Dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction – be it the written word or film – has exploded over the past year or two. It was a welcome turn from the endless circle of vampires, werewolves and clumsy human girls, but then it became a little bit…predictable. “No kidding, another government fell and it’s up to two teenagers to head the revolution? How droll.”
A seemingly exciting, adventurous genre turned…boring. It was the same story being recycled over and over, as is inevitable when anything blows up into the super-popular. However, there have been a few dystopian/post-apocalyptic recipes that have really worked for me. They’ve kept me on the edge of my seat, I haven’t gotten bored, and I’ve wanted more. Once I become picky about a genre, it gets almost impossible to give me something I approve of (boy, I sound like a snob. I guess I’m a fiction connoisseur? That sounds nicer).
Here are a few that have passed the test –
This TV show ran from 2006 to 2008, for a season and a half. It revolves around a small Kansas town, Jericho, and what happens after the nation’s major cities are destroyed by nuclear bombs and the country crumbles into chaos. Mom and Dad watched this show before I did and honestly, I wasn’t that interested for a long time. When I finally watched the pilot episode with them, I was pleasantly surprised – it was intriguing, exciting, intelligent, and I may or may not have instantly fallen for the main character Jake Green.
We watched all the episodes, and then my parents bought them (we were extremely excited) and we re-watched it almost instantly. Why did this series work? Why did I love it so much, when it isn’t a completely original idea?
1. Real main characters. Everyone was different, and everyone was real. Nobody was unrealistically cool – even Jake made impulsive decisions, got hurt, and argued – and he’s about as cool as it’s possible for a character to get. The only unrealistic thing about them was…their hair. The women, not the men. Seriously, how DID they find all that product?
2. Realistic problems. Nuclear fallout? Check. Starvation? Check. Cold winter? Check. Power struggles? Check. Family problems? Check, check, check. Mercenaries? Oh, check. You never knew what problem they were going to get hit with next, but you knew it was going to be a doozy.
3. Humor. Yep, humor. The shows are intense and thrilling (and surprisingly clean, too) – but the writers made sure to keep the dialogue livened with humor. Jake and Stanley had some hilarious conversations, city-woman Mimi was always good for a laugh, and it all felt very much like a real family. Dysfunctional at times, but held together with love and friendship and chuckles.
4. Jake. You really have to watch the show.
That’s my best example of a post-apocalyptic story that really worked, even if it was depressingly short. My mom, sister and I are watching Revolution online; it’s a new story revolving around the world 13 years after a global blackout. I’m not as impressed with it as I was with Jericho – the characters border on unrealistically fanny-kicking cool or “Lookat me, I can take’mallout with my pinkifinger!” My favorite thing about this show is watching them travel around the overgrown train stations and whatnot – the visuals are awesome. Plus there’s a lot of swashbuckling, which you don’t find often in dystopic fiction. Also, there keep being actors we recognize – Mirror from Once Upon a Time, Russel from Jericho, daddy werewolf from Red Riding Hood. That’s always fun.
I’ve read three dystopic books recently: Legend, Ashes Ashes, and Sneak. None of them were perfect – Legend had teen insta-love, Ashes Ashes needed more development, Sneak could be predictable – but they all had things that helped make them interesting and keep me turning the pages.
Legend was intriguing, you couldn’t help but wonder what all those Xs on doors meant, if anybody was going to catch the plague, if Day was going to get caught. I liked that about it, you weren’t sure what was going to happen next and there was enough danger and people getting hurt to raise the stakes.
Ashes Ashes did well with realism – skinned knees, boiled clothes and turtle soup (that didn’t turn out so well). And it had Sammy, a character who was absolutely awesome and only had about 3% page time. Urgh.
Sneak, like its predecessor Swipe, was fun and interesting enough – while it isn’t outstanding, it has Christian values, a solid plot, and characters colorful enough to make it a good read.
What about you? Anything that particularly irritates you about the post-apocalyptic/dystopian genre, or do you have favorites?