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New Worlds in Science Fiction: Dystopian fiction as the creator of new worlds.

Hunger Games Book Jacket

New Worlds in Science Fiction: Dystopian fiction as the creator of new worlds.

Fewer mediums existing in our cultural sphere allow for the development of imagined new worlds and possibility than fiction. More specifically, science fiction, wherein possibility is simply an eleven lettered word and imagination is set free allows for these worlds to become not only figments of our imaginations but conceivable places and realities.

Within the broad umbrella of science fiction as a genre, dystopian fictions have always enjoyed popularity: from the classic dystopian tales of J.G Ballard and George Orwell to modern masterpieces such as The Hunger Games and Divergent series and whilst they depict worlds which are distinctly ‘new’ to us in that they are futuristic, technologically advanced and governed by entirely different rules to those which we recognise, this perpetual return to dystopia may tell us something about new worlds: one does not always have to travel to another planet or galaxy to find one and you certainly don’t need to be an alien to live in a new world. Dystopian worlds, whilst admittedly different from the planet Earth we inhabit and know, are, for the most part based on an social commentary which stems from the world we live in, they place humans at the centre of the creation of the worlds they present and present the reader with a world which is new and yet, not wholly inconceivable to us as humans. In dystopia then, humans are the makers of worlds and these worlds are certainly not always aspirational.

In the search for dystopian literature, One Giant Read reviews The Hunger Games.

Strange enhancements to their physical appearance, a diet of the richest foods, the most radical ‘diet’ pills money can buy and the ability to devise cruel and unusual deaths for children – an existence which is a science fiction fantasy in itself- this is the life of the people who live in the Capitol. Life in the districts could not be more different. Condemned to serve the Capitol after a rebellion in their world Panem, the people in the districts are starving, oppressed and dying… and they are also the subjects of a brutal fight to the death in the annual hunger games, or rather, the children are…

Children are pitched against each other, using their skills and instincts in a situation which is designed to see them fail. How could these children, unprotected and at the mercy of the controlling and corrupted Capitol, ever hope to survive and why don’t the adults attempt to save them? The answer? The Capitol simply will not allow it. They force the adults of the world to be complicit in the creation of the dystopia of the Hunger Games where innocence rather than experience is punished and children die. They are trapped and subjected to the imagination of their president and his game makers whose twisted methods of torture are rendered possible by computer screens. Taking familiar literary devices such as pseudo-adventure plotting, romance and in some ways the quest narrative, Collins could be seen to be simply adding to the many novels which see good triumph over evil after a lengthy and perilous battle but the strength of The Hunger Games lies in its author’s ability to present the technical and scientific advancements we are so celebrated in society as the cause of the threat to humanity. This seems to make Katniss and the other children’s plight all the more realistic and imaginable to us, even if we cannot comprehend a world where these events could happen. The novel almost serves as a warning that technology’s ability to become an enemy is not necessarily as far away as we think. In a novel which deals with such major cultural issues as the genocide of children, governmental corruption, man-made destruction and a society in ruins, it is impossible to escape the science fiction elements and technological presence which makes this world of The Hunger Games, a world which is shocking and abhorrent the deeper one becomes immersed in it and yet so disturbing familiar.

This novel and indeed the entire trilogy which is at its heart, the story of the protagonist Katniss’ struggle to survive in a new world – both the world of Panem and the technologically enhanced world of the games arena – which has been created by the actions of her fellow humans, is an example of dystopian science fiction at its best.

In the manner of classic science fiction writers such as JG Ballard and George Orwell, Suzanne Collins has used societal constructs which are recognisable to both the book’s intended young adult readership and to adults who will perhaps be able to recognise the harrowing similarities between the world we inhabit and the world of the Hunger Games. It is not until we are faced with a book such as this, designed to provoke us to examine the lives we lead and the society we live in that we realise, this strange new world where poverty is the norm and murder is the order of the day, so repugnant at first, is not so wholly unimaginable and that this new world of Panem created by Collins could so easily become our own and that is what gives this novel its frightening power and lasting impact….

The Hunger Games was published in 2008 by Scholastic.

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