Wednesday 11 May 2016

A Haven from Dystopia

Lots of people were worrying about the end of the world when I was a teenager. It was the middle of the Cold War. Who knew what small incident would grow into the crisis that would make one or other side press the button that would be the beginning of the end? The imminent end of the world didn’t worry me though. I didn’t take an awful lot of notice of current events. What kept me awake at night was worrying about the end of the universe. Once I’d decided that the God above us version of reality was nothing but a fairy tale, I was left with nothing but the scientific version, which appeared to be telling me that all human existence was nothing but a chance blip in the life of the universe and that in time humanity would be wiped out leaving nothing to mark its passing, and, beyond that, the universe would cease to exist. This meant that I was not simply an insignificant minor who might or might not make a mark in the world, but that my existence was a matter of total indifference to anything ever.

Nothing has changed. I still don’t believe in God and as far as I can see the scientific version of our future is likely to come to pass. It’s even possible that someone may press that button and hurry things up a bit. Glaringly dreadful as these facts are, you learn to turn away from them, to push them back behind the everyday business of living your life.

It seems to me that many teenagers feel as I did: a horror at their own insignificance in the greater scheme of things. They’re just starting to shake off the arrogance of childhood and the future is an uncertain place. So it’s obvious that they should turn to books about dystopias. Such books present futures or other worlds where the heroes have tangible struggles, definite foes, real battles. They’re fighting for survival against discrimination or authoritarian rule or a dying world. But no matter how impossible the task that faces these characters seems, they have the power to overcome it. And what is more, in almost every book, there is a haven that the characters will come to at the end, where all will be made right, where they will be understood. What better metaphor for the fears and hopes of teenagers?

10 Fabulous Dystopias

 The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid, a servant whose function is a bear a child for her Commander and his infertile wife. She remembers life before the authoritarian, patriarchal, religious present but can see no way to escape.

The Death of Grass by John Christopher
Ecological disaster leads to worldwide famine.

The Hunger Games sequence by Suzanne Collins
I don’t really need to say anything about these, do I?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
A man and his son travel through a landscape devoid of plant and animal life, searching for food and shelter and hiding from other people who would kill and eat them.

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien
A girl believes she may be the only person left alive in the world until a stranger arrives.

1984 by George Orwell
The ultimate authoritarian dystopia, but be warned – no happy ending here!

Mortal Engines sequence by Philip Reeve
The world operates on principles of ‘municipal Darwinism’ by which cities travelling on tracks attack and destroy each other.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
When World War 3 breaks out, anorexic American Daisy and her English cousins learn to survive and adapt.

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
In a world where being different can lead to being cast out or killed, a group of teenagers keep a terrible secret.

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
A struggle to survive and rebuild after disaster strikes the world

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