Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thursday Thoughts: Why I Like Dystopian Fiction

Mockingjay (Hunger Games, #3)The Dead-Tossed Waves (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, #2)Matched

Whether it is true dystopian or post-apocalyptic, I have found myself drawn to this type of fiction.  The idea of a world gone horribly wrong and the characters living in that world trying to find a way to escape is for some reason is terribly addictive to me.  At the moment, I would even go so far to claim that it is my favorite genre.

For those who aren't familiar with the term dystopian, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia.  It is a world where everything is supposed to be perfect, but the cost of that perfection is usually pretty high, and the characters often find themselves wondering if that perfection is worth the price and the sacrifices they make.  Examples of dystopian literature include; 1984, The Giver, The Hunger Games, and many more.  Post-apocalyptic fiction includes fiction where some kind of disaster, disease, or other traumatic event has occurred.  It is possible for the novel to be both dystopian and post-apocalyptic if it was that traumatic event that led to the formation of the dystopian society-both The Hunger Games and Caragh O' Brien's Birthmarked would fall into this category.

For some reason this genre calls to me and I can't help but pick up titles that qualify.  I can't truly explain it, but perhaps my reaction to Susan Beth Pfeffer's book Life as We Knew It (LAWKI) will explain it some.  When I first read LAWKI it was at the beginning of the economic crash.  My community, an automotive town was really feeling the pinch.  Things were hard all around.  Our newly purchased house was losing value by the day, there were layoffs for the first time in the history of the library where I worked and all of us were afraid that we would be next.  My husband and I stayed up late making contingency plans and talking what ifs and planning what we could do if the worst were to happen.  This was also shortly after the birth of our son who had been born 9.5 weeks early and having a child that premature can cause stress and worries all of its own.

When I picked up LAWKI the story so enveloped me and Pfeffer's world building was so convincing, that I found myself wanting to go out and stock up the pantry for the end of the world.  As I read the book I kept thinking, I need more bottled water, can goods, etc...  The funny thing was, I wasn't the only one who had that response to the book one of my co-workers did too!  I know to some of you that may sound completely nuts, but good, well written literature does have a way of drawing a reader into the world and making it real for them.

In some ways dystopias can act as a kind of social commentary whether it is meant to or not.  In The Hunger Games kids fight in a televised fight to the death--reality television to the extreme and of course you can connect this to the gladiatorial fights in ancient Rome.  With almost any dystopian book, you can see a remote connection to our current world.  In O'Brien's Birthmarked and in Paolo Bacigalupi Ship Breaker their books focus on a dramatic climate change.  In some cases the stories seem ripped from the headlines and in others they seem reminiscent of video games.  (Do the zombies in Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead Tossed Waves remind any one else of the video game Resident Evil where and evil corporation has created a virus that turns people into zombies? Which is a commentary of its own on the business of making biological weapons.) 

In the end I would say I like dystopias because they make me think about my world and make me grateful for what I have and make me more eager to change what needs changing to keep my son from experiencing a world gone wrong. 

Some Dystopian/Post Apocalyptic Fiction I have read:


The Hunger Games / Collins (whole series)
Life as We Knew It / Pfeffer
Birthmarked / O'Brien
1984 / Orwell
Little Brother / Doctrow
Dark Life / Falls
Matched / Condie--coming November 30, 2010
Incarceron / Fisher (Sapphique--coming December 28, 2010)
Forest of Hands and Teeth / Ryan (Dead Tossed Waves)
Maze Runner / Dashner
City of Ember / Du Prau
Unwind / Shusterman
Genesis Alpha / Rune
Neptune's Children / Dobkin
Adoration of Jenna Fox / Pearson
Uglies (series) / Westerfeld
Declaration / Malley
Giver / Lowry
Among the Hidden / Haddix
Gardener / Bodeen

What else have you read?  What would you recommend that I read? 

For more information on this fascinating genre or for a list of new and upcoming dystopian releases check out these articles from Publishers Weekly:

Children's Books: Dystopian Novels for Teens, Present and Future

Children's Books: Apocalypse Now

4 comments:

  1. I love Dystopian novels. I never thought I would, but they are so addicting, and they make up some of my favourite books of all-time! :)

    I'm a new follower, and I found your blog on Missie's blog, The Unread Reader!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for following. I just visited your blog and will definitely be following your reviews. I love finding new blogs so thank you for stopping by and commenting!

    I get that reaction a lot from people I recommend the dystopias to at the library. On the surface they look like they wouldn't be very appealing, but they are addictive and so fascinating I just can't stop reading.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't normally read dystopian since I prefer more "upbeat" books. :-)

    But I do occasionally pick them up. As you say, these kind of books usually make me think. I just prefer not to think on too much depressing themes all the time. LOL.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Kah,

    It is funny you say that, because I usually don't like depressing themes in books either! For some reason the dystopias don't come across as depressing for me. In some ways I feel that they can be very hopeful. You are so right though, they do have the potential of being depressing.

    ReplyDelete

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