Dystopian fiction has a long and honorable history, and lately it seems as if there’s more and more of it available and it’s increasingly popular. Consider the new popularity of 1984 and It Couldn’t Happen Here, the television series based on The Handmaid’s Tale, and the box office (and book sale) success of the Hunger Games series and the Maze Runner and Divergent series. Whether you’re interested in dystopian fiction to remind yourself that things could always get worse or because you feel the world is turning into a kind of dystopian novel itself, we have two new dystopian novels that imagine very different kinds of futures.
The Book of Etta, by Meg Elison, is set in the aftermath of a plague that nearly destroyed humanity. Now, women are scarce and childbearing, while necessary to the future of humanity, is incredibly dangerous. Mothers and midwives are revered, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good world for women in general. Etta, the protagonist, is a scavenger, someone who lives outside the protection of the village, finding useful and potentially valuable things left by the civilization now gone. Of course, being outside the village puts her in danger from slave traders who are on the hunt for women to seize and sell. When some of the people she loves are captured by slavers, she sets out to find them and rescue them, a trek which takes her to the stronghold of a local tyrant, known as the Lion. There she has to use her wits and determination to survive and save the lives of those she cares about, and perhaps the rest of the society as well.
There’s also a plague in the background of American War, a debut novel by Omar El Akkad (and yes, this counts as a debut for those doing the 2017 Reading Challenge), and there’s also a young woman’s journey at the heart of the book, but it’s a different future and a different journey. The Second American Civil War took place in 2074, and Sarat Chestnut, born in what was then Louisiana, was six years old at the time. Half the state is under water, drones fill the skies, and oil is outlawed. When her father is killed, Sarat and the rest of her family are moved to Camp Patience, a sinister camp for displaced persons, where, ultimately, she falls under the sway of a mysterious stranger whose goal is to turn Sarat into a deadly weapon. The story is told by her nephew, years later, looking back on the horrors of the past and especially the dark secrets of his aunt, who destroyed untold lives while saving his.