What’s so attractive about burned-out worlds and people scrabbling for food in hollow shells of cities?
A closer look shows dystopia has been around a long time. Panic about the cold war and the atomic age produced such classics as 1984 and A Canticle for Leibowitz, as well as movies like On The Beach and Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston’s famous last line: “You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”
Today’s cause of dystopia is more varied. Environmental disasters replace war as the source of the apocalypse. Artificial intelligence goes wild. Social experimentation creates bizarre rules and mores. Brutal dictatorships oppress people for their entertainment. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road even offers up a world wasted without any explanation, where people stagger around just trying to survive.
And then there’s that most insidious dystopia, the one driven by good intentions (Lois Lowry’s The Giver or my own There Comes a Prophet).
Not a pretty picture. Then why so popular, especially among young adults who are just coming to terms with a world that, while not quite dystopian, is worse off than the innocent visions of their childhood?
The answer is what makes all great stories appealing. An individual wanting more from life, discovering things are worse than they thought and finding the courage to confront a world gone awry.
So relax. We’re not all suddenly infatuated with burnt out worlds. We’re doing what readers have done since time immemorial, falling in love with characters who challenge the system to test its limits and discover how to spread their wings and fly.
David Litwack is the author of the dystopian novel, There Comes a Prophet.
Who among us will cast aside a comfortable existence and risk death to follow a dream?
A world kept peaceful for a thousand years by the magic of the ruling vicars. But a threat lurks from a violent past. Wizards from the darkness have hidden their sorcery in a place called the keep, and left a trail of clues that have never been solved.
Nathaniel has grown up longing for more, but unwilling to challenge the vicars. Until his friend Thomas is taken for a teaching, the mysterious coming-of-age ritual. Thomas returns but with his dreams ripped away. When Orah is taken next, Nathaniel tries to rescue her and ends up in the prisons of Temple City. There he meets the first keeper of the ancient clues. But when he seeks the keep, what he finds is not magic at all.
If he reveals the truth, the words of the book of light might come to pass:
"If there comes among you a prophet saying 'Let us return to the darkness,' you shall stone him, because he has sought to thrust you away from the light."
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