Originally Published: October 28th, 2013; Updated June 24th, 2014
The end is nigh.
The apocalypse is upon us.
The sparkly vampire, zombie, post-apocalyptic, dystopian craze is coming to an end. According to an article in Publisher’s Weekly by Sue Corbett, “New Trends in YA: The Agent’s Perspective,” agents are now looking beyond paranormal and sic-fi/fantasy; the latest “trend” is contemporary realistic fiction, stories grounded in reality, driven by unique voices and characters experiencing real issues.
Oh hey! That’s me!
It’s a very exciting time to be querying with a contemporary YA novel…or so this article would have me believe.
But I walk into bookstores, and the post-apocalyptic, fantastical stories are the most prominently featured in the teen sections (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a post-apocalytpic story started. You can read a short excerpt of the beginning here: “When There’s No More Time.”) In fact, they have their own sub-section, completely devoted to the sparkly vampires and undead, the dystopic worlds and trilogies we claim to be tired of reading.
Are we tired of seeing the myriad ways in which our government, and everything we know and love about society — including the notion that paranormal occurrences, like the existence of vampires and werewolves are merely due to overactive imaginations — can be completely destroyed and rebuilt as either extremely corrupted (The Hunger Games) or not rebuilt at all (post-apocalyptic fare like The Walking Dead.)
Part of the draw of the dystopian or post-apocalytpic world is that it’s an escape for readers, a way to re-imagine what we know about how society runs and the fundamentals on which it’s built. Mostly, it’s a respite from our own woes and distaste for how society is run. We long for a break from the rules and regulations, to experience a life free of democratic rule, whether it be government-free or in a totalitarian regime.
What draws me to the post-apocalytpic is just that: it’s a way to live a life vicariously through the eyes of the survivalists. I long to live a life free of restrictions, whether it be monetary or law. To depend solely on myself and have only myself to answer to. TV shows and graphic novels like The Walking Dead talk a lot about the human condition: fight or flight; nature versus nurture; instinct versus logic. Would we help each other, or would we mistrust one another? These are concepts and questions that keep me coming back to quality post-apocalytpic fare. It’s like we take bits and pieces of what we know and reassemble.
In The Hunger Games, North America, however many centuries prior to the events of the trilogy, succumbed to global warming and a civil war that tore the country apart.
It’s a detail that’s mentioned really early on in book 1 when main character Katniss Everdeen describes the creation of Panem, the ruthless nature of the Capitol, and the reason for The Hunger Games, but it lays the groundwork for the trilogy. Out of the ashes of post-apocalytpic ruin, the country of Panem was born.
And it was a totalitarian dictatorship, run by “President” Snow – the word president suggesting some sort of democratic society, even though it couldn’t be farther from the reality. Hell, in order to maintain control over the country, keep them in line, and make sure there is no chance of rebellion, the Capitol enforces a lottery system where 12 boys and 12 girls between the ages of 12-18 are chosen, two from each district, of which there are 12, and sent to an arena where they fight each other to the death.
The last remaining “tribute” is the winner of the Hunger Games, and is bestowed with riches and more than enough food to feed their families; the obvious here is that the districts outside the Capitol live in poverty, or at least unfavorable conditions, as opposed to the citizens of the Capitol, who live lavish lifestyles and indulge in the material.
The cool thing about The Hunger Games is that the entire trilogy is a commentary on certain key aspects of our popular culture, and concepts that we live and experience every day, like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.) And when done well, post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian YA literature is extremely engaging.
So is there an end in sight for this type of literature? Is contemporary YA really the new trend? Can a story about a teenage guy exploring love with another guy and finding his footing in independence make it’s way through all of the vampires muck and zombie mire and female heroines like Katniss Everdeen’s to find it’s niche?
I’m not too concerned about my book.
Ok, maybe I’m not totally convinced of what the agents in the aforementioned article by Corbett are saying about their changing tastes, but I’m totally taking this and running with it.
Maybe by the time I’m actually ready to write a post-apocalyptic tale (which I do want to try my hand at eventually), the genre will long be forgotten and, after having been published with my contemporary YA novels, mine will be fresh and genre-flipping.
Although I’m sure by that time, there will be a new craze sweeping store shelves.
The cool aspect about trends is that they’re completely unpredictable. Who would have predicted that the market would jump from magic and witchcraft (the Harry Potter craze) to vampires, which have been around for eons. According to Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan in the essay, “Why Vampires Never Die,” the genesis of vampires can be traced back 200+ years ago, “when ask from volcanic erruptions lowered temperatures around the globe, giving rise to widespread famine.” People would gather to tell stories, competitng for who could come up with the horrifying tales, which is pretty much where vampires were born.
Somewhere along the way, these immortal creatures that used to terrify, morphed into hypersexual, totally sensitive-to-human-needs-and-wants beings; they became the epitome of sexual desire.
I mean, let’s face facts, I wouldn’t exactly mind Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries showing up to bite me and turn me into an immortal being.
… but that’s neither here nor there …
These monsters, whether they be vampires, zombies, or corrupt governments, serve as allegories to our hidden wants and desires.
Vampires represent those primal urges to kill, and fulfill our wishes to live forever; they represent freedom in our own bodies, the will to do whatever we please because we can live forever, despite the restrictions of sunlight (depending on which vampire tale you choose to prescribe to.)
Zombies, according to Chuck Klostermann in the essay, “My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead,” represent modern life. He writes:
“If there’s one thing we all understand about zombie killing, it’s that the act is uncomplicated […] Every zombie war is a war of attrition. It’s always a numbers game. And it’s more repetitive than complex. In other words, zombie killing is philisophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, of following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only risk is being consumed by avalanche. The principal downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principle downside to life is that you will never be finished with whatever it is you do.”
Chew on that for a second. Zombies = physical representations of our tedious daily tasks. We’re drawn to the slaughtering of zombies because we slaughter metaphorical zombies every single day, day-in and day-out.
Although in post-apocalyptic zombie stories, there is nothing telling us what we can and can’t do; there’s only one rule: survive.
Isn’t that what we’re trying to do each and every day? To survive? These unfathomable events and monstrous creations are manifestations of our desires new realities in an otherwise dull world.
We want something new. We crave something new. Something bloody or sexy; something that makes us feel again; something that challenges the best in us.
Isn’t that the whole point?