The dystopian element of CROW MOON is the Greenworld’s counterpoint: The Redworld, a crime and corruption-riddled Britain (and the rest of the world, as far as we know), polluted to within an inch of its life, where a pointless war for the last scraps of fuel rages on in Russia. In the Redworld, the lights are flickering and almost out.
Why is dystopia so popular right now in books for young people? I asked Year 10 students at Notting Hill and Ealing High School as part of their Utopia/Dystopia-themed World Book Day a couple of weeks ago, and they said, much as I have in the above paragraph, pretty much because the world’s going to crap. How right they were. The Hunger Games describes a world where a powerful, rich elite have all the resources, and the masses have none; anyone with half an eye on stats for global poverty will know that this situation is not just mirrored in the poorest nations in the world but in the UK and US as well as other European countries, some of which are in severe states of collapse.
My fellow Quercus writer Louise O’Neill’s amazing novel – AND WINNER OF THE YA BOOK PRIZE, HURRAH!!!!! – and feminist dystopia ONLY EVER YOURS describes a world where girls are bred to be pleasing partners or concubines for men/boys. Her excoriating look at the way a society encourages image and “beauty” obsession/body dysmorphia in girls, encouraging women to compete against each other for male attention, is totally real, now. The setup of the dystopia is fictional and the rules a little different, but this is happening now. This is what we are fighting against, now. We’re still fighting it just like we were when Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. Which, incidentally, the teachers at NHEHS were just a little bit too happy to be really convincing as.
Dystopia is an essential element in our cultural understanding at all times – whether in the middle of several global apocalyptic wars or in relative peacetime (NOTE: this never exists) because it provides a way of visioning the possible consequences of our social choices and norms. Brave New World visioned the negative consequences of genetic engineering and the abolition of God for the master of mass production, Ford. Post world war two, 1984 visioned a totalitarian all-seeing, all-knowing state deep rooted in political spin, brainwashing and propaganda. Huxley and Orwell were responding to the challenges and concerns of their times as they saw them, just as O’Neill and Collins are, and just as I am in CROW MOON. There isn’t long before the lights go out, and escaping to an island is not an option. So what are we going to do about it?