The End of the World as we Know it

Destruction of the world as we know it. There’s just something about it, isn’t there? It shouldn’t be so satisfying to read and yet it is. Almost like picking a scab off a half-healed wound. It has inspired countless books and short stories of every type, from children’s books to adult fiction and everything in between.

My own personal journey with dystopian fiction began in my final year at school when I was required to write an essay on a topic of my choice. Somehow I managed to gravitate towards the topic of dystopic fiction through Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Margaret Attwood’s Oryx and Crake. I followed the Oryx and Crake series, and incidentally, had the opportunity to attend the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2013 where Attwood launched the last of the series, Maddaddam.

More recently there has been a boom in the number of dystopian fiction novels produced, particularly in the Young Adult section of publishing. This is perhaps thanks to the success of the Hunger Games book series and film tie-ins. Oddly enough, research done at the start of this year shows that those purchasing Young Adult styled novels are actually more likely to be over the age of 20, with 79% of the market being over the age of 18[1]. Is this due to a lack of adult dystopic fiction? Perhaps it is. Yet the genre has been around for so long that it is impossible not to find something worth reading. Perhaps they just want to read something new and shiny. Perhaps the films are just what make it appealing and therefore are more widely marketed and so people know what to look for? Whatever it may be, it’s safe to say that the genre is on the rise.

But it is strange that we always end up going back to it. It’s the same for the likes of horror films (especially zombie films which seem to have a never ending stream, although whether or not these count as dystopic/ apocalyptic/ post-apocalyptic is a whole other matter altogether). Why are they so appealing? Why on earth do we enjoy having the living daylights scared out of us and why do we enjoy imagining a world where there has been some kind of massive, worldwide disaster which has pushed humanity to the edges, forcing us to scrabble to survive? It might be because we enjoy thinking about how we would go about surviving such a situation. We’ve all done it. You’re reading a book and the character is about to go off somewhere alone and all you can think is “if that were me, I would never be alone if I could help it. There would a whole team of us, armed to the teeth and carrying torches – complete with spare batteries”. It’s almost like a challenge to ourselves. Would we have thought to do that in order to survive? Would we even have the mental capability to keep going? Or would we have perished along with all the other poor souls? It’s hard to say, but it certainly is something to think about.


As for the future of dystopic future; will it survive? It seems safe to assume so. There is an old adage of “write what you know” which never seems to fail when writing a book. The world around us is ever changing and adapting, with some welcoming with open arms new branches of technology and science even while others warn of the dangers. When I was at university our lecturer told us that science tells us how to do things, and the humanities tell us why we shouldn’t. If you look at the world around us, danger and risk of our own self destruction becomes more prominent. The very recent outbreak of the Ebola virus and its spread has hit news across the world. Could this be the plague to end us all? Is this our version of Crake’s BlyssPluss pills? Those among us with a penchant towards despair might well agree.

But one thing is for certain; until the sky falls down and the mountains collapse into the sea, humanity will still be reading dystopic fiction. It’s an itch we just love to scratch.


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