Because of my wife’s vocation, I probably consider young adult fiction to be one of my favorite genres of literature. There are some amazing writers focusing on this genre and coming up with some truly creative/important pieces of literature. That, and I love that I can sit down and read through an entire book in a few hours.
Recently, I discovered that Lois Lowry had written two books that serve as (sort of) follow ups to her acclaimed book The Giver. So, I went to the library and picked up these two – Gathering Blue and Messenger – and was able to read them this past weekend. Both great reads and worth checking out if you’re a fan of post-industrial dystopias.
I realized as I was reading these that the universe Lowry creates is fairly unique. There’s a lot of great dystopian literature out there (young adult novel Feed by M.T. Anderson and the graphic novel Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis come immediately to mind [neither for the faint of heart]), but often the overarching message is that technology, industry, etc. has destroyed what it means to be human. It often assumes that there is something good about humanity but that we have let that fall to the wayside in favor of gadgets and gizmos that now control the universe.
While there are elements of truth to this that I certainly believe, Lowry’s novels take a different spin on dystopia. Instead of being set in a hyper-industrial or hyper-technologized world, Gathering Blue and Messenger take place in a post-industrial world. The worlds of Feed and Transmetropolitan and the “Matrix” are in the distant past – that world has already been destroyed. On the ashes of the industrial dystopias, Lowry creates a world where society has returned to the hunter-gatherer pre-industrial model. Villages are scattered across the globe but have little, if any, contact with each other. Each is governed locally and each village needs to discover on their own what it means to be sustainable.
Sounds great, right? I love the way that Lowry paints her societies – at the beginning, the worlds her characters inhabit look so appealing. Primitive yet beautiful. Yet, as she weaves her stories, the dystopian elements gradually surface. Even in a post-industrial world, the human race faces excruciating problems – problems like greed, selfishness, and a lust for power.
Technology and industry are not the problems. Humans are the problems. And we adapt easily; we’ll use whatever tools we can find to pursue our own ends, even to the point of destroying that which is good in our world.