knew It is their immediacy. Not only do their starting points feel perfectly familiar, so do the narrators feelings and responses. They are not heroes, they have no special skills or hidden powers. There are no aliens to side with or against or immunity they’ve been granted. They are just average teenaged girls trying to find themselves in the world just like anyone else, only their world is changing faster than they are. Does the world’s upheaval represent the changes we go through in our journey from girlhood to womanhood? Well, let’s not get too crazy and academic about it, but it’s food for thought.

Below is a list of some of my top dystopian reads, the genre, and which audience(s) I think they are appropriate for (in no particular order):

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – political/gender (YA and adult)

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood- disease (adult)

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff – political/military (YA and adult)

Maze Runner series by James Dashner – I can’t tell you the genre because it gives away the end of the first book! (YA and adult)

Dog Stars by Peter Heller (available in August) – disease (adult)

The Passage by Justin Cronin – disease-vampire (adult )

Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker – natural disaster (YA and adult)

Forest of Hands and Teeth series by Carrie Ryan- disease/zombies/political (YA and adult)

Across the Universe by Beth Revis – space exploration/political (YA and adult)

The Tripod Series (starting with The White Mountains) by John Christopher – alien takeover (middle grade- a perfect intro to disaster scenarios!).

Life as We Knew It (The Last Survivors series) by Susan Beth Pfeffer – natural disaster (YA and adult)

Xenogenesis and Parable series by Octavia Butler – Alien takeover (Xenogenesis)- natural disaster (Parable) (YA and Adult). If you’ve never read Octavia Butler, you are in for a treat! Her books are a mix of science fiction and gender/race politics.

He, She and It by Marge Piercy- political, religious, gender issues (YA and Young Adult)

OK, I’d better stop here because obviously I have a long list of “favorites”. I don’t think I realized just how much of this stuff I’ve read, and clearly I have a gender bias towards female writers. Plus, I need to run out and buy my 5 year dried food supply from Costco.

Please share your favorite dystopian reads in the comments!

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2012 9:20 am

    LOVE the list! I’m not tired of the genre yet. In fact, I can’t get enough of it myself. Hmmm…I have to say, I’m really liking Veronica Roth’s Divergent series and Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden series.

    I’m embarrassed to admit this, but okay I’ll say it–I have not read The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve been meaning to, though, honest! I’m literally going to purchase it today to read, no kidding!

  2. Amanda permalink
    June 22, 2012 9:37 am

    Awesome post, Deanna! You also recommended When She Woke by Hilary Jordan to me back when it came out. I agree, everyone should read Handmaid’s Tale.~Amanda

    • June 22, 2012 11:44 am

      I’m embarrassed to say that I recommended that because I meant to read it, but never got around to it! It’s still on my to-read list.
      But another one came to mind that I love called The Unit, from Other Press. The premise is a future Scandinavian society where people over a certain age with no immediate family ties are sent to a special home and become spare parts for younger, healthier people. They are treated like royalty while at the same time they are slowly harvested for parts until their “final donation” of a vital organ. Intense!

  3. June 22, 2012 10:46 am

    I was intrigued by the Times review of The Age of Miracles, too. Another one to add to your list is Children of Men by P.D. James.

    • June 22, 2012 11:37 am

      Good call on Children of Men! I meant to re-read that when the movie came out. I read that as a galley years ago and it really stuck with me.

  4. dandy permalink
    June 22, 2012 11:43 am

    great post Deanna! I loved this book too and can’t wait for others to read it
    .

  5. Philippa permalink
    June 29, 2012 7:42 am

    I’d add “The Chrysalids” and possibly “The Day of the Triffids” by John Wyndham. Interesting post. Thank you!

  6. July 27, 2012 8:30 pm

    Don’t forget about Julianna Baggott’s PURE. And though it isn’t a true dystopian novel, ASHFALL by Mike Mullin is a terrifying exploration of how to survive (or not) a natural disaster.

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  1. We Revisit Age of Miracles with Our Colleague Sherry Virtz « Random Acts of Reading

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