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Future Fragments: YA Dystopias Beyond The Hunger Games

Written by: Anastasia Salter, Pop-Culture Editor


With The Hunger Games just released on DVD, and buzz about the possibly disastrous sequel on the rise, here are a few other post-apocalyptic franchises to add to your library. Seen and read Hunger Games already? Did it leave you longing for more dystopian fantasies to read as, er, an escape from the one we’re heading towards out here in reality? As the young adult genre has embraced the trendy fascination with the end of the world, there are lots to choose from. Many imagine a potential consequence of environmental disaster, or religious conservatism, or even of technological discord. And let’s face it–given the blockbuster success of The Hunger Games movie already, with its sequels already on the way, some of these dystopias will likely be adapted for a theatre near you soon.

 

The world envisioned by The Hunger Games, with a strict class hierarchy and dramatically different lifestyles for the privileged and the working-class, may not seem like far-out science fiction these days. But it’s only one novel among many recent young adult books that take on the questions of humanity in light of technology, medicine and diminishing resources. As young adult literature has been continuing its boom, popular attention has moved from fantasy sagas to vampires and paranormal romance–and right on to dystopian fiction: visions of worlds where everything that can go wrong will (and has).The Hunger Games film might only be a teaser trailer at this point, but for fans who can’t wait or for anyone who is watching the news and dreading the inevitable, there’s a slate of recent YA books ready to cater to your inner cynic. Some of them even offer important tips for surviving in the event of an authoritarian regime, nuclear holocaust and/or plague.

Tankborn (Karen Sandler)

Released last week, Karen Sandler’s Tankborn owes a debt to Nancy Farmer’s House of the Scorpion—both imagine a world where a “non-human” genetically engineered subclass exists at the whim of the “real” humans. The commentary on both class and race is threaded with highly believable visions of how limited resources might make a natural birth a privilege, and Kayla, a “tankborn” girl, finds herself in the middle of the corruption. The entire conflict is set against an examination of religion’s evolution, particularly as seen through the lenses of members of different classes.

Divergent (Veronica Roth)

Divergent bears many similarities to Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, as it features a girl trapped in a highly divided society, where teenagers must choose a faction based on their dominant trait and exist within monocultures that value only one extreme. Yet even this somewhat odd premise, with its echoes of the sorting in Harry Potter, links with a very convincing class struggle between those who are content to serve and those who are exploiting them. As the heroine, Tris, joins the Dauntless—dystopian Chicago’s version of Gryffindor—she also confronts the consequences of single-mindedness.

Wither (Lauren DeStefano)

For those who expect super-viruses to bring the end of civilization as we know it, Wither holds a certain spark of inevitability. The premise of this dystopia is that genetic engineering and medicine advanced to the point where humans were almost disease-free—until the next generation started dying exceedingly young, victims of a “virus” that kills women at the age of 20 and men at the age of 25. Even starker than this vision of technological consequences are the social ones, as young girls are kidnapped and forced to bear children to keep humanity continuing. (The sequel is coming in February.)

Birthmarked (Caragh M. O’Brien)

Once resources become scarce, there are a few possibilities for who will keep their modern trappings, and who will be left behind. O’Brien imagines that technology and power will be concentrated in cities that jealously guard themselves from outsiders—but after generations of only breeding with fellow city-dwellers, genetics would rear its head. Birthmarked follows a young midwife who lives outside the city and starts to investigate the fate of babies that the city claims for its own. (The sequel is coming in November.)

Delirium (Lauren Oliver)

In Star Trek, Data once acquires an emotions chip only to find it paralyzing during conflict. He switches it off and is immediately fine, as Picard quips “Sometimes I envy you.” Delirium’s dystopian rulers possess the ability to shut off human emotion for the betterment of society, and in what is admittedly the setup for a romance all young adults have the potentially “deadly” capacity for love “cured” at the age of 18. In another warning about the consequences of control, the authoritarian government works to ensure that everyone gets their cure, or is deemed an invalid.

Enclave (Ann Aguirre)

If nuclear war is more your apocalypse taste, Enclave is perhaps one of the darkest YA dystopias out there, imagining a world where the underground is the safest place to stay, a child gets a name only if they manage to survive 15 years, and life is a continual struggle against the roaming, mutated “freaks.” There’s very little optimism in this world, with society only sustaining itself with harsh rules and clearcut roles for its few surviving members: breeders, builders or hunters. The throwback to the hunter-gatherer paradigm is not coincidental.

Jenna Fox Chronicles (Mary E. Pearson)

While the first Jenna Fox book, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, was a commentary on the possibility of near-resurrection through mind uploads and factory-grown bodies, the sequel imagines what these personal transformations would eventually do to society. In The Fox Inheritance, bio-technology has become more commonplace, and bots with human desires (and dreams) long to escape their positions of continual service. The mediation on what counts as human is particularly pressing given the potential of technology to evolve towards artificial life.

Matched (Ally Condie)

In many ways a throwback to Lois Lowry’s enduring classic The Giver, Matched centers on a society where technology is optimized to determine best outcomes, and thus everything from jobs to marriage is decided through automated sorting. When Cassia decides that she’d like to make her own match, she comes to face a crushing system dedicated to maintaining the preordained order even as they inform her that their technology already predicted her deviance—a chilling notion for those attached to their free will. (The sequel is coming in November.)

Author: Anastasia Salter, Pop-Culture Editor

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