Monday 16 April 2012

If only all the adults were dead... Dystopian YA at the British National Science Fiction Convention

by Teri Terry
Enter to win one of the books featured in this blog! Find out how at the end.
(editor's note: this competition is now closed, but please read on!)

A week ago I went to a dystopian YA panel event at Olympus 2012: the really BIG British National Sci Fi convention. It was my first time at Eastercon. I was a little nervous, but it was weird and wonderful: my kind of place! I got the impression anything goes, and the natives were friendly. Besides, it is hard not to like a place that gives you a mug and an Easter Creme egg.

This is what I was there for: the Dystopian YA panel. Here they are:

From left to right: Caroline Hooton (chair and author-in-waiting), Emma Newman (author of Twenty Years Later), Amanda Rutter (editor with Strange Chemistry Books), Tom Pollock (author of The City's Son - Skyscraper throne, book 1, out in August 2012 ) and Cory Doctorow (author of Little Brother).

They were there to talk about dystopian young adult fiction. Dystopian stories - set in dark future worlds – are in the spotlight now with the release of the Hunger Games movie, based on Suzanne Collins’ novel.
Is dystopian fiction for young adults a new trend, or one we've only just noticed? 
Emma Newman
Emma: it is nothing new, but it has never been marketed in this way before. Also it reflects anxieties of the time. That moment when you look at the world, and think: it’s all rubbish, why aren’t you doing anything?!

Amanda: it is both new, and not new. It is a cyclical trend, but for YA readers who are reading it for the first time now, for them it isn’t a trend. And when they love something, they really love it. They want more.

Tom: it reflects the level of anxiety about the future at the moment; it resonates in a new way.

Cory Doctorow
Cory: it is part of adolescence when you wake up and think the adults have ruined it all. There is a craving for the cosy apocalypse: if only all the adults were dead…

Amanda: getting rid of adults isn’t new, from Enid Blyton to Harry Potter.

Tom: there is a distinction between books where adults disappear, and those where adults are the problem (eg. Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness; Divergent by Veronica Roth). Also there are books where the adults are gone but it isn’t their fault, like Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now: sometimes you are on your own, and just have to cope.
Is the focus in dystopian YA on bringing things down, not rebuilding?
Amanda Rutter
Amanda: it is more about bringing it down. This leaves the reader’s imagination free to think how they’d rebuild things, how things should be.

Cory: rebuilding isn’t dramatic; a well rebuilt society lacks drama

Scott Westerfeld has been quoted as saying: ‘High School is a dystopia.’
Tom Pollock
Tom: Divergent is a metaphor for high school: choose your destiny – pick your A level subjects.

Emma: it is not just High School in the US sense, more it is the internal struggles at this age, not always to do with school culture

Amanda: YA emphasizes issues – making decisions about who you want to be and where you fit in, not just in school, but in everything in life. It reflects adolescent fears that every decision you make is SO important, and affects your life forever.
A question from the audience: why do you write dystopian tales?
Emma: we’ve been sucked into the system and feel disempowered: maybe we’re trying to give ourselves therapy. Anyhow we’re all writing from our unconscious mind.

Amanda: don’t look at dystopian YA in isolation; much of YA is also hopeful where dystopian YA is dark.

Cory: dystopian YA is not necessarily pessimistic.

Amanda: endings are often more open – whether the future will be good or bad. YA is the bravest area of fiction being published today: it doesn’t tread the same old paths.

Emma: YA is popular with adult audiences also: it is fast paced, and stuff happens; vs. adult contemporary literary fiction where nothing happens, it is reflective and boring.
Concluding remarks?
Tom: need more gender neutral covers. Recommends Patrick Ness, Knife of Never Letting Go, and Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now.

Amanda: be brave in choices in YA fiction: try it! YA isn’t all dystopian, try other things for balance.

Caroline (chair): recommends Dark Parties by Sara Grant, and Slated by Teri Terry (honest: she did! I’m not making it up!)
My thoughts on this:
I can speculate how/why my unconscious mind taps into dark, future places, but at the end of it, to me the appeal of stories like Hunger Games, Divergent, How I Live Now to name a few, is all about character, and story. The 'what if' of the world created may be what gets me to pick up the book in the first place, but it is Katniss, Tris and Daisy that keep me there. Take an interesting character, put them in an impossible situation – and have them do something. Even if it doesn’t work out – at least not at first. Surviving impossible odds in a dark world isn’t pessimistic to me at all: it is full of hope.
The giveaway: you pick the prize!
(editor's note: this competition is now closed)

The winner can pick as prize any one of any of the books pictured in this blog - or, if you prefer - the official Olympus 2012 mug (without the creme egg. It's long gone).

To enter, leave a comment below, saying which prize you will pick if you win - and any other comments you'd like to share about this event - and follow this blog if you aren’t already. If you tweet it as well, mention that in your comment; you’ll get an extra entry.

Open internationally. This closes at noon UK time on April 30. The winner chosen from the comments using a random number generator will be posted here, and then they have 7 days to contact us with their details before another winner will be chosen. Good luck!


  1. Well, this isn't a hard choice. If I win, I pick Slated by er... you! Interesting post, Teri.

  2. I think readers and writers alike are drawn to the complex issues that are often explored in these on-the-surface black and white worlds. Isn't that one of the great pleasures of life... drawing out the simple long enough that it becomes complex?? Then 'insight' overcoming the feeling of being overwhelmed by detail? There is a great deal of psychological satisfaction offered in the process of reading this books... in the same way that readers enjoy working out 'who did it' a split second before the sleuth.

    Dystopian stories are great vehicles for exploring not just the individual and the state kinds of questions, but also questions about identity and possibility. And I agree - I find more hope in this genre than most other 'fantasy' genres!

    Umm.... can I pick... Divergent??

  3. A very thought provoking post! It certainly made me reflect on what I get from reading dystopian fiction. If I win I wouuld choose Meg Rosoff's book! (as I want to buy Slated from a book shop - yes I do!)

  4. What a great post!! I've definitely enjoyed jumping into all of the dystopian books, even if they don't appeal to me a first. I absolutely devoured Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking series....phenomenal. I cannot believe I waited so long. I honestly don't know what book to choose. There are such great choices!! I'll go with Slated, but 20 years Later looks great!

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  5. I've already got Divergent & The Hunger games & i've pre-ordered Slated! So if i was to win i'd chooooooose Dark Parties. Thanks!

  6. This sounds like a fascinating event. I need to get out more:-) Thanks for sharing.

    In the unlikely event I'm picked, I'd like to win Slated please. I've already read the first few chapters and want to know what happens next!

  7. Agree with your point about loving the characters before loving the world. But the world has a lot to do with it! I think this is why dystopias tend to come in threes - it's not just the publisher maxing on sales but the reader wanting to spend more time immersed in the world. Great blog post!

  8. Interesting post :)
    I'll choose Slated if I were chosen. Thanks for the chance! :)

  9. This looked like such a good event! I'm a HUGE Dystopian fan! Ever since I started reading The Handmaid's Tale for school, I fell in love and haven't stopped! :) Dystopians do tend to dark most of the time, but there are little bubbles of hope in them too. I'd have to pick Slated! :D Thanks for the giveaway!

  10. I would choose... The City's Son because I love the idea of a nearly-London...

  11. Aha - I thought I'd missed this - but I see there's still time - just. If I won I guess I would have to pick either Divergent or Slated - love the cover of Slated - love the titles of both!
    I'm already a follower and I think I retweeted this a while back but if I haven't I'll do so now :-)
    All great sounding books!

  12. What a great event! And thank you for the giveaway, I'd probably pick Slated by Teri Terry.
    High school is definitely dystopia, by the way :)

  13. Sounds like a fascinating event and sorry I missed it. But thanks so much for the write-up.

    And, you guessed it, Teri. I want Slated!!!!!!!!!!

  14. This competition is now closed, so any comments after this one don't count! Off to a random number generator to pick a winner out of 1 to 13 entrants...

  15. ...and the winner is: comment no. 9!! Stephanie, who has picked Slated.