‘So what’s the big news in young adult fiction? Fallen angels? Zombies? Demigods?’ I asked.
‘Oh no, they think the fashion for paranormal romance is passing; it’s all dystopia now.’
I have to admit my heart plummeted. Just what we all need in grim economic conditions with youth unemployment at record levels: a generation raised on gloom. I suppose you could argue that reading The Hunger Games makes you realize it isn’t all so bad; you may have to queue at the Job Centre when you leave school but at least you don’t have to slaughter the people around you to stand a chance of surviving. Yet I find myself shying away from a diet of brutality and depressing post-apocalyptic societies. What’s happened to hope for humanity?
My editor’s observation did lead me to think about the history of dystopia in literature. The expression of the theme that came to mind first was a childhood memory of watching the film of Logan’s Run which was based on a novel of 1967 by Nolan and Johnson. That society solved the problem of rationed resources by killing people at the age of 21 (the film raises the age to 30). You can see why it stuck in my mind as a teenager – it made you feel like one of the ten pence pieces in a coin waterfall safely out of the drop zone but knowing every push of the year would take you nearer the edge....
The roots of dystopia in literature go much further back – Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Erewhon, some of the societies in Gulliver’s Travels – I’m sure we could think of many more. If the Twilight/paranormal romance phase was a flourish from that old literary tradition of the gothic; young adult fiction look set to relive another in the return to dystopia. Perhaps it is a necessary medicine. Dystopia is usually intended as a powerful critique of our contemporary society and is often written to warn us of where we might be heading. My problem is that I just don’t like it. I’ll read it but I don’t enjoy it.
|Heading to Alcatraz -|
Image of the future for generation Z?
There is also something in the argument that there is a danger of society at large entering a gloom spiral if it gets too negative about its prospects. It may be that the only way out of our economic bind is a good dose of optimism. I was impressed by the comments on the recession by the entrepreneur, Sir David Tang, made a few years ago, particularly because he has been proved right over the interim. ‘Pessimism has an uncanny knack of being self-fulfilling.’ He goes on to say: ‘It is only with a sense of optimism, preferably accompanied by a sense of energy and laughter, that we will be able to pick ourselves up from a broken Humpty Dumpty.’
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting dystopian literature had anything for which it should apologize. It has brought us some incredible storytelling and the occasional masterpiece. But with the way that bookselling seems to lurch heavily in one direction once it senses a trend, I just hope that space will also be given over the next few years in Young Adult fiction to voices offering a more optimistic view of human life. I think they might be needed if poor old Humpty is to stand a chance.
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