One of the hottest trends right now is dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction. I was reminded of this recently when author friend John Otte reviewed Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, a collection of dystopian short stories by such authors as Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, and George R. R. Martin.
Young adult fiction is teeming with dystopian novels. At the crest of the mountain are books like Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron series, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, M. T. Anderson’s Feed, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and most recently, Veronica Roth’s Divergent.
Interestingly, there are also a few Christian novels — for adults, however — that fall into this category: Sigmund Brouwer’s Broken Angel and Flight of Shadows, David Gregory’s The Last Christian, The Mayan Apocalypse by Alton Gansky and Mark Hitchcock, and Bryan Litfin’s Chiveis Trilogy.
The fact that there are Christian novels on-trend is news in itself, I suppose, but I’m more interested in why the culture has taken to this bent toward the downward spiral that might lead to The End.
In some ways, I think an argument could be made that the Left Behind books (Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye) opened the door. Certainly the popularity of those books across religious lines was a clue that the time was ripe for authors to explore the dystopian results of current directions, whether political, technological, social, or religious.
Why this genre has taken hold with young adults is perhaps a different question. In “Fresh Hell: What’s behind the boom in dystopian fiction for young readers?” (The New Yorker, 2010) Laura Miller posits that there’s a different raison d’être. The adult books explore the logical conclusion of the way things are going. The youth novels, however, deal with the now.
It’s not about persuading the reader to stop something terrible from happening—it’s about what’s happening, right this minute, in the stormy psyche of the adolescent reader.
Later, Ms Miller says
The typical arc of the dystopian narrative mirrors the course of adolescent disaffection.
Joseph John Adams (Tor.com) compiled the thoughts of an array of authors in an interesting article (“Dystopian Round Table: The Appeal of Dystopian Fiction“) addressing the reasons why darkly futuristic novels are popular.
Some of the writers who expressed an opinion on the subject said dystopian stories serve as a mirror for us to look at what our world, our society, is and where it is headed. Others said the genre looks at our fears and offers a caution. Joseph Paul Haines said, “I write dystopian fiction to find the balance between my hopes and fears.”
Another author believes the genre is popular because it is cathartic — offering an experience without subjecting us to the horror of actually living it.
Several other authors mentioned the look within which dystopian fiction affords. The good versus evil struggle is inside each person.
One writer mentioned man’s propensity to love tragedy. The idea of reading about people who are worse off is the appeal, with the added bonus that many of the dystopians end with a note of hope.
Some believe the appeal is in the individual-versus-the-system theme that runs through so many.
I have to say, I’ve wondered why this intrigue with a dark future. I’m wondering if this trend might reflect the natural way people see the world when God is not in the picture. But why Christian dystopians, then? Perhaps for the same reason. Through story, the effect of the absence of God or of the Bible on society is clearer and the desires of Man’s heart are laid bare.
What are your ideas? Do you think the “anti-God” trend in western culture has helped create this thirst for dystopian fiction, and if so, in what way?
And by the way, what are your favorite dystopian novels?