Post-apocalyptic & Dystopian Reads #2

Tuesday 23 August 2016

J. G. Ballard
Today's reality, the melting of the polar ice caps, has come true in Ballard's 1962 tale of disaster. In a now-underwater London, the army and a scientific unit sent to survey the changing area are soon going to be forced north - apart from those who choose to stay behind. The environment, now in a kind of New Triassic period overgrown with vegetation and exotic creatures, is encroaching not just onto the cities but into our protagonists' psychology. The novel took me a little while to get into, but once I did I couldn't put it down. J. G. Ballard builds a world which whilst subject to the expected post-apocalyptic violence, is also beautiful and entrancing.

Martine McDonagh
McDonagh has described this novel as 'mid-apocalyptic', a quiet exploration of a near future in which climate change is slowly plunging British society backwards - 'the worst is yet to come'. Living alone in a falling down mill, Rachel tries to maintain her self-imposed isolation whilst dealing with attention from an unknown stalker. I had some mixed feelings about this book; the writing just feels a little thin in places and some unanswered questions irritated me a little. However, I Have Waited puts a little twist on the genre which I found interesting, and kept me on my toes in terms of how I felt about the characters.

Jack London
Published in 1912, the Scarlet Plague is a fairly early short, simple post-apocalyptic tale. James Howard Smith, the last survivor with memory of the era before the Red Death swept the USA, recounts his story to his grandsons sixty years after the collapse of civilisation. It is certainly a product of its time, and I just couldn't get past the hand wringing passages about the 'savage' working classes, who are somehow the real villains in the collapse of American life.

Edan Lepucki
The wealthy have retired to Communities guarded by guns; the poor are stuck in the now hellish cities; others are spread out throughout the wilderness, trying to eke out an existence from the land (or perhaps joining gangs like the Pirates). Frida and Cal have abandoned a decaying Los Angeles, moving to Northern California to fend for themselves. California explores the meaning of relationships and community to ordinary people in desperate situations. I felt the book was slightly oddly paced at times, and I was frustrated at the lack of story-building in terms of the events which led to the situation Frida and Cal find themselves in, but generally it was an enjoyable and engaging read.

Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale is perhaps one of the most well-known dystopian novels of the twentieth century, and for good reason. In a totalitarian Christian America, women no longer have recognised rights; they are divided into differing classes according to their roles in relation to men. Offred, our protagonist, is a handmaid kept by the 'Commander' and his wife, her sole purpose to provide them with children. This book is one of my all-time favourites, re read at least once a year (I've previously posted about the illustrated Folio Society edition), and the cause of my eternal fascination with Atwood's work. It's beautifully written, perceptive, frightening and imaginative.

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