As the year ticks over to half-way done, we another speculative fiction subgenre to focus on. Or two. This month I’m going to discuss dystopian and post/apocalyptic fiction. These two subgenres often get lumped together to the point where not everyone knows the difference. Before I get into the main discussion, let me put forward a few definitions first.
Post-apocalyptic fiction is anything set after some sort of large-scale, world-destroying event (or at least world-destroying to an extent since we do need some people still alive to tell stories about). It can be set any time from immediately after the apocalypse to years or centuries later. There’s also apocalyptic fiction (no post-) which is set during the actual apocalypse. Some stories might start during and stretch to some time later, which is why I’m lumping those two together.
Dystopian fiction is set in a world that is, to put it bluntly, pretty crappy. The idea is that it’s the opposite of a utopia. It’s common for dystopias to be a crappy place for most people to live but potentially good for a small number of people (the oppressive ruling class, for example). Dystopias can also be post-apocalyptic, but the existence of an apocalypse does not necessitate a dystopia and vice versa.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about some actual books that fall into these two subgenres.
Cat Sparks has been writing short fiction with post-apocalyptic themes — especially post-climate apocalypse — for some time now. This year has also seen the release of her first novel, Lotus Blue, set a considerable time after a climate apocalypse. You can read reviews of Lotus Blue from Stephanie Gunn and Keith Stevenson. If you’re looking for short fiction to scratch your post-apocalyptic itch, you could do worse than checking out Sparks’ collection, The Bride Price, which was reviewed by
Dystopian stories have enjoyed considerable popularity recently in the YA scene. One Aussie YA series that hasn’t gotten as much love as I think it deserves is Lifespan of Starlight by Thalia Kalkipsakis. Set in a near-future dystopian Melbourne, Lifespan of Starlight and it’s sequel Split Infinity follows an illegally born teenage girl as she struggles to survive outside of the system and also incorporates time travel into the story. You can read my review of Lifespan of Starlight here.
Keeping with the dystopian Melbourne and YA theme — albeit a less young YA than Kalkipsakis’s books — there’s Black Glass by Meg Mundell, which has been around for a few years now, having been published in 2011. The most recent review linked to AWW was from Julia Tulloh Harper.
In a similar vein to a lot of YA dystopias, Francesca Haig has penned an adult dystopian series set in a distant future after a forgotten (and somewhat magical) apocalypse. Everyone is now born as twins, with one “good” twin and one physically lesser twin, whose fates are interlinked but who live in very different parts of society. The first book was The Fire Sermon, and you can read a review of it from Shaheen @ Speculating On Specfic. The sequel was Map of Bones and the final book in the trilogy, The Forever Ship, is due out in August (according to Goodreads).
Marlee Jane Ward has been getting some attention for her recent novellas — there are now two in a dystopian series. The first was Welcome to Orphancorp, which started strong by winning the 2016 Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction. It has been reviewed by Coffee2words/Lynxie
In 2011 Claire Corbett’s When We Have Wings was released, a dystopian novel set in a near-future Sydney where the “haves” are separated from the “have nots” by being able to afford surgery to get angel-style functional wings implanted in their backs. When We Have Wings has been reviewed many times for AWW, most recently by Janine Rizzetti. This year has seen the release of Corbett’s second book, Watch Over Me, another dystopian featuring heavy surveillance and war in a more-or-less contemporary setting. It has already garnered several reviews, for example from Amanda @ Mrs B’s Book Reviews and Sally Nimon.
I can’t write about post/apocalyptic fiction without mentioning my own book, Defying Doomsday, which is an anthology of post/apocalyptic stories featuring character with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses. I edited it with Holly Kench and about half the stories contained in it are written by Australian women. It has been reviewed by and
There are a few other dystopian and post/apocalyptic books I’d like to mention briefly before I finish up this post:
- How To Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier (review) is a young YA book in which the characters don’t realise they’re living in a dystopia (and also they all have fairies).
- Burn Bright and sequels by Marianne de Pierres (review) is a secondary world and includes a dystopian society.
- Spare Parts by Sally Rogers-Davidson (review) is a future dystopian Australia in which some people’s “purpose” is to be organ donors
- The Rhesus Factor by Sonny Whitelaw (review) is an “eco-thriller” involving a plague apocalypse as well as the climate apocalypse.
Of course, I’ve probably missed a few books. Did I skip your favourite? Let me know in the comments!
Tsana Dolichva is a Ditmar Award-nominated book blogger who has been reading and enjoying Australian speculative fiction for as long as she can remember. She blogs her book reviews over at the creatively titled Tsana’s Reads. Along with Holly Kench, she edited Defying Doomsday, an anthology showing that people with disabilities and chronic illnesses also have stories to tell, even when the world is ending. In her spare time she is an astrophysicist.