Marysville Library Blog

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What Scares Us Now

Through the ages, different things have given us as a society the heebie jeebies. Centuries ago, it was witches and witchcraft. Decades ago it was Communism and alien invasions. More recently, it seems to be disease, global warming and genetically modified organisms. How does our literature reflect our fears? For a while, movies and science fiction were full of UFOs and implacable enemy extraterrestrials. Now, a lot of speculative fiction is about dystopian climate change and global pandemics. Authors even use allegories like zombies to tweak our fears. Here are some books that play on our current fears:

The year of the flood by Margaret Atwood. In a world of genetic experiments run wild, catastrophic climate change and powerful and dictatorial corporations governed only by naked materialism, a few people band together in an religiously ecological cult to try to survive the coming pandemic. Pair with her other novel, Oryx and Crake, as they cover the same story but from such different (though sometimes overlapping) perspectives that they make a complex whole.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Another post-apocalyptic vision of our future, again with climate change, genetic experiments and man-made pandemics run wild. This story is unusual in that it isn’t set in North America, but in a Bangkok, Thailand that is trying to resist the powerful and dictatorial corporations who have taken over the rest of the world while also building up to their own civil war. If we change the environment so much, what does it mean to be human, and should we engineer our own evolutionary successors?

The Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. In a new genre called steam punk, this is set in an alternate Civil War-era Seattle where a fantastic digging machine has released a heavy gas that turns people into zombies. The survivors have built a wall around down-town Seattle to keep in both the wandering zombies and the gas that continues to vent. Briar Blue, widow of the inventor/mad scientist that released the “Blight” gas is keeping a dark secret even from her son Zeke, who finally goes into the city to find out more about his father.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. I'm not usually into horror, but this pseudo collection of oral histories of the zombie war is totally engrossing. Unlike many dystopian visions of the future that have one central hero, this has interlocking short histories that suck you in to how zombies very nearly took over the world. From initial disbelief to smuggling (sometimes infected) refugees to a slimy salesman selling a fake vaccine to cities being overwhelmed to a battle-survivor listing how fighting zombies was vastly different than fighting humans, and so on, this truly does build a believably eerie history of the world's zombie war experience.

The Passage by Justin Cronin. First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear-of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse. For Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey-spanning miles and decades-towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

What books play into your fears?