Have you ever wondered why most of us are afraid of the dark? Were you one of those kids who never looked under the bed at night? Maybe needed a light on until you were older? As children, we are naturally fearful of dark places, where unseen things go bump. Dark is everywhere, and there is so much of it.
Judging by the number of dystopian and apocalyptic movies hitting theaters, interest in the genre continues to hit new highs. I’ve been a fan of the genre for many years, starting with the incomparable H.G. Wells, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke. Stephen King’s, The Stand, is one of my top ten of all time. It got me to wondering what’s fueling this trend, especially with YA books. A quick search of articles that weighed in on the subject yielded a plethora of opinion and commentary, thanks in part to the movie, Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collin’s YA story. I thought I’d reference a few that caught my eye, and worth revisiting.
I always have an eye out for future trends, especially if we’re closing in on stuff I read about in science fiction when I was a kid. I’m a little disappointed we haven’t achieved interplanetary travel by the year 2001 like Stanley Kubrik promised in his adaptation of Clarke’s novel. Though we’re still stuck tossing expensive tin cans into orbit, we have a better record with modifying the food chain. Ever since Frederick Pole introduced the concept of cow-less beef in his fifties sci-fi novel, The Space Merchants, scientists have doggedly pursued the holy grail of future food … synthetic meat. I’m just glad they’re not investigating the Jetson’s dietary plan of everything in a pill.
When was the last time you reached a point in the day where the Sandman showed up prematurely from its vampire coffin and lulled you into closed-eyes of boredom? If you have kids, what parent doesn’t know the siren song, There’s nothing to do. Kids naturally come with the attention span of a gnat, so boredom is one of the hazards. For adults, tedium and its sidekick, bored, is the pheromone that attracts Sandmen to daylight hours. I’ve lost count how many times I considered stapling my eyes open in corporate meetings. As a writer, quaffing caffeinated beverages is the shield of choice, though a flimsy one if the story isn’t going so well. I knew something was wrong when I thought to myself, would anyone living in a dystopian world, ever be bored? Clearly a time to walk away from the word processor.
Imagine my surprise to discover there is a field of study dedicated to the science of boredom. Little is known how boredom affects the brain, but a few University Psychology Departments are floating theories it may be a failure in the neural pathways that control attention. I couldn’t help chuckling to myself. Has the research community been so bored with trying to find credible fields of study, they have decided to explore why they’re bored? Apparently, boredom is a fascinating field, which in itself seems an oxymoron.
Ever find yourself off the grid for a couple weeks, away from all forms of normal communication? Not the kind where you go hiking with expectations of returning later in the day or week. Even then, you probably had a cell phone with you.
I grew up in a time of rotary telephones that only needed five numbers to dial. Making calls in a remote hamlet of New Hampshire required operator assistance. It was the age of letters … you know, that form of communication that required penmanship, paper, and pen. Mail didn’t zip electronically through servers, real humans with the Postal Service walked neighborhoods to deliver it. GPS back then was called a compass. Get caught without access to a phone or two-way radio, and you could get really lost … signal fire or message-in-a-bottle lost.
Let’s face it, many of us go ape-shit when cell signal is lost, bang keyboards when the internet goes down. Adolescents enter that special cranky state when cable or satellite goes blank with, “no signal available,” and how does anyone make it through the day without texting?
It isn’t so much what would happen if it all went down, like the popular dystopian TV show, Revolution. It’s how you’d handle it. How would you feel?
A fellow author with Aponte Literary Agency, Debby Herbert, recently invited me to participate in a Goodreads Interview process with other writers. Not yet on the bookshelves, I was asked to offer a sneak peak at my latest project, a unique dystopian tale where humankind stands on the cliff of extinction.
Nothing got the adrenaline flowing as a kid than crawling around an old abandoned house or factory. The world is full of deserted sites, some of them comprising the ever-changing top ten lists of creepily beautiful places. To me, broken cities are often reminders of broken humanity. It is the stuff of dystopian tales and you don’t have to go far to see what it looks like.
My fascination of places where corners are defined by shadow, comes from an old Victorian house I grew up in as a child. Built around 1900, its three-story temple of dark wood, creaky stairs and a catacomb basement was a sanctuary for a loner kid who liked to feel his skin crawl. Adolescent years in rural Connecticut discovered dozens of abandoned homes to risk life and limb on rotted floors. It always fascinated me how these places could stand relatively unchanged for decades. I would not realize until later that it was just cheaper to leave it be.
Have you ever been accused by someone that you’re such a Neanderthal? You know, those brutish, grunting giants with lots of hair, that never got past spear wielding before homo-sapiens arrived on the scene, all smart-alecky with their developed frontal lobes. Now, a scientist wants to knock us back to the caveman days by cloning a Neanderthal with extracted DNA, and he’s actively on the hunt for a surrogate to help him out.
The media has had a field day lately with the possibility that Twinkies will go by way of the passenger pigeon. For those of you who are praying for a miracle, you can take comfort in the likelihood that a white knight will ride in to save the cakes from extinction, even though the cakes themselves, will remain edible until the actual apocalypse. In my latest dystopian story, I toy with the concept of a time when over 95% of the world’s population is killed off in two years. I won’t get into the challenges survivors face with cleanup activities, but it sparked a question as to what happens to all the manufactured foodstuffs in a supply chain for 300 million?
On my short list of authors that I must read, if for no other reason than it is writing at its finest, is Barbara Kingsolver. Her novels are the kind that has me set the book down on occasion to catch my breath and sigh. Her newest offering, Flight Behavior, surprised me with a subtle apocalyptic theme, based on a potential calamity from environmental change. A twofer, my favorite author and my favorite genre.
In a recent book review of Flight Behavior, by Kevin Nance of the Tribune Newspapers, he has mostly praise for the book, but had some interesting observations about dystopian genres.
“The impending apocalypse is an almost comfortable cliché of sci-fi and fantasy fiction. The possibility of a dire future for the planet is so routinely entertained — and usually averted, through sometimes not — that it’s almost ho-hum. The unthinkable has been endlessly thought and re-thought, albeit in generally farfetched contexts, to a point at which we can barely bestir ourselves to care.”
Mr. Nance continues in his favorable review by giving Kingsolver high marks for not being … cliché. I sort of feel today’s overabundance of zombie and vampire themes have become cliché, but dystopia? Please.