Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Monday 20 October 2014

Post apocalyptic/dystopian fiction

The Weekend Australian's Review recently published an article entitled, ‘Worlds without end’ by Rosemary Neill which ‘investigates the psychology behind popular culture’s latest obsession’.  It is an interesting discussion about modern teenagers’ fascination with dystopian fiction, namely, ’The Twilight series’, ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Divergent’ and most recently ‘The Giver’ and ‘The Maze Runner’.

Having read Neill’s article and stimulated to think about my own far from teenage fascination with this type of fiction I have to say that post apocalyptic/dystopian stories are not really ‘the latest obsession’.  The interest has been there a long time if my literary experience is anything of a measure.

I have been long term fan of post apocalyptic/dystopian fiction. My earliest recollection of this type of story where the protagonists had to deal with the end of society as we know it was ‘On the Beach’ by British-Australian author Nevil Shute which was published in 1957, although I didn’t read that until I was in my early teens in the sixties.  I also seem to remember a film or even a television series.  Another story which dealt with the disintegration of society, where the characters struggle to survive in a fractured world, was Wyndham’s ‘The Day of the Triffids’, published in 1951, which I listened to as a radio series in the early sixties. Then as a very young, inexperienced teacher of secondary English I encountered ‘Z for Zachariah’.  This is a post-apocalyptic survival story by Robert C. O'Brien (pen name of Robert Leslie Conly).  It was published in 1974 and was very popular with my grade 9/10, then C and B class students.  We had some great times playing revolutions and nuclear survival games. All this was during the post WW2 cold war era when nuclear warfare was a real possibility and therefore the inspiration for lots of novels and films.  

Then I experienced a lull in my acquaintance with YA PAD fiction. Perhaps someone else can fill in the gaps for me. Except of course I shouldn’t forget John Marsden’s series ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’, first published in 1993.  At this point I think there was a slight change in the genre from the nuclear or extra-terrestrial  destruction of society to a more politically created chaos like a war, invasion, climate catastrophe, or social reorganisation.  Whatever the reason for the changes, nuclear threat was no longer the basis, mirroring I guess the real world situation.

During my stint as a CBCA reading judge I came across a plethora of books in this genre which gave me an amazing re-introduction to how this genre has developed.  Apart from the series by Meyer, Collins, Roth and Lowry I read Glenda Millard’s ‘A Small Free Kiss in the Dark’, Sean William’s ‘The Changeling’, S.D. Crockett’s ‘After the Snow’, and Joss Hendley’s ‘The Wish Kin’ to name a few.

Recently, courtesy of Village cinemas, I did find something from my gap years.  Showing at the local cinema was ‘The Giver’ by Lois Lowry , the book of which I’m told has been around since 1993. Here I broke my self imposed rule and saw the film before I read the book.  It was an interesting experience to do it that way round. But why I did it that way will be my next blog.

Carol Fuller

1 comment:

  1. Carol, your post brings back memories of haunting fiction that poses the big 'what if' questions that I think have always stimulated young minds.

    Caroline Macdonald's The Lake at the End of the World (Hodder & Stoughton 1988) is one that springs to mind that gripped my Year 6 students and would certainly engage young adolescents. This disaster was a result of environmental degradation. A more recent author, Susan Beth Pfeffer has written Life as We Knew It and its companion novel The Dead and the Gone. Both present a brutal but hopeful look at an apocalyptic event—an asteroid hitting the moon, setting off a tailspin of horrific climate changes. Set on opposite sides of America, with different protagonists, the stories follow the lives of Miranda and Alex respectively, as they try to survive in a completely unknown and unimaginable world and care for their younger siblings. There are two other titles, which I have not read at this point, that are set a year after the event. Adolescent readers I know have become avid fans of the books, with many returning to reread them.

    So some not so new leads for you to follow and 'fill the gap' since Z for Zacharia.