Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dystopian is the New Vampire

Do you think it is? There's certainly been a swell in dystopian literature in the YA market as of late. I think The Hunger Games paved the way for that to happen in some way, at least. Not that that's a bad thing. It's always good when good books spurn a trend. In my mind's eye, the other books that follow will have to live up to that expectation, hence spurning more good books. So far, I haven't heard much bad about dystopian novels that are coming out now. Unfortunately the same can't be said for other books with rather fangless glittering things that spawned neutered unevil creatures but that's besides the point.

Publisher's Weekly has a great article about some of the whys of dystopian literature in YA, mainly why kids are so drawn to it. Basically it boils down to the what ifs. What if this did happen? Why, it's happening now. Can it really happen? Is that where we're headed?

Sure, they don't offer the sunniest of outlooks on life but many dystopian YA out there is a good examination of what's going on in society today. Every single one of them mirrors at least some aspect of our society that's going wrong as a whole. Kids (and anyone, really) read these books and ask themselves what would they do in that situation. I know I've questioned the notion of how I would fare in a nuclear winter. Would I survive? Would I lead? Would I follow? Would I go it alone? What's the easiest way to make a spear from a rock and a stick?

What's funny, though, is that a few of these horrors have already been lived through in some way. The end of the world. I'm sure many people living through the Black Death in Europe thought the end of the world was upon them as millions of people died of a disease they couldn't fight. 1/3 of the population of Europe at the time was decimated. Paris had so many dead it ran out of space to put people so it started burying corpses under the streets. Google Paris catacombs and you'll see what I'm talking about. When you have 75,000 people die in a 30 mile radius in a week, what the hell do you do with them all?

Then there was the Inquisition where people were hunted for being different. Back them it was witchcraft. Today it's homosexuality, being pro-choice, Democrat, liberal, whatever. Maybe they shouldn't so much as be what ifs but when ifs.

There are YA dystopian books coming out about the planet running out of oil. What if? Oh no. When if. It's already proven that oil is in short supply and we'd be lucky to last another 100 years on what the earth is spitting out. What will happen then? These stories aren't so far reaching but so long as they're in the pages of fiction, they can stay imagined and anyone reading them can read from the comfort of their home surrounded by loved ones. They make you appreciate what you have and they tend to change your ideas about what's a right and what's a luxury.

Ever watch the series Life Without People on The History Channel? If you want a real life dose of what could happen in a dystopian world, watch that show. Nevermind the huge changes. The little things like the disappearance of bananas would shock you. Who would think that without people to cultivate the kind of bananas that we eat, they'd disappear entirely? Extinct. Ants would also die out. And raccoons. Anything that's become dependent on humans for survival would die with us.

So what gets you reading dystopian? Personally I think it's much richer than a lot of the fluff that seems to be floating around on shelves right now. Plus I love the social commentary it offers, thinly veiled behind an insane plot. While I tend to avoid such bleak things altogether (the apocalyptic marathons The History Channel tends to have is depression-inducing), some of these books are too damn good to resist. If you're looking for some other dystopian YA titles, Publisher's Weekly has a lengthy list of upcoming releases.


Monica said...

I hope not. I really dislike Dystopian lit *ducks from the pelting of objects* It just depresses me.

Emily said...

It's okay Monica, I'll still talk to you even though you don't like dystopian lit. SIGH.....

Anyway, my favorite thing about dystopian stories and what draws me to them is the glimmer of hope that just punches and claws its way through all the muck and mire of the horribly horrible world that's the setting of the story. I love rebellions, freedom fighters, and basically people saying damn the man any way they can. I think that, in a world where a lot of stuff feels like it's too big for one person to change or deal with, can be a powerful thing indeed.

lovely miss lucy(: said...

Hmm. Interesting post! I am addicted to YA dystopian lit; don't know why, just am :)

Zia said...

I find I really enjoy dystopian lit. Along with dystopian novels, I'm seeing a lot of angel based novels. But you're right I think we are starting to see a lessening of vampire lit and more of other things now.

buddyt said...

Hey !

Did you mean spawn ?

when good books spurn a trend. In my mind's eye, the other books that follow will have to live up to that expectation, hence spurning more good books.

Rebecca Herman said...

Anything that reduces the number of YA vampire books is cool with me! While dystopian isn't my absolute favorite genre, I do enjoy some books in this category, and REALLY dislike vampires, so I'd rather have a bunch of dystopian books to choose from over a bunch of vampire books I would never want to read.

barbrafl said...

LOVE distopian, but not from THE HUNGER GAMES, but rather from reading Orwell's 1984, the best distopian there is. I love them because there is a greater urgency in the books, the feeling of time passing too quickly, and the emotions of the characters seem to be more raw after they have been placed in this horrible situation. The needs are more powerful, and I find myself more attached to characters from a distopian than to characters from a romance.

April (BooksandWine) said...

I love Dystopias. I love the effects they have on kids, you know anything to get them thinking and discussing. I remember having my mind blown while reading Harrison Burgeron by Kurt Vonnegut in 8th grade for class. So awesome.

Also, teaching about the Black Death is so much fun.

I do love the Inquisition too, especially the medieval Inquisition, ah Cathars and the Albigension Crusade. Also love to scream out "NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISTION!!"


Donna said...

At this point I'llk take anything other than neutered vampires . . . and zombies. WTF is that?

Wrighty said...

Great list! I've got some new titles to look for now. I've been enjoying the dystopian books more and more. I think Carmac MacCarthy's The Road was one of the first ones. It's not YA but it really made an impression on me and was an interesting choice for a book club. The Lois Lowery books were good and of course The Hunger Game series. I liked The Maze Runner too.

The tragic parts do bother me but I would much rather read it than experience it. I also get drawn in by the heroes and the fighters who bring hope to everyone else.

Mollie said...

I've loved classic dystopian novels like 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and A Handmaid's Tale, so I'm really enjoying all the great novels coming out.

I just read The Road which Wrighty mentioned and it was definitely much more intense than some of the YA books.

I also read Life As We Knew it for our book club this month. It many of the members' first time with YA, a lot of them were skeptical going into it but really ended up enjoying it. So I was trying to pimp out some of the titles the PW article mentions. Especially Hunger Games.

I think people should keep in mind though that this isn't a "new" genre in YA, like the vamp craze it's something that's come back in vogue in the YA publishing world. Folks might want to check out older dystopian novels as well. Older books like The Giver and Ender's Game, Unwind, and Z for Zachariah.

The BookSmuggler's blog reviews a lot of dystopian novels both adult and YA, I've gotten a lot of great recommendations from them!

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