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Books

YA sci-fi is supposed to make us question society

Is the current crop of young adult dystopian lit holding up its end of the bargain?

Photo: Art by Victor Davila, License: N/A

Art by Victor Davila



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The inclination to include these support systems has a lot to do with the increased connectivity of people today. In the post-Internet world in which these newer books were written, it's much easier to find others to identify with, even if they are remote. But by including these helping hands in the books, authors teach the young adults reading that no matter how intolerable the society is, there are others who will take care of it, take care of them; they just need to find them and align with them. This safety net strips the despair from the novels and softens the scare factor of dystopian lit.

Today's YA readers obviously have access to a lot more information from outside their own cultures than those who came of age when The Giver was first published in 1993. Now, YouTube is ubiquitous, and its videos serve as windows into other nations, even if we're just laughing at Maru or cooing over Christian the Lion; in fact, YouTube is not so wildly different from the Happy Medium's crystal ball in A Wrinkle in Time, which showed what different people were doing, no matter how far away they were. And that book was published in 1962 – imagine how impossible and positively sci-fi a webcam would sound back then. The point I'm trying to make here is that current technologies are so close to even the most imaginative science fiction of yesterday that modern writers are challenged to arm their tyrannical states with sophisticated enough technology that a kid would actually fear its invention, rather than get excited in anticipation for it, like it's on par with the iPhone 5.

Before anyone sends a swarm of tracker jackers after me for being dismissive of the pop culture beacon, I want to say on the record that I loved Suzanne Collins' whole Hunger Games trilogy. I highly recommend the books to history nerds, who can likely guess which cultures Collins borrows from to create the elaborate state of Panem. But let's be honest, one of the most exciting pieces of technology in the whole series is the shower that Katniss uses before each Games event, and it's not even that much cooler than the Silver TAG shower system – which you can buy right now if you have $100,000 lying around.

The reason I keep coming back to technology being a disrupting force in modern dystopias is because in many ways, technological advancement is how we measure a society's advancements, and it disturbs me that the absolutely repellent society in The Hunger Games is simply not that far off from what we have today, tech-wise. I think that YA readers recognize this, and that it dulls the impact on them of that invented society. It also doesn't help that most of the people in the districts, apart from the Capitol, inherently agree with Katniss that the society sucks. Her line of thinking is not novel, and her rebellion is so widely supported that when you're reading scenes in District 12, it doesn't even really feel like she's living in a dystopia so much as a third-world country. Contrast this with the creepy, blanketed acceptance of the imagined societies represented in The Giver or Ender's Game, and you begin to see what's lacking.

Disruption No. 3: Romancing the Tone

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