The Apocalypse Is Coming (To Fiction That Is)

In a world overwhelmed by environmental disasters, terrorism, and corrupt government regimes, it is interesting that readers would turn to dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction for their escape. However, more and more readers are doing just this. On Wednesday morning at BEA, four authors took on the topic of dystopian fiction and how they write about the breakdown of society. 

Authors Allyson Condie, Sigrid Nunez, Lesley Hauge, and Adam Dunn

The panel focused on the authors attempting to describe exactly what their dystopian worlds look like. Perhaps the most surprising (and discomforting) part of the panel was just how many ways a true dystopia can be created.

Allyson Condie spoke about her upcoming novel, Matched, which takes place in an authoritarian society where the government controls marriages. The author says that this glimpse of the future can be equally unpleasant as an apocalypse. She says it is a case of “too much society versus not enough.”

Adam Dunn’s October release, Rivers of Gold, takes a look at New York City as it is torn apart by economic crisis. In his novel, the U.S. is bankrupt and people must adapt to the situation, often surviving by criminal means. This grim future, Dunn warns, may not be far off.

Lesley Hauge, author of next month’s Nomansland, has a unique look at the dystopian society as she grew up in a small community in Zimbabwe that had all of the dystopian hallmarks – a charismatic leader who fed people propaganda that eventually led to the oppression of others. For her novel, Hauge uses these past experiences to create a group of women who survive on a small icebound community after a major climate disaster. In her world, love is a subversive force. The author says that “romantic and parental love and friendship is forbidden” as the leaders attempt to make all followers a collective, soulless unit.

While these author’s books look at a world permanently changed for the worse, Sigrid Nunez’s novel, Salvation City, releasing in September, takes place in a temporary distopia. Like the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918, the young character in this novel loses his parents to a flu pandemic. Nunez says that she was careful in her story not to focus on society as a whole, but rather she wanted to follow one child’s experiences through the challenges that he faces.

So while all of these authors write about very different characters and settings, something that they all have in common is that current events inform their writing. Authors cited everything from 9/11, to the oil leak in the Gulf, to climate change, the recession, and even Proposition 8 in California as influences to their writing. So just how close to a worldwide catastrophe are we? Maybe soon, maybe never, but thanks to these authors we can all find entertainment in stories about our mutual destruction.