Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Dystopian fiction, an Oracle for Modern Times.

The last year has been full of discussion on the internet about why dystopian fiction is so popular right now. Teri here at Demention in her blog post Dystopian Fiction at the Edinburgh Book Festival, recently gave a great overview of the main perspectives YA authors the likes of Scott Westerfeld, Patrick Ness, Moira Young and Maggie Stiefvater have shared in understanding this popularity – Escapism, the Dystopian parallel found in high school, fear of the future and a concern about the way the TV/ video game generations are becoming numb to violence. 

Dystopian by definition is all about a society that’s gone wrong. It naturally embodies some sort of rebellion against authority, which is obviously going to have big appeal to teenagers who are at an age where questioning the things one has been raised to believe or follow is a natural step into adulthood. Personally, I think this is one of the defining elements of dystopian’s popularity in the YA market right now, plus the fact that as it’s slipped into the YA genre, dystopian has undergone a transformation. YA dystopian usually ends with hope for the future. There is a positive outcome during the final power struggle and the individual (young hero or heroine) is shown as someone capable of bringing about change.

But I think there’s another element in the mix. Something that has become diluted in our modern culture but which still resonates in all of us. A profound desire to know what the future holds for us.

Throughout history, civilisations have been built and guided on prophecy, oracles and predictions, and mankind has consistently shown an innate thirst for knowledge of the unknown future.

One of our greatest ancient civilisations and what is considered the birthplace of western civilisation – Greece – orbited around the divinations and predictions of the Delphic Oracle. Situated in central Greece, the city of Delphi was considered the heart of the known world between roughly 800 BC and 400 AD. Essentially, The Delphi Oracle was the highest authority both civilly and religiously in ancient Greece. People travelled for weeks from all corners of the country and surrounding countries to consult the oracle. Her responses influenced Kings, philosophers and citizens alike, having an impact on politics, crime, war and law, and influencing some of the most significant conflicts of the period.

Allegedly, the Delphic Oracle proclaimed Socrates to be the wisest man in Greece, as a result of which, he dedicated his life to a search for knowledge that became one of the founding events of western philosophy.

In modern day society, prophets, seers, oracles, rune castors and shamans have lost much of their power. The popularity of religion in general has diminished and in terms of divinatory practices what we’re left with is a kind of watered-down, often rather superficial western version of psychics, tarot cards and daily horoscopes.

But the deep need to anticipate the future and to prepare for it, is of course part of being human. Whether through divine practices or through logic and reason, man casts out a net to try and trap the allusive unknown. Dystopian fiction is fulfilling a certain hole that has been left behind in modern society. Like the Oracle it predicts, warns and draws in so many readers because of the drive in each of us to know what the future holds. 

There are those who argue the dystopian setting comes secondary to the story, and it's the high stakes and exciting plot that are of primary interest to teenagers reading in the genre. But for me the setting in a dystopian is as entangled with the plot as the main characters. You don't have one without the other. Besides, this doesn't answer the question, why dystopia, why now? YA fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal and urban fantasy all provide life and death situations, and an exciting struggle against 'dark forces'. 

I think Dystopian fiction helps fill the need to anticipate where we’re heading, and to envisage the future we’re building for the generations to follow. A need that is as old as man.

What do you think? Is the recent trend of dystopian fiction basically just another form of escapism and entertainment, or is it connected to something more deeply rooted in the human psyche?

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Demention is SIX months old! Time for a giveaway

by Teri Terry

To celebrate half a year of Demention.... TA DA!! Yes: we have our very own bookmarks. Huge thanks to Demention's own Julienne Durber for designing their total gorgeousness.
On one side, the Demention banner may look a little familiar; on the other side, it is the Demention team - and our books, website and Twitter details. Claire Merle's second cover is hidden from view just now as it hasn't been revealed quite yet, but it is on the actual bookmarks.

What do you think? 
To celebrate our six months, and our new bookmarks, it is time for a GIVEAWAY.
This competition is now closed, but please read on!

In addition to the bookmarks, I've got some books to give away also: these are titles by the writers with whom I did events at the Edinburgh Book Festival a few months ago. Who knew that their publishers were going to send me a copy of them so I could read them before the event? I didn't, and by the time they came in the post I'd already bought my own copies. So here are the spares: Dark Parties by Sara Grant, The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker, and Dead Time by Anne Cassidy: and as this is a celebration, I'll throw in a signed copy of Slated, too!

This grand prize will include a Demention bookmark, AND a very cool bleeding butterfly sticker from Suzanne Winnacker! I'll really sorry but due to the cost of postage, the grand prize is UK only. But there will also be another three Demention bookmark prizes that are open internationally! Details on how to enter are below with the Rafflecopter.

What have we been up to over six months of Demention?

Julie, Julienne and I introduced ourselves in the very first post; then Claire introduced herself a bit later when she joined Demention.

There have been discussions and debates:
If only all the adults were dead
Can a book change the world?
Dystopian fiction: Science fiction for girls?
Science Fiction: dystopia for boys?
The popularity of dystopian fiction
The darkness of fairytales 
Hunger Games boy & girl appeal

Jeff Norton's Metawars

Sara Grant, author of Dark Parties
Keith Gray, author,and editor of Next
Janet Edwards, author of Earth Girl
Claire Merle, author of The Glimpse - before she joined Demention!
AG Howard, author of Splintered
Sam Hawksmoor, author of The Repossession and The Hunting

Guest posts, too:
MG Harris on her fave post-apocalyptic novel
Kate Atherton on time travel

On writing and writers:
Who do you write for?
Breaking the rules
Going for gold

Even news on getting an agent, a pre-launch Q&Abook launch, and a mass slating of book bloggers!

Now on to the giveaway:
This competition is now closed. First prize of books and swag goes to CB Soulsby; runners up to receive a Demention bookmark each are Ashley E., Jax B and Rose H! congratulations. If you haven't already given details, please use the contact form on this website to give your details so we can post your prize

To enter use the Rafflecopter, below: you get entries by leaving a comment on this blog post - on our bookmarks, or what you think of Demention - by following the blog, by tweeting the giveaway (available daily), and by following the Demention team on Twitter. The giveaway is over on 19th of November. 

Thanks very much for entering, and good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 15 October 2012

If you could turn back time, if you could find a way...

Today on Demention we are delighted to host guest blogger Kate Atherton, who book blogs on the fabulous For Winter Nights about YA, sci-fi, thrillers and historical fiction. She also has a film blog Movie Brit and you can follow her on Twitter @Wetdarkandwild. 

With the release of blockbusting time travel movie LOOPER, Kate takes a trip through the fascinating paradoxes of TIME TRAVEL and asks - if we could, should we? 
And what would YOU do, if you could...? 

Is it best not to mess with time?

Time will tell...

As certain as day follows night follows day, time marches on and waits for no man or woman – although, strangely, as the years go by it does seem to speed up. But, while most of us have yet to work out how to rein it in, short of investing in expensive cosmetic products, novelists and film makers appear to have discovered the secret to turning back time, taking us (if we have a mind to believe) back in time and even into the future. It seems that time travel does exist after all. 

Of course, there are rules to be obeyed. A transient knowledge of Star Trek moral codes will warn us that if we upset the space time continuum there will be dire consequences. All right it may save humpback whales and release Voyager from an icy tomb but if you mess around with time you may end of up never having been born at all.

Looper is the latest presentation of movie time travel and it sums up confusingly the perplexing paradoxes of moving through time. By killing one's future self in the past and then killing one's past self in the future, how can there even be a movie in the first place?

H.G. Wells has much to answer for. While I'm not completely up to date with time travel in Classical and medieval texts, it's quite likely that The Time Machine was one of the first depictions of such a vehicle or machine in literature. However, considering that it led to an unpleasant encounter with  the Morlocks, the ultimately evolved working man, it's surprising that there were any more. Nevertheless, many years on, Jeremy Irons dusted off the machine only to find himself back in the future in the same place. You'd have thought he would have read up on it first.

Interestingly, Felix Palma re-examines the evidence of the H.G. Wells time machine in The Map of Time – travel through the Fourth Dimension might not be all that it cracks up to be. Although, if you lived in a London predated upon by Jack the Ripper, or you happen to be the Elephant Man, you can understand the appeal. In the latest novel, The Map of the Sky, Palma takes a closer look at H.G. Wells' reports of the invasion by Martians, another event that may lay in store for us for which we should prepare.

My favourite series of children's books focuses upon time travel – Alex Scarrow's TimeRiders. In each of the books the intrepid teen heroes, each rescued out of time, travel back to a different period of time (Jurassic, Roman, Norman, American Civil War and Victorian times) to right the wrongs that have been made in the past by the future. But what if the future has become so terrible that this seems the only solution? Is it right to prevent the changes, even if it does mean that we end up evolving into a race of technologically-advanced lizards?

Which begs the question - what would you do if you could go back in time? 
Is there a dictator you would like to kill or, as in the latest sixth TimeRiders novel, a human monster that needs to be stopped? But as City of Shadows showed, going back in time to kill Jack the Ripper might have seemed a good idea at the time, but its butterfly effect may have catastrophic consequences.

In Source Code, the secret sinister military have discovered a way to send an agent back into the last few hours of time, again and again. While this may have its uses – as here by solving a terrorist attack on a train and saving countless times – it's not necessarily good for the person who has to do the time changing, especially if it means having to be killed first.

Sometimes, though, travelling back in time can remind us of how good we have it now, even if the past is populated by the great artists and writers who lived in Paris in the 1930s. In Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen uses time travel as a form of therapy for a neurotic novelist and an even more loopy muse. The present does have its charms especially, according to Mr Allen, in Paris in the rain. Personally speaking, Paris in the sunshine has a lot more going for it.

It is a fact of time travel that the past does not like to be changed. You only have to watch Twelve  Monkeys to see the truth of that. And then there's Final Destination – five movies (at least) have now demonstrated convincingly that the future does not like to me messed with either. It would seem that the only potential way to alter the future is to reasses and redress the present.

What do you think? 
What's your favourite time travel story? 
What questions and paradoxes fascinate and perplex you?

Monday, 8 October 2012

Not a review of the Hunger Games by Julienne Durber

As the title suggests, this is not a review of the Hunger Games. There are plenty of those about for both the book and the film.  What I'm going to do is look at why I think that the Hunger Games is the first book I've read for Demention that appeals equally to both girls and boys.

But before I start – a warning. This post is packed with spoilers. The Hunger Games is a cracking adventure story full of twists and surprises (careful - that was very nearly a review!) If you haven't read the book or at least seen the film, don't read on. It will spoil it!

I had resisted reading the Hunger Games purely because it was so popular (yes, I am one of those people) but as an aspiring writer of dystopian fiction it was inevitable that I would eventually succumb. So, packing my cynicism away and screwing on my impartial reviewing head, I opened my copy and began.

As this isn't a review, I won't start analysing the plot structure or the initial character development, but I will focus on character. It is a much talked about and usually accurate view in the publishing industry that girls will happily read books where the hero is a boy, but boys are far less likely to read about the adventures of girls (uur! Girlz … bleh! etc.).

This puts writers in an odd position – writing from the heart you might want to tell the story of your heroine, but logically this will reduce your potential audience. So what to do?

What Suzanne Collins does so well in the Hunger Games is to keep Katniss, her heroine, almost entirely neutral. Though there is a romantic thread running throughout the book it only surfaces occasionally, just sticking its head up to remind you that it's there.  Katniss is uncomfortable with her feelings towards both Peeta and Gale, and there is the brilliant device of Hamich's plan to set the couple up as being in love as an excuse for her not to believe that Peeta's feelings are real.

Now from one point of view, Katniss' reluctance to deal with romantic feelings is a sign of vulnerability that readers can identify with, seeing their own timidity in the face of love reflected.  But equally (and the equality is the key) her reluctance can be read as an extremely practical suppressing of feelings in the face of, at the beginning of the book a need to feed her family, and later a need to stay alive!  This interpretation is left entirely up to the reader.
Controversial Opinion destined to offend anyone who is a big fans of the Hunger Games – if Katniss were a boy and Peeta a girl, the fundamental story would remain unchanged!

Don't get me wrong, I think it would diminish the characters immensely. Both Katniss and Peeta would become far more standard, almost stereotypical characters - the emotionally closed off boy, good at hunting, and the girl who is secretly in love with him.

This shows the strength of the gender neutrality of the characters.  The 14 year old boy in me enjoyed the actual games the best, and it didn't matter that Katniss was a girl because she was cool.  Despite her internal doubts, she showed resilience and hero-skills in every set piece encounter most of which wouldn't have seemed out of place in any number of action films.

With every trap, stratagem and reflex decision Katniss made, I found myself reminded of Predator, Rambo (the first one), the Bourne films, James Bond, Mission Impossible, Die Hard – the list goes on.  I'm not holding these up as great films, but from a heart-thumping, popcorn-munching point of view, they are hard to beat.  A central character faced by overwhelming odds having to rely on limited resources and his (her?) initiative and resourcefulness.

And from a more literary side, try Aragorn and Legolas in the Lord of the Rings, Bilbo in the Hobbit, Harry Potter, Charlie Higson's young incarnation of Bond, even a random adventure book I bought in a charity shop (purely for the absurd title) Bloody Passage by Jack Higgins – packed with cliches, two-dimensional characters and predictability, but a thoroughly enjoyable intellect-free indulgence.

But even these set pieces were handled in a neutral way.  Katniss never rejoiced in her kills, never showed satisfaction or even relief in the deaths of others.  I think it would have been as easy for me to empathise with her as a character struggling to retain her own identity and integrity whilst using her hunting skills to stay alive, if it weren't for the excitement of my inner child.

So, is Katniss an action heroine, her decisions uncluttered by emotion, doing what she has to in order to survive and help her those around her despite her inner feelings – understanding that the world is a harsh place and a girl has to do what a girl has to do?


Is she a girl who has had to come to terms with great emotional loss and responsibility far beyond her years, has picked up some useful skills, and is on the cusp of adulthood – a scary swirl of emotions at the best of times?

In my opinion, Collins has walked the fine line between the two superbly, committing to neither one nor the other.  But given how the first book finished (I didn't want to start the second until I'd written this post) I suspect she will be stepping off the line in the second.

To all of you screaming at your screen that I'm just bringing too much fighty-boy baggage and that Katniss is, deep down, a sweet, sensitive soul I have three things to say:

1 – The final berry-related 'screw you' to the Capitol was classic loose cannon, maverick action hero behaviour – and I loved it!

2 – If Katniss was so unsure of her own emotions towards Peeta and Gale, and so unsure about Peeta's real feelings, how could she have functioned so well and for so long selling her contraband at the Hob and to the officials of District 12 without getting constantly ripped off?

3 – Tell me what you think.  Argue.  Agree.  Insult.  Feed back.  This is my opinion and I'd love to hear yours.

And as I like to end on a giveaway, I'll send a Demention bookmark to the first person to draw a convincing parallel between the final showdown in the arena and an early scene in a well-known action film featuring Keanu Reeves and a bus.

All generic royalty free images provided by freedigitalphotos.net and manipulated by Julienne

Monday, 1 October 2012

Julienne's Big Announcement - I have an Agent!

My first ever Demention post featured the launch of our own Teri Terry's Slated in the style of a dark dystopian narrative.

It seemed only appropriate to blog about the events of the last week in the same style.

(To read the original post click here)

Monday - 07:32

My cover was prepared - for many months I had been deep within the Organisation posing as a lowly design operative, an excellent position from which to feed information back to my Aspiring and Elevated brethren and sistren.  No one at the Organisation had suspected a thing, but this week, this week of change, my cover was in danger of being blown.

Within the ranks of the String Mistresses and Word Slashers, rumours were flowing, vines heavy with botrytis-rotted grapes were quivering.  Too many people knew change was upon us, but too few knew what form this change would take.  Speculation was rife and even I had myself been interrogated within the ranks of the Aspiring, but my nerve had held ... just.

Tuesday - 11:47

A secret coded communique arrived!  Risking my cover, I broke the seal within the very offices of the Organisation.  Rejoice - Cogs were moving!  A reorganisation within the ranks of the String Mistresses meant that an opportunity had arisen for more of the Aspiring to become Elevated, and I had been chosen to be one of the first!

But the information was to be guarded for another 48 hours.  Torture!  I spent the rest of the day haunted, jumping at every noise, suspecting each shadow.  One stray word and the Enforcers could descend on me!

Wednesday - 10.14

The call went out mid morning.  The illicit airwaves and underground grapevine crackled with the news - one of our finest new String Mistresses and a deft Slasher of Words - Gemma Cooper - had been recruited by that most flexible of groups, The Bent Agency.  She would be joining Mistress of Strings Molly Ker Hawn in representing Bent's underground activity in the UK.

Risking breaking their own cover, Aspiring and Elevated, String Mistresses and Word Slashers jammed the airwaves with congratulations for Gemma.

Thursday - 09:07

Confirmation arrived!  I was free to announce my own news.  Picking a moment when the Enforcers were distracted and only one distracted guard was slouching through the office, I sent the missive I'd spent a sleepless night preparing and encoding:

- Friends - Gemma Cooper has agreed to turn her string pulling and word slashing skills to my advantage - My journey towards Elevation has taken another step - Fight the Organisation! - 

Friday - 15:00

What seems like a continuous flow of messages of joy from both Elevated and Aspiring have reached me.  To risk blowing their cover to offer such support gives me hope that, with the help of the String Mistresses and Word Slashers, we can overcome the Organisation's Enforcers and triumph.

But for now, brethren and sistren, let us sink below the parapet until another victory necessitates our uprising again.

All generic royalty free images provided by freedigitalphotos.net and manipulated by Julienne