Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dystopian Novels Just for Fun?

When I first heard about dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels my interest was a bit lukewarm. I love urban fantasy, paranormal of all kinds, especially dark and sexy books and I do enjoy a hard core sci fi novel as well. But desolation, starvation, destruction, humanity on the brink of distinction and possibly threatened by nasty critters (zombies, vampires, half-human monsters, etc.) Sounds a bit too depressing, horrific, brutal. I probably started reading these books because I like vampires, zombies and other supernatural creatures and was willing to “put up with” the dystopian world. Now I love them.

When a friend told me about Hunger Games, I said, “Are you kidding? That’s YA?” I didn’t want to read about teens killing teens. Depressing, horrific and brutal? Yes. And I couldn’t put it down. Because there is so much more in these stories—Hunger Games and other dystopian novels—Courage, honor, struggle, humanity, love, survival instinct, companionship, loyalty, friendship, fear, triumph over fear, triumph over evil, etc.

These types of emotions many of us never have the opportunity to experience; we can live them through the characters in these stories. I believe this is why these stories are so compelling to readers. That and we like to see characters tortured in the worst possible “what if” situations then triumph over insurmountable odds.

If you lived through a war or a natural disaster, you might understand some of these emotions. I was in South Florida during Hurricane Andrew. I saw massive devastation and was terrified of what might happen. Fortunately, I didn’t lose my house like so many did. I saw the amazing kindness in strangers helping strangers. But also heard horror stories from friends in the National Guard and the police. Stories that didn’t make the news.

Since I was on the hurricane crew at the hospital, I had to stay there until the storm was over. The hospital was in the evacuation zone. Hundreds of thousands of people left, we stayed. Police, fire department,  and ambulance crews were stationed at the hospital. One of the most chilling things about that time was when I was on my way back to work at the hospital during the mass evacuation. Early Sunday morning there were three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic heading west and I was the lone car heading east. Friends of friends, people I didn’t know, had to evacuate their homes. I let them stay at my house. They helped me with my hurricane shutters and watched my pets. I told them to help themselves to my food. They were there for two days and didn’t touch my food and left my house spotless.

That was nothing compared to the devastation in Japan. We can’t even imagine how bad. But as bad as it is, we’re seeing strangers helping strangers and amazing acts of kindness and courage.

So why are these dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories so popular? In my opinion, in a world that continues to move faster and faster, exponentially growing in technology, communications and population, and at the same time demonstrating atrocious violence and cruelty, people wonder in the back of their minds what would happen if it was all taken away? As awful as it would be, humanity, courage and grace would still be there.


Amber Skyze said...

I wonder that all the time. I'm not sure I could write a book about it, but it's definitely something I think about. :)

Kathy Kulig said...

Hey Amber, I think a lot of people think about it. Lots of story ideas. It's a compelling and emotional topic.

Christine said...

After reading post apocalyptic stories, or watching the news, I'm always grateful to go to the grocery store. I walk down the aisles of food and think how lucky I am.

Kathy Kulig said...

I agree Christine, I think many of us are thinking about how we take so much for granted.

Ciara said...

I love dystopian. It's my favorite at the moment.
Hunger Games are some of my fave books. BTW - I'm a follower now. :)

Kathy Kulig said...

Hi Ciara, I really enjoy these stories too. Hunger Games series was amazing. I'm reading Joss Ware's series now. Thanks for following. :)

Suzanne said...

I love dystopian fiction, dating all the way back to Stephen King's The Stand. Dystopian fiction gets popular in cycles, usually following times of economic uncertainty or political upheaval. And I lived through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, so I know about the "real" dystopia scenarios--it's awful.

Nina Pierce said...

I think you hit the nail on the proverbial head, Kathy...the thought that it could become a reality, but in the end, good always triumphs leaving us with hope that we could survive.

I wrote a Dystopian world in "Healer's Garden" before I even knew there was such a term. The whole idea fascinates me and like so many, I'm enjoying reading them.

Allan said...

Dystopian novels serve as social criticism and allow exploration of ideas that are otherwise taboo. In the science fiction world, just to name a few, in backwards chronological order: Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl explores the consequences of current policy towards climate and agriculture; China MiƩville's Perdido Street Station is a subtle argument for communism/socialism as compared with modern dystopian capitalism; Kim Stanley Robinson's Fifty Degrees Below is another climate-related dystopia; Paul di Filippo's wonderful themed collection of short stories Ribofunk uses the genetic engineering of monsters trope but is really criticism of social structures; every single novel in the cyberpunk genre is high tech dystopia--I could go on and on back through Harlan Ellison's Repent Harlequin Said the Ticktockman (honoring civil disobedience), 1984 (criticism of Soviet and British statist policies) and Huxley's Brave New World.

Every book I mentioned was a best seller. Every book I mentioned explored dangerous ideas. These range from the 1940s to last year. Sci Fi readers are thinkers. We want exploration of dangerous ideas and social criticism.

At least some of us do.

Allan (new posting here--I saw your post on the FF&P subgroup which I recently joined and am in the process of figuring out the critique process for)

Kathy Kulig said...

Hi Suzanne, Yes, I loved The Stand and sorry you had to live through Katrina. Tough times.

Hi Nina, Great book Healers Garden. I've been fascinated by Dystopian stories for years.

Allan, Wow! You know your sci fi. Thanks for your amazing insight into dystopian novels. 1984, Brave New World, couple of my fav. On The Beach could fit somewhat with those other two stories, although On The Beach was caused by nuclear disaster. I'll have to check out those others. I've been a long time fan of sci fi, I have two novels (unpubbed at the moment) and I just realized one explores the possibilities of dystopian genetic engineering in the hands of a madman. And the other is climate related where well-meaning scientists really screw up.

Thanks for letting me know where you saw this post. Welcome to FF&P