Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dystopia a Go-Go! Could YOU Survive a Dystopian World?

I LOVE disaster movies. Seriously. Does anyone else remember the television mini-series 10.5? It's cool if you don't, cause I'm pretty sure me and my college roomate were the ONLY people that watched it. (Maybe that should say: watched it and thought it was awesome.)

It really doesn't matter how they plan on destroying the world. Volcanoes (like in the classic racial-unity film Volcano, or the most scientifically accurate Dante's Peak), asteroids (Aramageddon or Deep Impact), random Weather Events (i.e. killer tornadoes and blizzards, like in The Day After Tomorrow), Biblical-level tidal waves (2012), or aliens (Independence Day). There's pretty much nothing more exciting than watching skyscrapers go up in flames while people run screaming and the main character lives by hiding in the access tunnel somewhere underground.

I think this is part of the reason I love dystopian YA so much. Because while there are a ton of disaster movies out there, there are far fewer successful movies about What Happens After, because let's be honest, destruction is awesome, but watching people vaguely wandering around the remains of the US is kind of depressing. I mean, the movie industry is trying--Planet of the Apes, The Book of Eli, District 9...I'm sure there are others. But it's not the same. That's where dystopian YA comes in.

Now, when I watch those disaster movies, I like to tell myself that I would be one of the people who would survive. I would take a look at that mile-high tidal wave, put on my lifejacket, yell some sort of easily-repeatable one-liner, and be off and swimming. Obviously.

Dystopian...well, that's another kettle of fish. Which brings me to the main point of today's post:

Would you survive The Zombie Apocalypse!? In a Dystopian World?

I'll be judging each of these worlds on a survivability scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "dead before you even know you're in a dystopia" and 5 being, "What do you MEAN they don't have bottled mineral water?"

I'll also be using a second scale, judging how I think I would personally survive, with 1 being "already dead. blogging from the grave." and 5 being "the nachos could be better."

First up, we've got the one that's on everyone's mind: Panem, from Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games.

Here's the lowdown on Panem:

Panem used to be North America, but now it's split into 12 (maybe 13????) districts ruled by the unjust, power-greedy Capitol. To remind the people of the Districts about the power they hold and how stupid they were to rebel before, every year the host The Hunger Games. In the Games, 2 kids--"tributes"--from each district are chosen to fight to the death. Winner keeps their life, and takes all the glory back to their district.

Survival rating: 2.5/5 (if you don't go to the Games)
Survival rating: 1/5 (if you do go to the Games)

I gave two survival ratings for Panem because there's a big difference between surviving in the country, and surviving the Games AND the country.

I give Panem a 2.5 out of 5 because Suzanne Collins has created such a large-scale dystopia that there's a lot of variability here. If you're born in districts 1-4 (I'm not counting the Capitol here), your life appears to be pretty decent, and being part of the Games is an honor, so growing up you're trained/prepared for them. However, if you're in one of the poorer or more militaristic Districts, like Katniss or Rue, you're pretty screwed, and that's not even mentioning the Games.

If you DO go to the Games... I give a 1/5 chance of surviving. Especially if you're not from one of the rich districts, or are lucky like Katniss and have the skillz to pay the billz, chances are you're going to end up as a Games statistic.

Personal Survival Rate: 0/5.
I actually had a dream about The Hunger Games the other night, and even in dream world, I thought to myself, "I am SO effed." I am a slow runner with glasses. I'm doomed.

Next up, we've got The Ugly World, from Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series.

As far as I can remember, this world as a whole doesn't have a name. There's just Ugly Town, New Pretty Town, and the Smoke as the main settings.

Here's the lowdown:
Everyone is ugly until they're 16. They live in Ugly Town, which acts as a half-boarding school, half-camp-type-place. It's a middle ground between Uglies leaving their middle pretty parents and becoming pretty themselves. Once you turn 16, you have the operation to make you pretty, and you get to live in New Pretty Town, which is kind of like Disneyworld, but made of prettiness. It's all about being pretty and bubbly and cool, and life is just one big party. (I'm trying to do this without spoilers, so I'll just say that despite it's exterior, there are also some ugly things going down in New Pretty Town.)

Survival rating: 5/5
Unlike Panem, where you don't necessarily have control over your quality of life, this dystopia depends much more on choice. Things are fair, in a Big Brother sense of the word. Barring any large scale rebellion, you get to be pretty when you're 16, and then life is good. A little robotic, but good. This dystopia is more about giving in/surrendering, rather than survival.

Personal Survival Rate: 4/5
Knowing me, I would try to be bubbly and do something cool with a hoverboard, only to run out of metal tracking and go head-over-heels off a cliff or something. And I imagine this number going down drastically if I were to try for the Smoke.

Third, we have the world that made me buy a flat of black beans at Costco: Moon-Ravaged North America from Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It (Last Survivors trilogy)

The skinny:
Everything changes when an asteroid (damn you, asteroids!) knocks the moon closer to the Earth, which changes the moon's gravitational relationship with the Earth. Basically, this means natural disasters galore. Tsunamis are only the beginning. Volcanoes cause impenetrable ash clouds to block out all the sun as well. (Kind of a bummer if you had a Caribbean vacation planned, right?) No sun means no crops, and food and survival become the biggest concerns for everyone.

Survival Rating: 2/5
This book is more apocalyptic than dystopian because there's no human hand in creating this type of destruction, but I'm including it on this list because it's a What Happens Next book, rather than a disaster book. And I'm giving it a 2 out of 5 because if you're not on your toes, you're definitely going to be dead. There are so many things that happen by luck, or chance, to Miranda and her family, that unless you're BFF with them, you're probably a goner. Especially if you live in California. Or New York. Or somewhere that is not Montana and not where your family still has their nuclear war bunker filled with years worth of canned food.

Personal Survival Rating: 1/5
This may be part of the reason that this book totally terrified me. I know there's no way I could survive this kind of apocalypse. Before I read this book, I had 6 cans of food in my house. Six!! That's like, not even a week's worth of food. Not to mention I'd probably give my portion to my two cats and dog before watching them go hungry. So, moon, stay right where you are. Good moon.

My final dystopia of the post comes from a new book: The Inside, from Maria V. Snyder's Inside Out.

The low-down:
The Inside is a cube. No one comes in. And certainly, no one goes to the Outside. There are two types of people Inside: Uppers, and Scrubs. The Uppers are just what they sound like--the gentry, the aristocracy, the higher-ups. The scrubs are what keep the place going. They live overcrowded and undernourished, like a puppy mill made of humans. Anyone who appears to be even thinking about rebellion or happiness is fed to the Chomper. No one knows what's Outside, or why they must stay Inside, or really the point of their existence--other than to do exactly that, exist.

Survival rating: 3/5
I'm basing this survival rating off of being a scrub only, just as I discounted living in the Capitol for The Hunger Games. Inside is interesting, because I think of it as a mix of choice, like in the Uglies series, and setting, like in Life as We Knew It or The Hunger Games. Life is tough, no doubt, but you can make it work...just don't ask questions.

Personal survival rating: 2.5/5
I do love order. And I kind of love cleaning things. So I've got that going for me. But I get flustered being around too many people, and I'm picky about what I eat. So I'd probably make it here...but not for long.

So clearly, I'm not cut out for a dystopian world. I think I'd do much better living in an epic fantasy, like one of Tamora Pierce or Robin McKinley's worlds.

But what about all of you? Do you think YOU could survive in a dystopian world? If you had to live in a dystopia, which one would you pick? Could you win The Hunger Games? Make it Outside? Forgo going pretty? Let us know!

Also, I know I've only scratched the surface of the dystopian YA that's out there. There are some biggies that I wish I could have mentioned, but are still sitting in my TBR pile, like Incarceron, The Maze Runner, The Forest of Hands and Teeth and Matched. And of course, there are lots of adult books out there that weren't mentioned, like Farenheit 451, 1984 and Brave New World, just to name a few. So if there's something you want us to know from a book not listed, tell us!

A final note: Presenting Lenore has a HUGE list of dystopian books that she's reviewed--definitely go check it out! It's an awesome resource.


  1. Whooo! I'm so glad I saw your post! Dyspotian novels are my FVAORITE to read! And I just loved your post!

    Hmm, so the dystipian novel I think i'd survive best in is probably The Ulgies' world. I give myself a 3.5/5 :)

    Also another dystopian novel you MUST add to your list is Unwind by Neal Shusterman!! One of the best one's I've read. Also The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Maze Runner are awesome too! :D

  2. Great post! I would never be able to survive in a dystopian world. Unless of course it was zombies. I could tear some zombies up (due to my never ending research).

    I just had to comment and let you know that I totally watched 10.5 and loved it! I still need to see the sequel 10.5: Apocalypse!

  3. "I actually had a dream about The Hunger Games the other night, and even in dream world, I thought to myself, 'I am SO effed.' I am a slow runner with glasses. I'm doomed."

    That sent me into a fit of hysterical laughter. :D

    This was an awesome post. I'm on a major dysopian kick lately and you just fed the fire!

  4. Your scales of survival likelihood --- hahah OMG I laughed so hard:
    1 - "dead before you even know you're in a dystopia" 5 - "What do you MEAN they don't have bottled mineral water?"
    1 - "already dead. blogging from the grave."
    5 - "the nachos could be better."


  5. While I definitely don't have intense love for dystopian novels that you do (although, Hunger Games FTW!), I can certainly appreciate the fact that YA dares to explore what happens After. Don't you wish there was a "The Day After the Day After Tomorrow?" Like where Jake Gylenendhdh and what's her name are fighting Columbian drug lords in New America and trying to rebuild their lives?

    As far as my own chances, I think I wouldn't last a minute in Panem's outer districts, and in the Hunger Games, I'd be dead at the Cornucopia, arm outstretched towards a bag of Doritos.

  6. This is an incredible post!! I love the idea and how you rated yourself.

    I'm a huge disaster movie fan (and I do remember watching and loving 10.5), as well as a huge dystopian fan, so this post made my day. Out of the books you listed, I've only read The Hunger Games, but I doubt I'd survive too long in most of them. I think I'd last fairly long in the Hunger Games, but I would not win. I'd be a goner eventually. I'd probably make it in the Uglies world and in the Inside Out world, but I have a feeling I wouldn't make it in the Life As We Knew It world. We have a little bit of canned food in our house, but like you, I'm a picky eater and I couldn't allow my dog or 3 cats to starve.

  7. My best friend and I have talked about something similar to this - would we survive an action/disaster/horror movie? We've decided that we would be the ones who die at the beginning. Neither of us know how to shoot a gun, we're not athletic, and we're too opiniated to keep our mouths shut in an oppressive society. Thus, we would die. lol

    I think you're right about the UGLIES world, though. It would be easy to survive that one if you didn't mind becoming pretty.

  8. Caitlin--Thanks for the suggestions! I'll definitely add them to my list!

    Jennifer--Zombies are awesome. What zombie research do you do? Also, love to 10.5!! I need to see the sequel, too!

    Smash Attack--Glad to be of service! And I'm glad my inability to survive made you laugh :)

    Mel--Yes! That's exactly why I love dystopia/apocalyptic so much--it stretches past the disaster and gets to what that disaster really means. Also, if there were Doritos in the Cornucopia...let's just say some things are worth fighting for.

    Nikki--my animals would probably be obese as I wasted away--that's okay with me, though. Besides, we're outnumbered (3 to 2) so we wouldn't stand a chance against them!

    KM--My friends and I did the same thing with a horror movie in college. I died 3rd or 4th, due to "daydreamyness and poor decision making."


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