I am a sucker for just about anything dealing with a dystopian vision of the future. That fascination is exactly why zombies, particularly the Romero-inspired planetary epidemic version, hold so much appeal for me. I am always on the lookout for intelligent, entertaining, and thoughtful explorations into a darker view of what is to come. So when I read a glowing review of World War Z (a fictional account of a global zombie war), I immediately requested a copy from the library.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I can be a little
obsessive focused when something captures my attention. So I guess it shouldn’t be at all surprising that World War Z took my summer reading in a decidedly dystopian direction.
After World War Z, I moved on to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which was utterly captivating and beautifully written. I tore through it, and when I finished it this weekend, I realized I hadn’t really settled on what to read next. Honestly, I thought the next book in the Twilight series would have been in at the library by now, but no such luck. So, I halfheartedly picked up The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, but I was only a few pages into it before I had to admit that I was really not feeling done with the dystopian theme. So, I walked over to the bookshelf and picked up Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, who is one of my personal heroes and the author of my favorite dystopian novel of all time–The Handmaid’s Tale. Looks like I will continue down this path for at least a little while longer.
Given this particular obsession, I started thinking about why it is I connect so strongly with these types of stories, and a few things emerged.
One, I am interested in survival. Or, more accurately, what people think is the key to survival in a desolate and dangerous world. From story to story, why does one person make it and not another? Is it luck? Intelligence? Fate?
Second, I am fascinated by the treatment of what I loosely define as hope, although it could just as easily be labeled motive power. In other words, what I am looking for in these books (or movies or television shows) is what keeps the hero/heroine going. What belief drives their survival? How do they maintain their sanity? What are they moving towards? Survival for the sake of survival is always the initial response, but what happens beyond that? When things seem hopeless, why do they keep trying? And in the absence of hope, what is there? Duty? Honor? Habit?
Third, I am interested in the questions that are asked about the devolution of society and the answers that are given to explain what has gone so horribly wrong. All you have to do is turn on the television, listen to the news, or open up your internet browser to see that we are heading toward what seems like a very dystopian future. The type of pessimistic speculation that goes on in literature (and film and other media) is an ideal playground for exploring the problems inherent in our modern lives. The types of questions asked and the answers that are given can help us make sense of what is going on right now and perhaps even impact how we approach the future.
There are other things as well (themes of loss, loneliness, trauma, rage, destruction, greed), but I’m just getting started with my dystopian summer. As I mentioned, I’ve already read World War Z and The Road (reviews to follow in later posts). I’m starting on Oryx and Crake. I’ll probably take another read through The Handmaid’s Tale. Anybody else have any favorite dystopian novels they would recommend adding to the list?