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Publetariat Dispatch: The Future Makes A Comeback

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author LJ Sellers talks about the rising popularity of sci fi and futuristic, dystopian fiction.

This post, by L.J. Sellers, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective blog on 11/4/11, and is reprinted here in its entirety with the author’s and site’s permission.

We’ve all seen the ads for the new book When She Woke  (by Hilary Jordan), a futuristic novel in which a criminal’s skin is  dyed to reflect her crime, a story that’s been compared to the classic, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. In recent years, other similar novels have been wildly popular too, such as The Hunger Games  trilogy by Suzanne Collins. These novels are dystopian and reflect a  society that has completely broken down and morphed into something ugly.

As  a reader, my love of futuristic thrillers—which I distinguish from  dystopian novels—started long ago with a terrific novel by Lawrence  Sanders called The Tomorrow File. For the record, he’s my all-time favorite author, and TTF may be one of the best books I’ve ever read, or at least that’s how I remember it.

The story was written in 1975—and takes place in the year 1998. I read  it in college and was captivated by Sanders’ vision of the future, in  which genetic classifications are based on whether one is natural,  produced by artificial insemination, artificial inovulation, cloned, or  otherwise created without the necessity for sexual intercourse. The  objects (people) of tomorrow eat food synthesized from petroleum and  soybeans, and enjoy unrestricted using (sex) and an addictive soft drink  called Smack.

The new language took some getting used to, but the story was so  engaging with so many twists that it was hard to put down. Most  important, the book triggered my fascination with well-told futuristic  thrillers.

Another of my favorite novels set in the future is The Handmaid’s Tale, published ten years after The Tomorrow File.  The book won numerous awards, was made into a film, and is so well  known I won’t bother with the details, except to say it’s a feminist  portrayal of the dangers of a conservative society. I admire Atwood  immensely for tackling the subject. (I took a stab at that issue when I  wrote The Sex Club…but that’s another story.) Reading The Handmaid’s Tale further inspired me to someday write a thriller set in the future.

Interestingly enough, yesterday a blogger posted comparative reviews of The Catcher in the Rye, The Handmaid’s Tale and my futuristic thriller, The Arranger.  The blogger focused on insecurities as the theme, both social and  personal, and concluded they were necessary in fiction. First, I find it  interesting that people are reading or re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale from 1985 because of the advertising for When She Woke. It’s fun to see the novel resurrected.

Second, it’s an honor to be listed in the same company as works by J.D. Salinger and Margaret Atwood.

I don’t mean to imply The Arranger  compares to any of the brilliant works I’ve mentioned, most of which  imagine a shockingly different future. (I’m still not sure why Catcher in the Rye  is in there, but that was the blogger’s choice.) My story is set only  13 years in the future, and I don’t consider it dystopian. It presents a  bleak vision of the United States, in that the economy is stagnant,  government has shrunk, and people without health insurance are left to  fend for themselves. But all that seems quite realistic to me and didn’t  require much imagination.

The Gauntlet, however, is an intense physical and mental competition  that provides a backdrop for my novel and required me to create entirely  fictitious scenarios.

Overall, I’m excited for the revived interest in futuristic novels. Does  it represent a dissatisfaction with our current state of affairs or a  fear of what is waiting for us? Or both?

Do you read futuristic novels? What are your favorites? What themes do like to see?


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