These have been an extraordinary couple of weeks. My home town is still without power in the wake of hurricane Sandy, and my kids are still out of school, making today’s “snow day” a redundancy for my little truants.

Cold and dark as my house may be, I’m among the fortunate—the devastation that Hurricane Sandy has wrought is heartbreaking.  My own family’s “indoor camping” adventure lasted only as long as the relatively mild weather.  When the mercury plummeted, we left for warmer, brighter lodging with family and friends.   My experience of reading by candlelight (charming for the first ten minutes, headache inducing thereafter) has filled me with new-found respect for Abe Lincoln, and most everyone who lived before the advent of electricity.

My older son has missed nearly two weeks of school, so what he sees as astonishing, magical good luck has become a source of increasing consternation to me.  I’ve been cobbling together lessons of my own, which are effective only as much as they increase my appreciation for teachers, who probably do not use m&ms to teach arithmetic.

I’ve been doing lots of reading aloud, which is fun, and also looking for books suitable for my six year old to attempt on his own. We’re not in our own home, so “on level” storybooks are few and far between. Still, when I’m not reading books, drafting worksheets, or monitoring the utility company’s “three day plan” (now in its 9th day) I’ve been thinking about post-apocalyptic fiction–environmental devastation, fuel shortages, breakdown of civil society, etc.   Disasters, even those for which we prepare, are fearsome reminders that dark imaginings we channel into fiction are not entirely fanciful.

Post- apocalyptic/dystopian fiction is not a genre in which I have read widely or recently;  I can think of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, Octavia Butler’s Earthseed Books,  a novel from some 15 years ago called Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, in which civilization just sort of petered out, Ahmed Khaled Tawfik’s Utopia, David Brin’s The Postman ( I think I read this in high school, ditto classics like Farenheit 451 and 1984)  I realize this is woefully incomplete: what other books should I add?


12 Responses to

  1. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    Well, if you really want to get in touch with the Bad Old Days, I’d have to recommend Gone With The Wind, especially the part after Atlanta has fallen and Scarlett is trying hold things together at Tara.. Of course, if you really want to see what an honest-to-God dystopian society in full freakout mode looks like, check out any book about the Siege of Lenigrad or the Fall Of Berlin; (there’s actually an excellent book by that very name that I used as source material for the YA historical thriller I’m shopping around) things are terrible around those parts, and I hope everything bounces back quickly, but these books will remind you how much worse things can get when God really decides to rock and roll…

  2. Lance C. says:

    Earth Abides and On the Beach are classics. Be prepared to be severely depressed after reading On the Beach.

    Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is literary post-apocalyptica.

    Lucifer’s Hammer is SFF-thriller post-apocalyptica.

    I’m surprised you didn’t include The Handmaid’s Tale since you got Margaret Atwood’s other forays into the dystopian genre.

    If you don’t mind YA, then The Hunger Games is a good, fast dystopian read.

    • Joelle says:

      I am a HUGE Nevil Shute fan. My first book is even dedicated to him and I spoke at the International Nevil Shute Conference a couple of years ago. But I have never read ON THE BEACH. We own several copies, but I don’t think I’ll ever read it!

  3. Joelle says:

    You could probably find a copy of my YA, Restoring Harmony, on the DGLM shelves (or ask Michael). It’s not like big bad dystopia, more like…well, what some people are living through near you! It’s set only 30 years in the future after economic collapse due to the end of oil…no electricity, for one thing!

    Otherwise, I’m at a loss. I kind of like the hopeful books and don’t read much dystopia (ironic, I know).

    Take care and good luck.

  4. Siri Kirpal Kaur Khalsa says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. Glad you survived. Truthfully, the whole thing reminds me of my grandmother telling me about her childhood in rural “Missourah.” No electricity, no indoor plumbing, etc. But I think we have it worse than they did. They made their own fun, and didn’t rely on video games and email, which didn’t exist. Instead, they sang songs, told stories, recited poems, read, sewed (which is even worse by candlelight than reading is) and visited with friends. I was personally appalled by the kids who didn’t know what to do with themselves without access to electric toys.

  5. So sorry to hear about all the problems so many people are facing :(
    You have to read Children of Men and yes even Hunger Games. It was really good.

  6. A couple of dystopian novels were mentioned often during this election so I’ve put them on my reading list. Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.

  7. bdub says:

    Noah’s Castle by John Rowe Townsend is a good one. I read it as a teenager in the 80s (it was originally published in 1975, has been recently republished) and have never forgotten it.

    Hope your power is restored soon.

    • Joelle says:

      Funny you mention Noah’s Castle as I read it when I was a teen too, and it scared the crap out of me. I missed the bit at the beginning about it being a fictional town in England and was disoriented for the whole book, too.

      John Rowe Townsend (now 90) has been my writing mentor for the last twenty years or so! I was excited to see they re-issued it (he sent me a surprise copy). Everyone should read that one! (P.S. Earlier, someone mentioned Nevil Shute and I commented that my first book is dedicated to him…it’s also dedicated to JRT. The people reading this blog have great taste!).

      • bdub says:

        Joelle, Noah’s Castle scared me too, which is why I’ve never forgotten it. I plan on re-reading it now that it’s been republished. You’re very lucky to have John Rowe Townsend as a mentor! I will have to check out Restoring Harmony.

  8. Glad to hear you’re hanging in there! I pray for swift recovery. In the meantime, some of my favorite dystopias/post-apocalyptic scenarios (outside of the classics like 1984 and Brave New World, etc.):

    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (if you don’t mind vampires)
    America Pacifica by Anna North (YA-ish)
    Feed by Mira Grant (if you don’t mind zombies, this one is really intelligent and well-done)
    The Road by Cormac McCarthy
    The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K LeGuin
    Spin by Robert Charles Wilson (One of my favorites ever! More of a pre-apocalypse, though; the humans know it is coming but are literally powerless to stop it. Basically, a bunch of aliens put a barrier around Earth that causes time to pass more slowly inside, so 40 years of Earth time is about 4 billion in the rest of the universe. That’s as long as it will take for the sun to expand and engulf our planet. Highly recommended!)

  9. Emily says:

    Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is great. So scary!

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