I picked up a collection of short stories at a bargain bookstore not long ago. It found its way to my ever-growing pile of books I must read and I only picked it up last week. It’s called The Mammoth Book of Apocalyptic SF. As horrifying as it sounds, I love reading stories about catastrophic, uncontrollable events because it holds up a magnifying glass to human nature. When everything is falling to pieces, you see how your characters really feel – they have no time to hold up any facade they might have had because they are too busy surviving.
Dystopian stories (which includes apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories) have been trendy for some time but it doesn’t seem to be suffering any disinterest from readers. I wonder at this fascination we have with the possible end of all things. Let’s face it, everyone tells us how bleak our future looks – disease, war and ecological chaos loom (much like the cold war did from the 1950’s?). Perhaps these stories are our way of gritting our teeth and saying, “We will survive, just you watch!”
This post was compounded by my recent reading of 1984 (beautifully explained at SparkNotes). I can’t believe I never read it before – it’s Animal Farm meets Equilibrium – and what I am most fascinated by was that most dystopian novels seem to be influenced in some way by this one. It’s terrifying because it is so brilliantly executed.
It’s hard to imagine a world where everyone bows to the whim of a single twisted ideology but let’s not forget that Germany (and other countries that have been through similar political power plays) looked a lot like that less than a hundred years ago. Now, oftentimes our enemy is less human and more ecological. Dystopian novels take a magnifying glass to the current cultural fears and although they often make them far worse, they also make their heroes more determined to overcome them. In a strange (I guess twisted) sense, these stories are actually stories of human courage, perseverance and innovation. We find ways to survive – that’s what we do.
Philip Reeve, who is famous for his own dystopian series The Mortal Engines, wrote an interesting article about dystopia. His views are a little different to mine but I see his point. You can read it for yourself, here
You can check out interviews with some dystopian authors on this website: Gemma Malley, Philip Reeve and Hugh Howey.