Dystopian fiction and ‘Runners’Posted: June 17, 2013
This guest post is by Sharon Sant, whose new dystopian novel, Runners, came out on 7 June.
The Oxford dictionary defines dystopia as: ‘an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. The opposite of Utopia.’
That sounds like a perfect place to set a novel. And it seems that I’m not the only one who thinks so. I’ve been reading reports for some time now about how agents and publishers are sick of dystopian novels landing on their desks. According to them, since The Hunger Games, we’ve gone dystopia crazy. I hate to burst that industry bubble, but I don’t think that dystopia is going away any time soon. In fact, I don’t think it was ever really missing from the cultural landscape in one form or another. Thinking back to novels like 1984, even as far back as The Time Machine by H G Wells or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, it’s clear that we’ve always been fascinated by the ideas of dystopia.
As a narrative tool, dystopia can hold a mirror up to our own society to make all sorts of political and social statements, or it can be used simply to issue warnings, the latter being closely linked and often overlapping with speculative fiction. For me, however, it also represents a society where the normal rules of our world no longer apply. Like fantasy, dystopia is a setting that you can manipulate; it presents the opportunity to create a world that enables the story you want to tell to unfold how you want. You want kids beating each other to death on a TV show? In a dystopian society you can make this entirely plausible.
When I first had the idea for my dystopian novel, Runners, I knew straight away what the setting would be: a near-future Britain where the current economic hardships and climate change had progressed to their worst possible scenarios. I’m a huge fan of fantasy in realist settings and for me this was just perfect. There are no silver-clad futuristic cities, no radiation-soaked skies full of spacecraft, no mutated humanoid species in Runners—all fantastic settings for dystopian fiction, of course—there’s just a crumbling version of a contemporary Britain and a poverty-stricken population that no longer cares what happens to anyone.
I took a lot of my ideas from periods of austerity in history, so there are Victorian-like features such as child labour and workhouse-type institutions, and then there’s rationing like during the Second World War. These things have already happened in real life and, just because they’ve gone away, it doesn’t mean they can’t come back. Because in real life, just the tiniest false step from the people in charge and we could actually find ourselves living there. It’s a scary prospect for us but a perfect dystopia for a book.
I think that some of the best fictional dystopias are the ones almost close enough for our society to touch, the ones where you can easily imagine yourself living in it. For me, that’s where the weirdness and the fear come from.
Elijah is nothing special. He’s just a skinny kid doing his best to stay one step ahead of starvation and the people who would have him locked away in a labour camp—just another Runner. But what he stumbles upon in a forest in Hampshire will show him that the harsh world he knows will become an even more sinister place, unless he can stop it. As past and present and parallel dimensions collide, freedom becomes the last thing on his mind as he is suddenly faced with a battle to save his world from extinction. But before Elijah can find the courage to be the hero the world needs, he must banish his own demons and learn to trust his friends. And all the while, the sinister figure of Maxwell Braithwaite looms, his path inextricably bound to Elijah’s by a long dead physicist, and hellbent on stopping Elijah, whatever the cost.
About Sharon Sant:
Sharon Sant was born in Dorset in England but now lives in Staffordshire. She graduated from Staffordshire University in 2009 with a degree in English and creative writing. She currently works part time as a freelance editor and continues to write her own stories. An avid reader with eclectic tastes across many genres, when not busy trying in vain to be a domestic goddess, she can often be found lurking in local coffee shops with her head in a book. Sometimes she pretends to be clever but really loves nothing more than watching geeky TV and eating Pringles. She is the author of a string of YA novels including the Sky Song trilogy and Runners.