Dystopia is all the rage in Young Adult fiction these days. I suspect that literary agencies and publishers are swimming in the stuff. Hell, even I wrote one. (Though it’s more post-apocalyptic than it is dystopia and I’d been planning on writing one since … like forever. Seriously, read on…)
Is this just publishers trying to cash in on a trend after some authors hit it big or is there more to it than that? I think that in order to answer the question we have to try and look at the world through the eyes of your average run of the mill teenager and I can’t do that because I’m what the average run of the mill teenager would classify as old. But I do remember what I was reading when I was a teen (which was, like, more than thirty years ago). Stephen King’s THE STAND. It is and will always remain the GOLD standard when it comes to post apocalyptic fiction. I read it when I was in grade ten so that’s like 1982 or something. I’ve read it numerous times since and it’s the book that inspired me to write THE NORTH. (Which my agent and her assistant are reading at the time of this blog posting.)
So. Want to know something? A lot of teens back in 1982 were reading King’s novel. As a matter of fact, I do recall a friend giving me his copy and telling me, “read this book. It’s wicked.” (We said “wicked” in 1982 instead of “awesome”.) And it was. That led me to WAR DAY by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka (which I’m sure is the template for Max Brooks’ brilliant World War Z though I can’t prove it) Nature’s End by the aforementioned pair of authors and finally Swan Song by Robert R, McCammon.
In short, the only thing that has changed is that Young Adult is an actual market now whereas it didn’t exist per se in 1982 – that’s why we were reading King and everybody else that our parents frowned on. Why did we read it? I dunno … probably because it was “wicked” and, you know, being a teen sucks nineteen times out of twenty. It was worst case scenario escapism and I think that there was even an element of end of the worldishness back in 1982. Sure, we didn’t have planes crashing into buildings, student massacres or Al Qaeda and homegrown terrorism, but we sure as hell had the Cold War, If You Love This Planet, and The Day After. We had Jonestown and war in the middle east and an immediate family member who actually fought in a world war … this AFTER having lived through ten lost years of the great depression.
I guess I’m arguing that an element of dystopia has been clinging to the fabric of our lives for as long as I can remember and it might be due to this that teens are attracted to the topic. At least now they have their own identifiable genre and this can only be a good thing because end of the world fiction when written very well is thought provoking, terrifying, hopeless, bleak … you name it. When it’s not written well, then it’s just like every other poorly written book – it doesn’t matter if it’s romance or horror or even really bad literary fiction.
What do you think? Is end of the world/post end of the world fiction a fad or a genuine genre that’s been around for decades. Me? I think it’s been here for a while and will continue as long as there are original takes on it.