Dystopian Survival

Cover of "The Hunger Games"

Cover of The Hunger Games

I once heard a comment that Lord of the Flies was like, Gone, but in Gone they get to eat people too. Ah, the horrors of dystopian futures! Are some older novels no longer timeless?

The sensation of The Hunger Games had me intrigued. I avoided reading it for a while in case fighting to the death proved too gory for my delicate constitution. However, once I started I couldn’t stoop. While I didn’t read the three books in quick succession, I did finish each of them in one sitting. The chapters always ended in such a way that I was lured into starting the next. I am someone who has from a young age enjoyed the idea of post-apocalyptic or chaotic worlds (Robert O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah, for instance) and Suzanne Collins didn’t disappoint. However,  I did feel that she had in some ways created a pastiche of ideas that had been used before. As I was reading, the following stories quickly came to mind:

  • Hatchet (Gary Paulson) and My Side of the Mountain (Jean George) both detail surviving in the wild. My concerns about gore in The Hunger Games were dismissed when I realised the bulk of the time in the arena is spent  finding food, shelter and water, and hiding from danger. Ultimately, The Hunger Games is an old fashioned survival story.
  • Tomorrow when the War Began – John Marsden. A 1990s YA war series about a group of teenagers in country Australia fighting to survive against the ruling army. Filled with weapons, danger, hunger and refugees. Is Ellie no longer bold enough to be a contemporary heroine?
  • The famous American gothic short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson describes  villagers being selected for a gruesome fate.
  • The cult Japanese movie Battle Royale (this one is according to my husband). Based on his descriptions, among other things the ‘giant clock’ in Catching Fire seems to resemble the destruction patterns in Battle Royale.

All this being said, I did enjoy the series and thought that movie was excellent. I only watched the movie this past weekend which is partly why I am inspired to write this blog today. The contrast between the Captial and District 12 was stunning to see. I did not expect the fashions in the Capital to resemble the ostentatious couture of the French Revolution and I was surprised that Lenny Kravitz’s Cinna was not more flamboyant! The Victorian poverty and dull colours in District 12 also added to the story. While both locations were described well in the novels, I felt that Suzanne Collins was not always convincing enough with the setting and SF elements. For example, some miracles of futuristic science and medicine seemed to solve plot problems too easily, while other storylines grew only because what you would imagine to be a simpler discovery was not yet made. There didn’t seem to be a pattern with the names either and it was not clear why certain people had Latin names and others did not.

My favourite of the three books is the third, Mockingjay. It is a darker book with cat and mouse elements. Some people I have spoken to found this book too unnerving but I found it was a nice break from the first two which had somewhat similar plots.

One other successful YA novel set in a dystopian future is Hollowland by Amanda Hocking. In a USA ravaged by war, the zombie threat means survivors are placed in secure facilities. Vigilantes and religious cults have bunkered down and stockpiled arms.  Remy is separated from her brother and, carrying a family secret, she travels across the country to find him. I found this novel to be convincing throughout, even with the random sounding inclusions of a pop star and a tame lion. It is a little short at 290 pages but it is sharp throughout. Hocking has avoided padding out the story – a skill by which all authors should abide. Hollowland should have a wider reputation than it currently does. It is only available as an ebook so this may be why.

Similar YA  dystopian books at the top of my to read list:

And two more, perhaps suited to adults:

If you have any more suggestions please get in touch.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Dystopian Survival

  1. A great list Kelly, and many here I haven’t tangled with yet. Thanks for the recommendations. Put The Passage at the top of your pile!

  2. Pingback: Amazing YA Debut | Orange Pekoe Reviews

  3. Great comparative list. You have a point that in someways the books seem compilations of other novels, but such an interstitial blending is in someways more difficult than a single more original tale.

    Haven’t read the third yet, but your description makes me think it is right up my ally.

  4. Pingback: Review: Gone by Michael Grant | Charlotte Unsworth

  5. Pingback: Surveillance for the Untethered:The Panopticon | Orange Pekoe Reviews

  6. Pingback: Review: Gone by Michael Grant | Charlotte Unsworth

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s