Saturday, January 8, 2011

GENRE : Dystopian fiction

          A Librarian friend and I have created (and presented a workshop on) a bunch of really great "Recommended if you like" lists, or "RIYL" for short.  We presented at the California School Library Association conference, and have continued to work on building our collection of genre lists.  We format them as double-sided bookmarks, with the genre heading and an illustration/picture on one side, and the list of titles on the reverse, and leave them out on the circ desk for students to browse through and keep.  What's really great is when you see kids keeping the bookmarks and checking off each title as they read their way through the list.  (Examples of some of our list titles: "Have You Mythed Out?" "Read the Movie," "RIYL Tim Burton," "Sugar and Spikes," and "Define Normal")

          When the English classes are studying 1984 they all start asking for books "like" 1984, which is a pretty specific sub-genre of science fiction, or rather speculative fiction.  It gets pretty sticky.  If you just do a general search in the library's database for science fiction, you get way too much, same with using "future" as a keyword.  I've started manually adding "dystopian fiction" in the cataloging records for any books that fit the bill, so it's quicker & easier to find them. 

          Here's an updated version of our Dystopian Fiction bibliography:

UTOPIA or DYSTOPIA?

What does the future hold?


The Diary of Pelly D by L.J. Adlington
Feed by M.T. Anderson
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood
Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury, Ray
The Roar by Emma Clayton
The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Dick
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by N. Farmer
The House of the Scorpion by N. Farmer
The Dirt Eaters by Dennis Foon
The Beach by Alex Garland
“Gone” series by Michael Grant
Among the Hidden by Margaret Haddix
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Epic by Conor Kostick
This Side of Paradise by Steven L. Layne
The Cure by Sonia Levitin
Fearless by Tim Lott
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Messenger by Lois Lowry
The Resistance by Gemma Malley
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Secret Under My Skin by J. McNaughton
Z for Zachariah by Robert O’Brien
1984 by George Orwell
Witch & Wizard by James Patterson
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Pearson
Last Book in the Universe by Philbrick
The Forest of Hands & Teeth by C. Ryan
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
“Virtual War” series by Gloria Skurzynski
Truesight by David Stahler
War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
“Uglies” series by Scott Westerfeld
The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn
Storm Thief by Chris Wooding
*All titles found in our Library*

          At first it was kind of fun, and I was finding plenty of books, but then I started noticing that there are numerous sub-genres of what I guess would fit under the umbrella term "speculative."  Things like post-apocalyptic, steampunk (all the rage now), etc.  And just because a novel is set in the future, does that automatically  make it utopian/dystopian?

          Even some English & Literature teachers have a hard time defining the parameters of general "science fiction."  I bossily intervened earlier this year when one of our English teachers claimed Jurassic Park was NOT science fiction because it's not set in the future.  She told a student he couldn't use it for a sci-fi book report, and since that teacher is a pal of mine, I emailed her several different comprehensive definitions of sci-fi from several different sources, to show that sci-fi isn't just future fiction.  Her reply was, "I think someone has waaay too much time on his hands over there in that library..."

          Which was funny, but unfair.  Isn't that the kind of thing we library people are SUPPOSED to care about?  Isn't that why we're here?  To be anal-retentive about literary details, definitions, and labelling?  (I have many thoughts & ideas on labelling.)  Anyway, she conceded the debate and let the kid use Jurassic Park, so...  I win.  Probably mostly because she doesn't really give a shit, as long as the kids are reading and comprehending.

          (And by the way, unfortunately I now feel compelled to work on a list of science fiction that deals specifically with genetic engineering, cloning, stem cells, etc. starting with Michael Crichton's books.)

          But back to dystopian fiction:

          I know everyone's batshit crazy for the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, and it's obviously THE dystopian teen series at this time.  I'm sure it's great, but the concept just makes me think of Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, which was originally published in Japan in 1999, almost a decade before The Hunger Games.  I haven't read Hunger Games yet, and I never will because I'm totally sick of hearing about it.  (Note: I did read Collins' Gregor the Overlander and totally loved it) 

          I'm sure what differentiates Hunger Games most from Battle Royale is that it's more palatable to teachers and librarians.

          Therefore, if I decide I want to read about teens having to battle to the death for survival in a harsh future, I will read the more controversial and possibly distasteful Battle Royale.  Because that's how I roll.


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