I just finished reading The Hunger Games. I really enjoyed it as a whole, but the romance was far secondary to my interest in the world that Collins created. I realized after a lot of time spent thinking about it, that the characters weren’t what caught my imagination, but the world they lived in. It made me stop and consider the fact that I seem to be drawn to stories about dystopias and end of the world scenarios.
The first book I can remember reading in the genre was back when I was 12 years old. My parents got a big, hardback unabridged version of The Stand, but Stephen King. I had read and reread It several times by that point so I was excited to try this new offering. Having to wait for them both to finish it (and it took awhile… did I mention how friggin’ LONG that book is?) was torture, but finally they both finished it and it was my turn. I was enchanted by the idea of a fresh start in a world that was more or less like the real world, but without the restrictions of every day life.
I’ve read a lot of books that play with the themes of the end of life as we know it since then. Most of them aren’t nearly as palatable as the world presented in The Stand. Seriously, for a Stephen King book, it’s a relatively non violent work. The end of the world comes via a flu like virus that kills off most of the population in a short period of time, but long enough that planes aren’t falling out of the sky and the technology is still in working order, just lacking people who know how to run it for the most part. I spent a lot of time imagining myself having run of the mall and reading every book I’ve ever loved and hundreds more I just haven’t experienced yet. I was able to gloss over the millions of deaths part pretty easily, but I WAS just a kid, so we’ll forgive that bit of callousness.
My favorite books are the ones that are a bit of a cross between a dystopia novel and one about the end of the world. You know, the ones that explore the idea of society after a total break with the way things were before. The one that springs to mind as a good example of what I mean is The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. It looks at a dystopian village that formed during an unspecified crises that caused a huge part of the population to become zombies.
A couple of years ago, I watched an episode of Masters of Horror called The Screwfly Solution based on a short story. It was about a sickness that started effecting all the men along air currents the way that your normal viruses tend to spread. It made them violent towards women and it started to seem reasonable to them to violently murder every woman and girl (and sometimes young boys) they came across as it seemed that normal feelings of arousal were becoming intertwined with violent urges. There was some kind of plot about the main male lead and his friend being some sort of prominent scientists with some kind of knowledge about the transmission of sicknesses or something. The main male had a wife and daughter, but he eventually got sick and kills his daughter and his wife flees into Canada with the help of the friend who has chemically castrated himself. She eventually gets hunted down by men, but I think her death is caused by something else altogether. Sorry, the lines between the movie and the story are blurred in my head now. Either way, she dies and it’s the end of mankind as we can no longer breed.
It was an interesting way for the world to end, but I was really taken by the idea of women actually surviving. What kind of society would spring up from the ashes of something like this? I actually made a lot of notes for a book based on that line of thinking, but so far it hasn’t gone anywhere. It just sits there and from time to time I revisit it to add a few more ideas. Maybe it’ll see the light of day in the future, but either way it’s been an interesting exercise.
I realize given the sheer number of recent releases that deal with themes of dystopia and/or the end of the world, I’m not the only person who’s fascinated. I’m excited that it seems to be a bit of a trend lately and I can’t see what the future holds for these kinds of books. In the meantime, I’m anxiously awaiting the movie version of The Hunger Games. It’ll be interesting to see what they end up doing with it.