Dystopian fiction – along with a good dose of feminism

CoverI read The Handmaid’s Tale a long time ago, but could only stomach the first season on the box.  Maybe it feels a bit more real or even possible, or perhaps the dramatisation was all a bit much, but I just couldn’t cope with more terror or the gruesome relentless treatment of the women.

Dystopian fiction has always had a following, the stories are gripping and usually paint a vivid picture of a life in the margins. The Handmaid’s tale has been the most well-known book with a feminist perspective, but P.D. James wrote a book called The Children of Men in 1992 which was about a world with plummeting birthrates –  no children and no future, and The Parable of the Sower was written by Octavia Butler in 1993 and set in 2025 when communities have to protect themselves from marauding scavengers and roaming bands of ‘Paints’, people addicted to a drug that activates an orgasmic desire to burn, rape and murder.

In recent years a good deal more titles have been published and range from women coping with climate change, war, isolation and issues around fertility. A bit of a “trend” perhaps, but one that more and more seems to have the fiction set in reality.

Read more: The remarkable rise of the feminist dystopia The Atlantic Weekly

Check out my BiblioCommons list of Dystopian feminist fiction.

9780571342211  9780446675505  9780440000785  9780316434812  9781472241702  9780451493583  9781472153364  9781911215950


Reading Delirium: Is love a disease that must be cured?

booksA while ago, I asked around to find out what people were reading post-quake. A colleague mentioned she was really enjoying Delirium by Lauren Oliver – a dystopian novel set in an America that believes love is a disease that must be cured.

I was sold. It sounded really interesting and different, so I promptly got my hands on a copy.  Since February 22, I’m using the library more than I ever did before. I frequently put my “to do” lists aside so I can escape into other worlds. Delirium has satisfied this need perfectly. Although targeted towards young adult readers, enjoyment of this novel is certainly not confined to that one age group. Lauren Oliver writes with maturity about a complex topic. After one chapter, I was hooked.

The moral of this post? If you want to find a good book to read, it always pays to ask around. Ask your family, friends, neighbours, and work mates. Ask a librarian. We can give you some great suggestions to add to your reading list. Just tell us what authors you like, titles you’ve loved, and subjects you enjoy reading about. After all, we love books (and DVDs … and CDs … and magazines). And we love helping people even more!

Have you read something fantastic lately that you think more people should get into?

Futuristic dystopian girls on islands …

Cover of Ebony HillIn the world of NZ young adult fiction, there seems to be a bit of a common theme – future dystopias involving girls trapped (and escaping) from islands.

This year’s New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards’ young adult finalists include two such titles: Ebony Hill and Fierce September.

Both these books are sequels – because I hadn’t read The Sea-Wreak Stranger, I tried it first before reading Ebony Hill – back to back on a rainy Sunday. They are those kind of books – the ones that you can’t put down and merely grunt at your partner when he presents you with a cup of tea.

cover of Fierce SeptemberFierce September the sequel to Juno of Taris – a finalist in the 2009 awards. I read it a while back and is another great book. I will find it hard to choose between it and Ebony Hill.

Both books are set in a near future where (mis)use of technology has caused planetary-wide devastation and the feisty non-conforming heroines escape from a small island run by corrupt rulers.  In both books they find an outside world also suffering from problems and corruption.

Last year The Crossing (where a feisty young heroine in near-future dystopia escapes from a Pacific island) won the award. The sequel, Into The Wilderness, has not been nominated, but the finale – Resurrection is already in the library. This is a far darker trilogy – the horrors of the island are more extreme – but in my opinion an even better read than this year’s nominees.

So far I am going to be at a loss to make a choice, but there are three more nominated titles to read:

The awards ceremony is on the 18 May and children can vote for their own favourite, the Children’s Choice Award.

P.S. Another book with this theme – Exodus – is not a NZ title but possibly my favourite of all.

Rain, Cabin fever and survivalist tendencies

The road book coverIsn’t it great to see the sun again, my visions of flood, fire and pestilence are retreating with the clouds parting and the rain abating. The news is no longer full of flooding, the river Avon is once more within its banks and the family have had their flu pandemic shots. Equilibrium restored, no longer do I need to resist the temptation to race to the supermarket and stock up the larder with tins of soup and baked beans.

In our modern cities and towns we still have the primal urge to stock pile wood and food for the winter. Our basic urge to survive helps to explain why television programmes and wilderness survival books like those featuring Bear Grylls have a huge following. Survivalist scenarios change from decade to decade; the threat of world war, the nuclear bomb, pollution and today the threat of peak oil production and global warming. I turn on the news or pick up a magazine to threat of volcanic ash disrupting air travel, speculation over why the Mayan calendar finishes in 2012, Flash Forward’s latest episode points to the end of the world 2015 and our most popular film Avatar is about big business exploiting a planet. Then of course The Road paints a bleak picture of humanity’s future If you haven’t seen the film, read the book.

Perversely I find there is nothing better for making you feel safe and secure in your own “log cabin” than curling up on the couch this winter with a tale exploring futuristic views of post-apocalyptic earth. Your favourite hero struggles to deal with environmental disaster and a regressed civilization, as I pretend those few bottles of sauce and jars of bottled fruit I made mark me a true survivor able to fend for myself. If post-apocalyptic visions aren’t your thing try tales based on prehistoric civilizations where tales of food collecting, trapping and other survival tales abound or try a true tale of human endurance and outdoor life.

  • Cormac McCarthy’s The Road The novel paints a bleak vision of a post-apocalyptic America; a land where no hope remains. A man and his son walk alone towards the coast, and this is the moving story of their journey. The Road is an unflinching exploration of human behaviour from ultimate destructiveness to extreme tenderness.
  • Jim Crace’s The Pest house America, as we know it, has fragmented. Its machines have stopped, its communities have splintered, its history is forgotten, and the migration has started. This novel presents the story of an America adapting to a ‘medieval future’ without technology, science and social cohesion, and how two people find strength in one another against all odds.

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What do you like to read in the wee hours as the winter storm swirls and you are safe in bed???

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