Wednesday 18 August 2010

Reading 101: Dystopian Fiction by I Was a Teenage Book Geek

There are so many books I have read and loved since I began I Want To Read That that I never would have even picked up before I began blogging. Instead of asking people for individual recommendations for similar themed books I decided to invite a guest to do a post for me on a particular genre or type of book. Hence Reading 101 was born.

So I will pass you over to Lauren from I Was A Teenage Book Geek...

When Sammee asked me to write a guest post on dystopian fiction for her Reading 101 feature, I figured it would be easy.

After all, dystopia is my favourite. When I’m in need of some serious escapism, I like nothing better than picking up a book that will take me out of my safe, somewhat dull early-21st century existence and into a world that’s... well, EVEN worse than this one.

Now, considering that I love dystopian fiction so much, you’d think that I could knock together a snappy definition that would tell you exactly what the genre is. You would, right?

Well, you would be wrong. Turns out, this genre is way more slippery than I realised all those times I was escaping into it. (Or I’m just not that smart. Whichever.)

But luckily, in my experience, you’ll know a dystopia when you see one. And it’ll go something like this....

1) It’s the future. Or maybe it isn’t. (But usually, it is.)
2) Assuming it is the future, something has happened between now and then to make this far-off world different to the one we know. Think nuclear holocaust, environmental disaster, economic crisis or major political changes. Whatever: it’s different. But the focus won’t usually be on the change that’s taken place: it’ll be on the society that has evolved as a result of it. Usually.
3) At first glance, this vision of the future may well look like the perfect society. The citizens may live a life free of disease or poverty. They may all be beautiful. But scratch the surface, and you mark my words, there’ll be something sinister going on underneath. Of course, sometimes it may be completely obvious that this new world is a sinister one. (Like, if the government are demanding that teenagers fight each other to the death for sport: that’s pretty much frowned upon in most utopian societies.)
4) That main character you meet, going about their (probably) futuristic business? They will be kick-a**. Although not necessarily physically. They may be mentally kick-a**, instead. Or emotionally. That’s just as good.
5) Because that sinister thing going on beneath the surface? It’s control. And it’s terrifying. And our heroine (or possibly hero) will need every ounce of their kick-a**ness to escape its clutches.
6) Prepare for AWESOME.

Feel like escaping into some dystopian goodness yourself? Check out these genre favourites from my bookshelf:

The Hunger Games trilogy – Suzanne Collins
It’s the future. America is now Panem: twelve districts subject to the Capitol’s oppressive rule. We don’t know exactly how things got this way, but what we do know is the districts attempted to stage an uprising and failed. The annual Hunger Games are their cruel and unusual punishment. Each year, the Capitol randomly selects one boy and one girl from each district, puts all twenty-four in a huge arena with assorted weapons, and commands them to fight to the death in a televised battle. Only one can survive.

The Hunger Games is probably my favourite YA book ever, and definitely my favourite dystopia. It has everything you could want in a book of this genre: amazing world-building, nail-biting action, and the most kick-ass teenage heroine OF ALL TIME in Katniss Everdeen. There’s also a love triangle, but it’s a love triangle of the non-lame variety. I promise. And the best news? It’s a trilogy. See also: Catching Fire. And soon: Mockingjay.

The Declaration – Gemma Malley
It’s the future, and we’re in England. Yay! In an over-populated world, miracle drug Longevity makes it possible for human beings to live indefinitely – but only if they sign a declaration stating that they won’t have children. Anna is a Surplus: an illegal child raised by the state, told that she’s a burden to Legal society and must work as a servant to atone for her existence. While Anna’s always accepted her fate, when she meets Surplus Peter she finds that maybe some things are worth fighting for after all.

The first in a trilogy, The Declaration is one of those dystopian novels that really makes you think about the way our society is headed and how we treat people. Its strength is in its ideas, and the sequel – The Resistance – is even better.

Restoring Harmony – Joelle Anthony
It’s the future. 2041, to be precise. On an island in British Columbia, Molly has grown up far away from the problems big cities have faced since the Collapse of '31: corruption, crime, shortages of essential supplies. But when Molly's mother becomes worried about her father down in Oregon, she asks Molly to venture out into post-collapse America to rescue him. Hint: in a dangerous world like this one, that’s not going to be easy.

While it’s common for dystopias to initially look like the perfect society, Restoring Harmony gives us something a little different: a future vision of the world that in many ways seems terrible, but might wind up not being that bad after all. It’s an uplifting dystopia. It has heart. It has a beautiful romance. And the kind of protagonist that kicks a** with a violin.

Genesis – Bernard Beckett
It’s the future. Of course it is! The world as we know it is over, but The Republic survives on a small group of islands called Aotearoa. Fourteen year old Anaximander is undertaking her entrance exam to The Academy. Her specialist subject is a man named Adam Forde, who once changed the course of The Republic’s history forever. It takes us a while to find out how exactly, or what this means to Anax, but when we do it’ll BLOW YOUR MIND.

Genesis rocks because it reads like it was written in the future. It’s a little alien at first, and very hard to summarise without giving its secrets away. Which I would NEVER do, because I want you to read and love this book for yourself. If the prospect of reading an entire book about an academic entrance interview doesn’t fill you with excitement, then this should be one of those occasions when you ignore your gut instincts and just read it anyway. You won’t regret it.

Feed – M.T. Anderson
It’s the future. Duh. In a world where teens have the internet ‘fed’ right into their brains, creativity and independent thought has been exchanged for school™ and obsessive consumerism. As a result, Titus and his friends are jaded, shallow and in some ways stupid. But on a recreational trip to the Moon, Titus’s view of the world is challenged when he meets Violet, the daughter of an academic, and their group suffers a viral attack on their feeds.

Narrated in exactly the way you’d expect a boy like Titus to tell his story, at first Feed doesn’t feel like the deepest book you’ve ever read. At times, I’ll be honest, Titus is downright annoying. But when the story takes a tragic turn, the superficial tone to his voice makes what happens all the more poignant. Though it will seem impossible at the start, there’s a strong chance you will cry reading this book.

Go. Read dystopia. Enjoy.


Thanks Lauren! They all sound fabulous! I now really want a copy of Restoring Harmony - it sounds ace!


So Many Books, So Little Time said...

Ooh, fantastic post and picks, Lauren. I really want to read Restoring Harmony and The Declaration now!

Vicki said...

I LOVE this post! I have to admit, I'm pretty new to dystopia really. At one time I'd have thought if it wasn't chick lit-y or emotional realism, even historical... then I wouldn't have liked it. Wrong! I Love what I've read so far and crave it now! I'm glad you picked out The Hunger Games and The Declaration, because these are two series I'm going to read in the next couple of weeks and I'm so excited. Great post Lauren and thanks both!

Tasha said...

I love dystopia! Surprisingly though of the one's featured here I've only read Restoring Harmony. The Hunger Games Trilogy is very high on my tbr list though and I've now added the others lol.

Great post!

Tales of Whimsy said...

I <3 dystopian :)
I ADORE Hunger Games.
I really liked Genesis.
I neeeed to read Restoring Harmony :)

prophecygirl said...

Fab post ladies. Yay for dystopia!

And Lauren - spot on for what you said about The Declaration and Genesis. I love both of those books a lot! (And THG, obvs :) )


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