Let’s think about the future

The winners of the Hugo Awards will be announced next month and with the Nebula Award winners having been announced in May (two of the biggest awards in science fiction), let’s take this moment in between to think about the future in literature and what it actually means to write and think about the future.

When we think about fiction and the future, there are two sub-genres that immediately spring to mind: dystopian and utopian. Most people will be familiar with dystopia; arguably the most popular form of science-fiction that there is. From Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, The Walking Dead, or the classics of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, and Logan’s Run, the idea of dystopia appear to be firmly entrenched in Western cultures’ collective imaginary. We all have different ideas of what a dystopia might look like, but put simply, it is an imagining of an unpleasant future that could occur through an apocalyptic event, the rise of widespread tyranny, or simply the break down of civil society.

The counterpoint to this bleak storytelling of a world gone to the dogs is utopian fiction. Many people will, as with dystopia, have different ideas of what utopia looks like. So, in this instance I am going to use the pragmatic definition of utopia put forward by Hugo and Nebula award winning author Kim Stanley Robinson: utopia is imagining the best possible outcome given where we are now. What I like about this understanding of utopia is that it doesn’t mystify utopia into religious sentimentality but places it firmly into the realm of possibility.

Cover of New York 2140Take Robinison’s novel New York 2140 (that has been nominated for the 2018 Hugo Award for best novel) for example. Here we experience a New York that as endeavoured to survive and re-create itself in the wake of catastrophic climate change as the innovation of adaptability of humanity leads to a future despite of the crisis it found itself in. Robinson’s Nebula award winning novel 2312 also highlights the redeemable aspects of humankind as they work together to try alleviate humanity’s suffering and begin to recreate Earth into something resembling its former self.

Utopian fiction is not about the absence of conflict – no one would want to read or watch a story with no conflict – but the conflict is about the actions taken to prevent the fall into dystopia. Isaac Asimov‘s Foundation series is a fantastic example of such utopian thinking as the protagonists work to prevent a galaxy wide collapse into unprecedented galactic barbarism. Here, the utopian thinking is about creating a future for humankind that is free of insecurity and suffering.

Other examples of utopian fiction include Ursula Le Guin‘s The Dispossesed and Arthur C. Clarke‘s Childhood’s End.

So take a moment, and read about the future. Not the future in which everything is awful and the only thing humanity can hope for is survival, but a future in which humanity has a chance to thrive and flourish as it overcomes all the obstacles that could limit it from having a meaningful future existence.

And you might want to try the best novel finalists for this year’s Hugo Awards and the winners of this year’s Nebula Awards.

A fiction lover’s mid-year review

2018 is screaming past at quite a rate and I have had the pleasure of filling this time with some quality reading!

I’ve made a list of the novels that I have enjoyed so far in 2018 and made comments on each so you can better decide whether they might be for you – my guess is that they’re so good you’ll want to read all of them!

There’s a decent representation of my favourite authors here too – the universe smiled upon us this year for new books from amazing authors. I was particularly excited to get a hold of First Person, the latest from the great Tasmanian Richard Flanagan. He’s a Booker Prize winner for his 2013 novel Narrow Road to the Deep North, and could go again with First Person, it’s very VERY good!

And another great Australian author Tim Winton; I was eagerly awaiting the chance to read The Shepherd’s Hut, another triumph for the doyen of Australian literary fiction.

And then there was The Free by Willy Vlautin. His economy and direct use of language, and his ability to accurately depict the struggles of everyday rural and poor America makes him one of the most exciting American authors working today, in my humble opinion, and he’s producing consistently outstanding work.

And most recently I’ve finally gotten my hands on Macbeth by Jo Nesbo! Hogarth Shakespeare have really nailed it by engaging Nesbo to do Macbeth and it’s definitely one of my highlights for the year – that and Flanagan’s First Person will be hard to top!

I’ve also included some modern sci-fi, some new Scandi-Noir, some historical fiction from NZ, and a classic from Kurt Vonnegut – and I’ll let you read about them yourself 🙂 (Please note that a number of these titles are also available in eBook or eAudiobook formats, so you’ve got plenty of options!)

2018 – The Best of Fiction…. so far!

List created by DevilStateDan

The highlights of my explorations through the fiction collection of Christchurch City Libraries for the first half of 2018. Some titles are new, some have been out for decades, all of them are great!

Cover of First person by Richard FlanaganFirst Person – A struggling writer gets an opportunity to ghost-write the memoir of a notorious con man in 1990s Australia but the road is a slippery one and lines become blurred as our man becomes ever deeper involved.

This is arguably Richard Flanagan’s greatest work to date, and he’s definitely entrenched himself at the top of the heap of contemporary authors.

Cover of Macbeth by Jo NesboMacbeth – This is obviously a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and what a brilliant treatment and with Jo Nesbo as an inspired choice for author. It’s so obvious to me now that Macbeth was MADE for the Scandi-Noir genre treatment. It’s gritty, dark, violent. Full of power, betrayal, and characters walking the fine line between sanity and madness. For this story Macbeth is head of SWAT in a dangerous and corrupt town and together with his mistress, Lady, the rags-to-riches casino entrepreneur, they embark on a powerplay to seize control of the city. But Macbeth has a sketchy past full of drug abuse and violence and as he relapses things get out of control, people get killed, lines get blurred…

Cover of The shepherd's hut by Tim WintonThe Shepherd’s Hut – The doyen of Australian literary fiction has done it again with this book. It’s the very real account of a young man forced by circumstance to take to the roads and outback of rural Western Australia. Such brilliant descriptive writing will have you smelling the eucalypt in the air, and hearing the crispy arid saltlands crunching underfoot. Jaxie is running and he’s got a vague destination in mind – north. And he’s got to survive the perils of rural Australia, criminals, and the very land that seems to want to kill him from heat, thirst or animal attack. An outstanding book from a great Australian author and written in vernacular language too!

Cover of Machine learning by Hugh Howey

Machine Learning – A set of short sci-fi stories from the author of the super popular ‘Silo’ Series. Hugh Howey is one of the best contemporary science fiction authors working today and these stories are thought provoking, dark, ominous, and challenging. He features some stories from the world of ‘Silo’ as well as stories of AI, Aliens, Virtual Worlds, and some Fantasy too. Beaut writer, beaut stories!

Cover The free by Willy VlautinThe Free – Another winner from one of my favourite authors writing today. It’s a snapshot of everyday life in middle America amongst a group of individuals all experiencing life differently. The solo man keeping two jobs to stay afloat, the nurse who has seen too much and has a strained relationship with her mentally ill father, and there’s Leroy, an injured soldier who drifts between consciousness and another place. The characters all struggle in their way to navigate life and retain their dignity and sense of self, and the authors minimalist writing style is stark and very effective at conveying they way in which real people communicate with each other. If you like the human experience warts-and-all then give this a go!

Cover of The melody by Jim CraceThe Melody – This story centres around an ageing singer/performer who was once a celebrated entertainer commanding full houses of societys elite. Nowadays he shuffles around suffering from the recent death of his loving wife, but then thing take a sinister turn when he’s attacked in his own home by a creature of unknown origin. His world is challenged as he negotiates his way around the incident and who he once was, who he is now, and what his future holds. Supremely well written with great use of language.

Medusa – An outstanding addition to the world of Scandi-Noir and one of the best I’ve read. Solid character building, quick paced action, and interwoven plot of suspicion and intrigue, and a series of grisly crimes in rural Norway – everything you could want in a crime novel! Medusa

Cover of One way by Simon MordenOne Way – What do you do when you want to colonise another planet, say Mars for instance?!? Well you could take a leaf from the book of British colonialism and send convicts to do the hard yards before the rich and elite arrive – and that’s just what America has done in this new sci-fi adventure. A small team of “dangerous” felons are recruited to build the first habitation on the red planet, what could go wrong…? A murder perhaps, and with nowhere to run it’s a spacey-whodunnit! Good writing and full of wit, if you like ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir or his follow up ‘Artemis’ then you’ll get a kick out of ‘One Way’!

Cover of Only killers and thieves by Paul HowarthOnly Killers and Thieves – A great debut from a new author that really captures the Australian Gothic story. It’s the story of two young men, not boys but barely men, after a traumatic family event that sees them on a journey not of their choosing. The book describes the brutality of life in colonial Australia, the treatment of the indigenous population, and the rigourous adherence to the ‘old ways’ in this vastly alien and seemingly lawless world. If you like your reading to be vivid, violent, confronting, and troublesome then you’ll sure like this one!

Cover of The sons by Anton SvenssonThe Sons – On its initial appearance it seems like another addition to the massive genre of Scandinavian crime novels, but it’s much more and can stand alone as a piece of literary fiction deserving of high praise. Three young men have just served sentences for aggravated armed robbery. They are brothers, raised by the petty criminal and domestic abuser father that they committed their last crime with. On the final sons release we follow what happens next as they try to recreate some kind of normality – whatever “normality” means for each of them though is very different. Starting out I was worried that because I didn’t really like any the characters my attention may sway, but that fear allayed pretty early on by the authors great descriptive writing which bares all to scene of a family torn apart by the criminal inclinations of a small representation of their larger sum. This is part 2 in the ‘Made in Sweden’ series, the first book being ‘The Father’. Can’t wait for the next one!

For more view the full list

^DevilStateDan

Perfect or flawed? Cecelia Ahern’s dystopian sequel

Ever since she was tiny, Miss Missy has loved books and reading. She never had a security blanket—instead she had to have Peepo by Janet and Alan Ahlberg in her cot to go to sleep. Our best “look what my baby can do” party trick was getting her to bring us alphabet letters from the fridge. She could find the “S for Sausage” or the “G for Genevieve” or the “H for Helena” (her BFF) long before she could say any of those words. When she got bigger, she went through chapter books so fast that on trips to the library, she’d have finished a book before we even pulled up the drive.

9780008125097I shared all my best-loved books with Miss Missy—the Chronicles of Narnia , Milly Molly Mandy stories, the Little House books, and (of course!) Harry Potter. As she got older, she started sharing her favourites with me, like Michael Morpurgo and Lauren Child two authors that I thoroughly enjoy reading. Now that she’s reading teen fiction, Dystopian novels feature heavily. A while back she brought home Flawed by Cecelia Ahern. I was intrigued by this world where perfection is everything, where the smallest mistake can see you branded, literally, as a flawed member of society, and by Celestine, the girl who decides to make a stand for the shunned.

It was a fast paced and exiting story, which ended with Celestine on the run, so Miss Missy and I were both eagerly awaiting Perfect, the next book in the series!

Cover of Perfect by Cecelia Ahern

Much as I wanted to enjoy it, I couldn’t help thinking that Perfect was, well, less than perfect. I expected it to pick up just were Flawed left off, with Celestine on the run, and determined to take down the evil Guild that controls the world she lives in. But Perfect doesn’t take off at a run. Instead of running, Celestine decides to hang out on her Granddad’s farm for a couple of weeks, going no-where, doing nothing. And of course, she almost gets caught. Once she finally starts running, I expected her to go get the vital evidence she needed to bring down the evil Judge and his Guild, but it took her an absolute age to figure out what I already twigged onto–that she’d been given the evidence secreted in an unexpected gift. She’d had it since the first book, and it took her half the second one to figure it out! I got a bit annoyed with her naivety (stupidity?). She was just too trusting, and it kept getting her into trouble.

But maybe I’m being to harsh! Miss Missy loved it, and once it got off the ground, I did enjoy reading it.  I think Perfect just suffers a little from Sequel Syndrome (I thought I was being clever coming up with that, but a quick Google search will show you its not a new thing!) Is it cynical of me to think that Ms Ahern’s publisher just wanted her to spin the story out into two books instead of one? All in all it was a pretty good book, and if you enjoyed Flawed, it’s definitely worth reading this to find out what happens, so don’t let me put you off!

And maybe you’d like to tell me about a sequel that you thought fell a short?

Perfect
by Cecelia Ahern
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN:  9780008125141

How to survive the end of the world : Defender by GX Todd

I’ve sometimes wondered what life would be like if all I had left were the boots on my feet…

With recommendations from Lee Child and John Connolly, Defender is British author GX Todd ‘s extraordinary debut novel.

Defender is set in a dystopian future where most humans have succumbed to a disease that makes people crazy – hearing voices that tell them to kill others and then themselves.

In the first book of a four-part Voices series, Defender sets the scene as protagonists Lacey – young, cheeky but calculating and Pilgrim – tough on the outside but with a seriously soft heart – meet for the first time.

In Defender, Todd sets up the relationship of Lacey and Pilgrim, who she only knows as “Boy Scout.” Pilgrim’s character is world weary. He reminds me of Bruce Willis. Perhaps this is because he was The Last Boy Scout but I’m already imagining the movie.

Lacey is desperate to find people. But not so desperate that she doesn’t use her wits. Or the shotgun she’s very competent with.

Not at all stupid, Lacey is a young woman to be reckoned with. Pilgrim would do well to listen to her instincts. She soon finds that the escape and community she had hoped for will not be easily won: not all survivors want community; many want power.

Pilgrim dispatches these human predators with expertise. Pilgrim just keeps moving. Wary, he keeps to himself. He relies on his wits, avoiding others who could slow him down or worse.  He hasn’t counted on picking up two women and a cat in the first few chapters.

He keeps the Voice in his head to himself as well.

Over a glass of lemonade Lacey cleverly tricks Pilgrim into taking her away from the home town she’s been stuck in for seven years.

Some of the content in this book is brutal: it’s a brutal world – yet Todd conveys characters’ suffering with sympathy; the brutality is integral to the plot. Yet there is a layer of female self-awareness in the text. GX Todd writes with feeling without being sentimental. She writes with a mastery of language: her physical, descriptive passages are so well written that they aren’t flowery or wordy, but give the reader a clear perception of events:

(Pilgrim) eased lower into the seat, his eyes heavy-lidded. “Get off the highway at the next off-ramp…and don’t stop for anybody.” He sank down, down into the seat’s foamy embrace, until he was encased on all sides, as if lying in a plush, slumberous coffin.” (p. 130)

Chapters alternate between the points of view of the two main characters, often replaying a scene from each character’s point of view. Until the lines become crossed…

This book brings to mind Stephen King’s The Stand ; a classic post apocalyptic battle of good vs evil. In this story there is also a man collecting people he deems special to master plan…

It Defender also makes me think of Bird Box – another great dystopian story in which most of the world have not only been driven murderously crazy, but also blind…

Dystopia : a community or society that is undesirable or frightening …

Defender
by G. X. Todd
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781472233097

Daughters of Dystopia

Dystopia: relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

I love a great dystopian novel, it’s a genre that can veer into classic science fiction, but the ones I love the most are the ones you can imagine happening in your world, if the circumstances changed just slightly, a world power got that much more control, a disease could not be contained or the general populace let things that are deemed as unacceptable become acceptable, little by little. Ordinary people trying to survive, railing against the system or changing it forever.

When I began reading Gather the Daughters, by Jennie Melamed, it was no surprise that both the victims and heroines of the story were young girls. Melamed is a psychiatric nurse who specialises in working with traumatised children. The girls in this debut novel slowly come to the realisation that the only world they have known is filled with lies and not as idyllic as their leaders have taught them it is.

The girls live on an island, living a puritan life, where everyday decisions and everyone’s lives are constrained by a set of rules set down by “The Ancestors”. The male descendants of these original peoples who fled The Wastelands across the sea run the island along rules to suit their own needs. Young girls are married off to older men as soon as they come into ‘fruition’, at puberty.The rules set down, called Shalt Nots, include practices that are definitely of benefit to the elder men, not their young daughters.

Every summer until then, the children of the island run rampant, rarely going home, sleeping rough and enjoying their freedom until the shackles of childbearing and helping the community survive are placed on them.

Told through the eyes of the older girls who are all about to reach fruition, chapters are given over to each girl in turn and I enjoyed the pace of the book and the way the author slowly revealed the horrors of being a young girl on the island. Little is shown of the feelings of the young boys, or the men’s justifications for their actions.

The main heroine is Janey, who should have reached fruition at 17, but is so desperate not to be a woman and succumb to the demands of a husband, she is slowly starving herself. She and Vanessa, who has access to her father’s library of books from past days, give the other girls knowledge and courage, trying to find a way to escape, or at least effect change.

Janey wakes early the third morning, at the first tint of crimson shattering the black night sky, as if someone had shaken her from slumber. She takes the precious moment gladly and watches the girls sleep peacefully. Let this last, she prays, she knows not who to – certainly not the ancestors, or their puppetmaster God. Just for a little while, let them have this. Let them have it. Please.

It certainly had a hint of Lord of the Flies or The Handmaid’s Tale at times and I kept imagining it as a film, but I’m never sure if that is a good thing.

If you love a good dystopian tale about strong young women who decide to take a stand, this is your book. I powered through it in a few days, which is pretty amazing for me. I was in turn heartened and horrified but kept on turning the pages, wanting to see the fate of these young heroines clinging onto their childhoods to save their lives.

Gather the Daughters
by Jennie Melamed
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781472241719

Avian Flu and the ‘Quiet Days of Power’

It started with the destruction of the world via avian flu and ended with mind control and memory loss via music. My last few weeks have been filled with two books from my go-to genre, dystopian science fiction, and both were rip-snorters.

Cover of Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a classic post-apocalyptic tale. A deadly flu that kills within hours sweeps through the entire world population, laying waste to all but a few hardy souls. We follow a group of survivors, whose lives intersect at various stages throughout the book. The interesting decision by the author to switch between the time when the flu hit and then twenty years later to see how society survived, coped and altered gives the story movement and contrasts, and I loved seeing where and when the characters met and re-connected.

The main story centres around a band of actors and musicians who travel through mid-west USA performing Shakespeare and classical music to the few survivors in scattered outposts: people eking out an existence without any infrastructure, centralised government and dwindling resources. Holding onto history, art and culture in such a bleak landscape seems both foolhardy and wonderful in equal measures.

The Chimes by Anna Smaill is a very different animal. Yes, people are struggling, living in a London very different to the one we know, but things are very different from Station Eleven. There is a power in charge, a cloistered order that have developed a powerful weapon they use on their own people to keep control. The weapon? Music.

Cover of The ChimesThe Chimes are sent through the air and there is no escaping them; they wipe people’s memories and keep them subdued: you almost feel music has become an opiate that makes the populace feel safe. With no written word, people use music and song to remember things, such as how to travel from one place to another. They also keep objects that help them remember family, places and their history.

I love the use of musical terms in their language, many of which I had to look up, such as Lento, which means slow and Tacit, which means a sudden stop in a piece of music. I was fascinated by the way music was both their prison and their saviour, the way the protagonists in the story used music to keep themselves alive and to try to bring down those in power.

The run was tacit. Clare and I followed the first of the two strange, twisting melodies. Ours moved straight into the fourth chord and pushed on presto, skipping and meandering and returning almost completely on itself  before branching straight out in a modulation to the dominant.

Simon, our main character, is an orphaned young man who soon discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever.

Both books fit my ideal of dystopia. People struggling in an alien world, even if it is our own in a different time or altered state. Heroes, villains and fascinating ideas to transport you and challenge you. Both books get the Purplerulz  purple seal of approval… read them now!

To learn more about the writing process and ideas behind The Chimes, read Masha’s great post about her interview with Anna Smaill.

High-rise: J. G. Ballard’s vertical zoo

Cover of High riseI have to confess that the only reason I picked up J. G. Ballard’s 1975 novel of inevitable social decline in a well-to-do apartment block was because I’d read an article about the movie version due out later this year starring Tom Hiddleston.

I’d watch Tom Hiddleston in anything, so I figured I’d read the book before the movie comes out. And in my own mind I think I was already imagining an action movie with a British Bruce Willis before I even cracked the cover of the book. Which was a bit silly, really. Having read J. G. Ballard before I should have realised he is not Michael Crichton. His books, though they may have action, are not the “novel as screenplay” blockbuster variety. They are rather more harrowing than that.

High-rise follows three main protagonists, all of whom live in a new high-rise apartment block in London which is populated by nice, reasonably well off types – studio technicians and air hostesses, tax consultants, dentists, book reviewers, and doctors. The children are clean and well-fed, the furnishings are aggressively tasteful.

Naturally we should expect things to take a turn for the worse, but Ballard lets us know from the very first sentence where this is all going –

Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.

Which is possibly one of the best opening lines of a novel I’ve ever read but if you’ve got better ones I’m sure you’ll share them in the comments.

Robert Laing is a divorced doctor and med school academic who lives in the middle sector of the building, on the 25th floor. The other two main characters are Anthony Royal, the architect of the high-rise who lives in a penthouse on the 40th, and Richard Wilder a documentary filmmaker who lives with his wife and two sons on a lower floor. They each represent one of the social strata that the apartment block separates into once “hostilities” begin. I suspect the names “Royal” and “Wilder” are not accidents.

Needless to say dog-barbeques are far from the worst thing that occurs within confines of the apartment building over several months. As often happens in dystopian fiction society recreates itself, evolving and changing, with barbarism becoming the lingua franca. It’s Mad Max made of concrete.

Without knowing it, he had constructed a gigantic vertical zoo, its hundreds of cages stacked above each other. All the events of the past few months made sense if one realised that these brilliant and exotic creatures had learned to open the doors.

Cover of Lord of the FliesOr perhaps High-rise is an urban Lord of the Flies but instead of being marooned the inhabitants of the island simply refuse to leave. In this respect the book reminded me of Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted in which wannabe novelists are “trapped” in a theatre as part of a writers’ retreat. They can leave any time they like but won’t, even as food becomes scarce. They all become monstrous in pursuit of survival… and the great story that will make them bestselling authors.

In the high-rise survival is down to luck, tribal alliances, force of will, or as Wilder discovers –  actually being the fittest.

…the higher up the building he climbed, the worse the physical condition of the residents – hours on the gymnasium exercycles had equipped them for no more than hours on the gymnasium exercycles.

That passage was the closest I came to a laugh during the book, and it came in the form of a wry chuckle. The problem with Ballard is much the same issue I have with Palahniuk actually – none of his characters are especially likeable.

Some authors can take an unsympathetic character and let you live in their skin to the extent that their likeability isn’t important – you empathise with them regardless. You care what happens to them despite their flaws. In High-rise I felt like everyone was a brutal lunatic and I wanted to be rid of them as soon as possible. In the end I just wanted the book to be over so I could share my headspace with normal non-dog-eating individuals.

The saving grace of the book, for me at least, was a small section at the back, an interview with the author. As anyone who’s read the book, or seen the film of Empire of the Sun will know, Ballard’s family were living in Shanghai during WWII when the Japanese invaded and he spent several years in an internment camp. In the interview he reveals how this experience of observing a society shaken to pieces influenced him, and which ultimately comes out in High-rise. –

I suppose one of the things I took from my wartime experiences was that reality was a stage set. The reality that you took for granted – the comfortable day-to-day life, school, the home where one lives, the familiar street and all the rest of it, the trips to the swimming pool and the cinema – was just a stage set. They could be dismantled overnight, which they literally were when the Japanese occupied Shanghai and turned our lives upside down.

Though the writing is elegant and sharp I can’t say that I actually enjoyed High-rise. It remains to be seen whether the film version will “Hollywood-ise” the novel to make it more palatable to a broader audience who might actually like to see Tom Hiddleston climbing elevator shafts in a singlet. I for one would welcome it.

Don’t Make Me Deal With Reality

coverFinally in middle age I’ve made a discovery – I don’t like the real world!

I’ve spent my whole life reading, and I seem drawn to anything but the real world. I recently thought I should dip my toes into the realm of the everyday. I chose a book that came well recommended here on the blog and elsewhere, but 20 pages in I realised I didn’t care.  It was the tale of a doomed marriage, and I realised right then that I really don’t want to read about the people next door or the lives of others that I might even find familiar.

I want other worlds, difficult Dystopian scenarios, people thrown together in impossible situations and it has to be a page turner. But not for me the science fiction style filled with robots, detailed plans of space ships or mutant frogs. I like to read about people, but in situations I’ll never find myself in. A perfect example is Wool by Hugh Howey. The last of mankind living in a huge underground silo, over 100 levels down below the surface. Now there’s a situation that brings up all kinds of tensions and sets the stage for intrigue, struggle and hopefully redemption. I need to identify with the characters of course, I just don’t want to think I could meet them at work or at the supermarket.

I’m currently reading The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson, and this is so much more me. A post nuclear America, where small rural communities eek out an existence away from the abandoned ruins of large cities. Ah, back to familiar territory.

coverI’ll even venture into zombie territory as I did recently with Warm Bodies by Issac Marion, a great Young Adult read. It’s an unlikely but wonderful love story between a zombie who is desperate to be human again and the daughter of the leader of the resistance against his kind. The movie just made of the book is a great interpretation of the story.

These books are still filled with relationships, struggle, good vs. bad and the pains and joys of living. It’s just that they are set somewhere away from my real life and that’s the just the way I like it.

So it is that I will go into my dotage shunning the real world and retreating into the unknown and un-visitable.

Where do you like to spend your imaginary life?

Mars is not the only other world we can travel to

Cover: Lord of the FliesThey may have just landed a rover on Mars, but I’ve been travelling to other worlds since I was 13. I love travelling in particular to dystopian worlds, if only using books and movies.

Dystopian societies are repressive and controlled, often under the guise of being utopian. They feature different kinds of repressive social control and coercion. They can be found in the past, the future on our planet or another.

They have all the classic compelling aspects of all good fiction that I enjoy; good vs. evil, strong lead characters you can root for, together with a bit of technology and people rising up to save themselves, their families and their society. They can steer closely into Science Fiction territory at times, but I have always been more interested in the stories that depict human struggle and triumph rather than technology and space travel.

Of course the most recent craze in this genre would be The Hunger Games Trilogy, which I’ve read using my e reader, and while I’m enjoying it and I’m eagerly awaiting the last of the trilogy, Mockingjay, it isn’t the best I’ve read in the genre.Cover: Monsters of Men

I loved The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness and I also enjoyed Salt by Maurice Gee and Wither by Lauren DeStefano.

I have also gone back to read some classics that originally had me interested in this genre in my teens. First was The Crysalids by John Wyndham, then Nineteen Eighty Four, the grandfather of the dystopians by George Orwell. Then Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Lord of the Flies by William Golding and what was for me a pivotal book, The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’d also recommend her book Oryx and Crake.

There are so many dystopian books out there to read, take the plunge and get amongst them without the aid of a rover, or maybe you have a favourite you can share?

Has teen fiction taken a nasty turn?

The Hunger Games, a story about children killing children, is currently breaking box office records. Some adults agonise over its violence and cruelty, and wonder if it is bad for their children.

CoverThere has been a run of popular books in the same vein, many of them prize winners.  The Carnegie medal winning Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness for example and last year’s Costa Award winner Blood Red Road, as well as popular books by Michael Grant, Scott Westerfeld and Philip Reeve.

So popular are they, that a quick search in our catalogue for booklists of dystopian fiction brings up  twelve pages of lists, mainly for young adults and including one for our own library network by Zackids .

Arguments abound as to why this is so. Does it simply reflect a need by teenagers to deal with their anxieties through literature? Are their anxieties worse than ours were? Or is it a backlash against the tight control which has enveloped this generation of children? Is it redemptive, or an indication of despair? Or is just about a good exciting story?

Some point out that dystopian fiction for this age group is hardly new. Previous generations have enjoyed classics like Salt by Maurice Gee, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L Engle and Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

What do you think? What do your kids think?