2 Terrific Book Genres to Discover: Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic – Over 60 Readers Rejoice!

Try something new and different.  You never know when you’ll find something wonderful…

I’m an avid reader. I can’t sleep at night without reading even a few pages, no matter how tired I am. My mother, an avid reader herself, taught me to read as soon as my speaking transitioned from baby talk to proper words. This was perfect for something to do with her young girl as my mother wanted to instill her passion for knowledge and reading books into my young mind.

It worked! I had a library card at 3 and quickly read all the Babar Elephant Stories. By 4 years of age I was reserving new books to make sure I was the first to read the Madeline and Babar new releases before too many fingers soiled the pages of my favourite stories. I was at the local library each week borrowing books, asking about books, and looking for new authors. I got to know the librarians, the staff and the students working there. When I was 13 the head librarian asked if I wanted to work a few hours a week after school. What could be better: not only being around books, but being paid to be there.

It was my first paying job and I loved it. The job wasn’t glamorous, but it was like dream. Shelving books became my mission after school 2 days a week, until I turned 16 and was too old for the role. I couldn’t wait to get to the library and smell the books. I loved walking down the aisles with my book-trolley and placing each book in it’s exact location according to Dewey and his system of Library organization. What an invention for my developing brain! Sometimes I’d pick a shelf and, starting at one end, I’d move down the row reading all the book titles and their location codes, making sure all were in the correct location. People even asked me to help them find a book, which was thrilling for me to be able to help someone find a new treasure. I totally loved my first job!

My passion for reading is still as strong as it was more than 40 years ago when I worked as a librarian helper. I have a pattern for finding new books as I’ve read so much. I look for new emerging authors or ones I’m unfamiliar with. I try one of their books, and if I enjoy it, I then read all that they have written, until I have read them all or get bored with their style. I then find another author in the same genre and read all their work. At some point I get bored in the genre and look for a new one.

This pattern started when I was in High School and read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.  I’d moved on from the Nancy Drew and other ‘girls’ books that were boring with their nonsense.  Anna Karenina was a literary revelation:  it introduced me to the reality of life, love and possibilities as well as to historical fiction and people and situation in other cultures.  I was bursting with joy at my discovery. This book prompted me to work through all the great Russians. I remember reading War and Peace in Math class, inside my textbook.  When the teacher realized what I was reading, he just laughed and told me to carry on.  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was next, to the approval of my math teacher.  By University I found Smiley and worked through the Cold War with Le Carre and Len Deighton. Grisham introduced me to the lawyer genre and Follett got me into historical fiction sagas. De Mille and Baldacci mesmerized me with wonderful ‘larger than life’ story-telling with extremely interesting characters. And I can’t forget to mention Dan Brown who introduced religious and pagan doctrine into the mystery genre with such an amazing lead character. I’ve read tons and tons of wonderful books, and I know there are a lot more out there for me to discover. And I’m not just being optimistic, I’m over-the-top happy about it!   I’m always finding new and exciting books to read, even when I think that I’ve exhausted my possibilities.

A few months ago Amazon was featuring science fiction books in one of their ‘new release’ e-mails that I seem to get a few times a week. Yes, I have a love-hate relationship with all these e-mails, but lately it has been more in the love direction as my ‘geek’ self took notice of one of the titles in this e-mail. The book was CyberStorm, by Matthew Mather, about a power outage in New York City during a winter storm. The work ‘cyber’ got my attention and I thought I’d try a science fiction book for a change. I’d never really gotten into this genre. Aliens and werewolves just don’t appeal to me.   I did do the whole Happy Potter thing, but that was a phenomenon that was unique, special and totally amazing.  It didn’t prompt me to want other books like it. I guess I’d had enough of Hogwarts, wizardry and Lord Voldemort.

I took the science fiction plunge (or the bait!) and download Cyberstorm on my Kindle.  It just stayed there unopenned for a while as I finished up the lengthy saga I was reading. I finally gave it a go. My goodness, I totally loved it. The whole time I was reading it I kept wondering when the Martians were coming, if the aliens would invade and if people would turn into animals. You see this was my idea of sci fi. How wrong I was to expect this, and how thankful and relieved I was that none of this was in the book.

What a story it was!  CyberStorm is about a guy and his family, and other families , living in a condo apartment building in New York City. It began very simply and was very normal: nothing crazy, no supernatural or extra-terrestrial beings, and no objects coming to life. There was a storm and power was lost. Seems normal enough. The power stayed out and people had to start finding food, warmth and so on. As time went on things became difficult, and very slowly we are drawn into a world where nothing is normal. It was wonderful and it was pure chaos! Society was completely dysfunctional!

I was reading dystopian fiction and I fell in love with it.  The ‘dystopian genre’, a sub-genre of Science Fiction, depicts a society gone wrong.  It becomes oppressive, abusive and totalitarian.  The books are characterized by the removeal or slow disintegration of individual freedom along with a dramatic change in the environment possibly due to a natural disaster, a terrorism event or to politics.  The lead character knows something is going wrong and tries to make it right, by finding a way out to make it better, or to put things back the way they were.  These books prompt us to think about our own lives:  our society, it’s norms and what could go wrong.  We like progress and strive to improve our environment, encourage innovation and embrace technology to find better ways for us all to live.  When things begin to unravel, society becomes dysfunctional and it  goes wrong.  When the dysfunction becomes extreme and all hope for society is abandoned, we enter into another literary genre.

In the post-apocolypic genre, another sub-genre of Science Fiction, there is no more civilization.  Many dystopian novels move into this genre, especially when hope is abandoned and the line between right and wrong is blurred or non-existent.  It comes down to recovery.  Does society recover or does it have to re-invent itself?  These books are gripping, riveting and entertaining.  I read somewhere that “you can’t get more dystopian than a post-apocalyptic place!”  How good is that for intellectual stimulation!

So civilization is characterized as dystopian when it goes wrong, and characterized as post-apocalyptic when it turns into a state of anarchy or is no more.  In a dystopian novel civilization is either restored or renewed as the problems are resolved, or it turns post-apocalyptic when civilization is gone. I’m still not sure how to characterize Cyberstorm: is it only dystopian or does is transition to post-apocalyptic? What a debate!  And at my age!  I’ve discovered two new literary genres!

I moved on from CyberStorm to Wool, the first book in the Silo Series by Hugh Howey. From what I was reading in the book reviews, this looked like another dystopian book of a society going wrong. I quickly fell head over heels in love with this book. It described a whole society of people living in a Silo. Sure it was crazy, but it was normal too. People were born, grew up, went to school, had jobs, had families and there was even had a whole political system in place.  It included equality and women’s issues with such realism that I quickly forgot that the whole story took place in the ground!

I’ve read all the books in the Silo Series and I loved them, especially how it all came together at the end – unbelievable!  Howey is another creative mind that we need to loudly applaud (which I hope I am doing here).  As far as genres go, it starts of dystopian and slowly transitions to a post-apocalyptic theme as the story reveals the origins of the silo and the situation it faces. I’m intentionally being vague, as I don’t want to give anything away. No spoilers from me!  Read the books – I can’t stress enough how wonderful this series is!  Howey’s imagination is ‘way out there’.  Bless him for his intellectual gift and for sharing his wonderful creativity with us!

I can’t stress enough how good this set of books was. Thankfully there were no aliens, no monsters and no one turned into an animal. It didn’t feel like science fiction, but then my concept of this genre was so out of date, and so wrong.  I’m now completely hooked on dystopian and post-apocalyptic books. I love a long read and these genres deliver.  Many of the novels are part of a series of many books, something you can really sink your mind into, and stay there for a while. And with the book websites like Amazon, GoodReads and the many other online bookstores, it’s so easy to find new books, meet new authors and be introduced to new genres. These on-line sites make our journey of discovery so easy, especially with all the comments and ratings they provide.

What a joy to make such a discovery at my age. In the novels from these genres I’ve found so many alternative civilizations full of people just like us. They do all the basic things we do, but they do it differently.   And the situations that cause society to break down are things that we think about, things that could happen, like an atomic bomb, a disease outbreak, a natural disaster, or even (oh ya, I’ll go there in jest) an invasion from another galaxy.

I’m thrilled and beyond happy that I’ve stumbled upon these two new genres. I was willing to try something new, something different, something that I didn’t even think I’d like. So take this discovery of mine as a message to try something new and different. You never know when you’ll find something wonderful…

It’s all good!

 

 

5 thoughts on “2 Terrific Book Genres to Discover: Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic – Over 60 Readers Rejoice!

  1. Loved this article! I, too, have recently discovered dystopian books. They really do make you think about your own life and society, questioning the good and the bad. My husband likes to read these books too and it’s made for some interesting discussions 🙂 I’ll definitely have to check out Hugh Howey.

  2. I really enjoy reading in those genres (check out Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake” books), and I also spend a lot of time with cyberpunk (William Gibson, Neal Stephenson) and what I’d call “harder” SF – less space-opera, more science. I highly recommend anything by Ian M Banks, in particular the “Culture” novels which deal with post-scarcity economies and artificial intelligence.

    In the case of Gibson, Stephenson, and Banks, they have all strayed from their original genres into more mainstream fiction, but in my estimation everything they write is worth reading. Gibson’s later stuff delves into marketing, industrial espionage, and “cool chasing”, Stephenson writes about code-breaking, alternate realities, and the invention of money and modern economics (the “Baroque Cycle” series), and Banks (writing as “Iain Banks” as opposed to “Iain M Banks” goes all over the place.

    Like you, I was able to read when I went to school and I’ve never stopped. I have to read every day!

    1. Hey, thanks for your comment. I’ve checked out Banks and the books do look good. For sure i’ll try the Culture series. On your recommendation I’ve just bought Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and it’s next on my ‘to read’ list when I finish the current Breakers series book I’m reading. So some reason I’ve always stayed away from Atwood – maybe because in Asia a lot of Chinese tell me I look like her! Not sure if they are insulting or complimenting me, but it sure makes me uncomfortable. I shouldn’t let that stop me from reading her work – so thanks for the nudge.

      Thanks again, I do love hearing about new authors and genres – It’s all good!

      1. I could go on and on, but that notion is probably best explored over a bottle of tequila. For years I had difficulty with Margaret Atwood’s “voice” – probably because I associated it with her real voice (which I find grating – my problem, not hers) – but I liked Handmaid’s Tale and I guess I got over myself. I confess to being a real book ho, and the folks at Kobo really know what they’re doing – instant gratification! Now I’ve got Howey to read!

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