Dystopian and apocalyptic stories are often set in bleak places. James Dashner’s Maze Runner series, or Frank Herbert’s legendary Dune series, are great examples. We don’t have to go far to find models. Our planet’s diverse topography has no shortage of places that qualify as bleak. South Pole comes to mind, or the mountainous wasteland bordering Afghanistan. My pick for the perfect post apocalyptic setting … Death Valley … 3000 square miles of extreme nothingness. It holds the record for highest reliably recorded temperature, 134 degrees F. Hard to imagine it used be part of an inland sea during the Pleistocene age.
We recently took a daytrip to Amish country near Lancaster, PA. It’s a great time of year to observe a friendly, humble people who resist the temptations of a modern life. They bear it well, but living in a fishbowl where the English “observe them” as anomalies of society, has to be somewhat nerve wracking. Shunning electricity and other modern conveniences, the Amish have carved a unique niche in a country gone amok with technological advances. When I think of the possibility for catastrophic loss of today’s modern life, one has to wonder if the Amish simplicity will survive.
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.
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.
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.
An author friend, Hope Ramsey, asked an interesting question last week on her blog post: What Happened to My Modern World. She wanted to know if the younger generation’s interest in dark, scary, post-apocalyptic fiction was a rebellion against us Baby Boomers who have over-consumed our way into climate change. Well … given my writer’s interest in the genre, I felt compelled to put some thought into it.
I stumbled across an interesting blog article from last year’s Thanksgiving. Titled Thankful for the Right to Read: Dystopian Novels about Censorship. It was posted by Emily Kickinson, who is associated with the Daniel Boone Regional Library in Missouri. Given my interest in all things dystopia, Emily talks about the classic stories by Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and mention of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. Censorship is the key theme of these classics. It is a noble premise in our current world where censorship has smeared the literary arts for centuries, and worth reposting.