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.