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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Where dystopias warn

Utopia never seemed quite real to me. After all, things always fall apart. And so dystopias were the worlds I loved to read about - 1984, Farenheit 451, Lord of the Flies (of course - the first one I read), Tunnel in the Sky, and Philip Dick's many terrifyingly plausible dreams... They were the books I wanted to write as well, as endless stories of the end of the world in my old notebooks attest. One day one of my teachers took me aside and said it was easy to make people cry, so I learned (at least, I tried) to make them laugh. But perhaps it's only easier to make people cry because I wanted company.

Of course, I don't only read dystopian fiction. One of my favorite authors as a child was Rosemary Sutcliffe, writing of ancient worlds every bit as ruined as 1984. I loved the lone, rejected character, the one who saw too clearly, or who didn't dare to see. Meanwhile I imagined one of the "big three" - America, Russia or Chin -, would surely push the button and destroy us all before I grew up. I planned to stand on top of a tower block (there were several near our school) where "I shall / watch the ending / watch the death descending / when we weep / do not cry / in the dying day." (I wrote songs too.)

Anyway, if you'd like to grab a coffee, just to prove the world's not dead yet, here are some great dystopian novels I read while I was away from my computer.

First is Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, a cool, deceptively gentle read about a gene-spliced instantly-gratified world and the dangers that might lie within. Enjoy with a rich, elegant, complex four-star coffee, and ponder the road our world might follow.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline offers a different take on corporate greed, setting up a WillyWonka type search for the Easter Egg in a computer game. But this game is sometimes more real than real life, and the truth behind friends' identities might test friendship to the core. Enjoy a bold dark intense five-star coffee with this one.

Next is Cast me not away by Zara Heritage, offering a haunting vision of a near-future where lives are so much devalued that anyone under four can be declared useless and euthanised, for the greater good. There's a strong anti-abortion theme underlying the story, but it's kept well within the viewpoint of the characters, never preachy, and deeply thought-provoking. Another bold, dark, five-star coffee might be needed while you read this one.

Finally, here's a book that's definitely not dystopian but it's written by an author who's penned many dystopias, and it just might help me write my own dystopian novel one day. Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin is so much more than just another book on writing. It's filled with well-annotated excerpts, memorable one-liners, and well-presented lessons and advice, and it's a book I'd love to read again and again. Keep lively, keep doing the exercises, and keep some bright lively two-star coffee to hand.

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