20 August 2010

Being Dyspeptic about Dystopics

Back in February, Karen Springen wrote in Publishers Weekly about this year’s crop of dystopian fiction for teens, and theorized:

Why now? Newspaper headlines about swine flu, terrorism, global warming, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are inspiring authors—and making kids feel uneasy. Some publishers also point to publicity surrounding December 21, 2012, the end of the 5,126-year Mayan calendar—supposedly an apocalyptic sign.

Still, most editors and authors credit lingering unease from the World Trade Center attacks.
Of course, any literary trend is a combination of interest from authors and publishers and interest from readers, working in a feedback loop. Those titles are probably getting extra attention because of The Hunger Games, which in turn may owe some of its success to City of Ember.

Beth Davis at the Spectacle posits a natural affinity between teens and dystopian literature:
That’s one reason why I think it appeals to teens so much. There is a lot out of teens’ control–a lot out of all of our control. We can’t really single-handedly sway our government to enter to leave a war. We can’t prevent a natural disaster–or a man-made one, probably. We are, in the end, rather insignificant. It’s when we’re teens that we first start to realize that the world is so unfair, and there’s only so much we can do.
Since teen lit is all the rage now (the New York Times Book Review says so!), genres that teens like would naturally sell better than ever.

Dan Wells is another observer who sees the reason for dystopias’ popularity in the times we live in:
Dystopia is huge right now, especially in YA. This is probably due to the fact that we live in one–or, more correctly, this is due to the fact that YA readers are finally paying close enough attention to realize that we live in one. The last time American teens were politically savvy enough to care about the condition of our country was in the 60s, with the Vietnam war, and I think that has a lot of parallels to today.
However, I’d like to see a rigorous analysis of these hypotheses connecting the literature to the times. Other periods of widespread unease and pessimism should correlate with other spikes in dystopic fiction. But do they?

And that doesn’t mean looking back at years when notable dystopic novels were published and finding stuff people worried about then; we humans always have something to worry about. It means finding a way to measure social unease and a way to identify spikes in dystopian fiction. Sounds like a master’s project. Anyone?

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