Geeking out

Why go looking for dystopia?

I’ve always had a thing for reading dystopian fiction.

The kind of end-of-the-world, post-disaster, look-how-awful-it-all-is now kind of thing. It might take place after a zombie plague, the rise of totalitarian government or a natural disaster so terrible that life as we know it ceases to exist.

I’ve no idea why I’m so drawn to it.

But given just how much of a disaster the world is right now, I’ve found myself strangely drawn to it more than ever.

In the last few weeks alone, I’ve finished reading ‘The Wall’, ‘The Last Day’ and ‘The Last’. The titles along indicate just how bleak they all were. But despite that, they provided a welcome break from the wall-to-wall disaster fest that 2020 is turning into.

The Wall‘ is set in the UK an indeterminate few years in the future, where climate change has turned much of the world into desert. Refugees (sensitively labelled ‘Others’ by the UK Government) face off against a small army of defenders based on a coastal defence wall the length of the country. If I was being cruel, I’d suggest it read a little like an instruction manual for xenophobes.

The Last Day‘ tells the story of an earth that has stopped turning, leaving chunks of it in permanent frozen wasteland, another side uninhabitable due to unrelenting sunshine and only a small ‘Goldilocks zone’ available for comfortable human habitation. Yes, you guessed it, it’s bang on top of the UK, which has descended into some kind of dictatorship.

The Last‘ is set in a Swiss hotel in the days and weeks following a global nuclear war. Yet it’s not about the war itself, nor what caused it, but about the survivors cut off from any news of the outside world and how they adapt to life. Oh yes, and there’s a murder. Lots of paranoia, lots of interesting character development.

Out of these three, I think I enjoyed ‘The Last’ the most. It had me gripped until the final few pages and I love a good diary-stye narrative. I was glad it didn’t dwell on whose ‘fault’ the war was, but instead explored the relationships between an international group of guests, far from home, struggling to make sense of the new normal in which they found themselves.

There was plenty of room for a follow-up, given the ending, and to me it handled the whole post-war world in a very realistic way.

If 2020 has you down, and you’re looking for a book to cheer you up, avoid these three. Seriously. They’re not even a little bit optimistic or light. But they enabled me to get lost in their stories and avoid thinking about pandemics, lockdown, job security and the economy each evening in bed.

Which, I think you’ll agree, is the whole point of fiction.

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