This essay began as a review of Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence. Bear with me while I do my review thang. It's relevant I promise.
Children of the Dust (1985) was sent to me by fellow dystopian lover Lauren of I was a Teenage Book Geek, all the way from the mother country. Lauren loves timeslip novels first and foremost, and I'd sent her an obscure Australian book of that genre, A Breath in May by Robin Hogan, that I'd loved in my high school days. I like that we send each other little known books set in each others countries!
Nuclear war. A dystopian/post apocalyptic staple, especially for books written before the mid-1980s. I realised while reading Children of the Dust, however, that I'd never read a dystopian novel in which a nuclear blast is not only described but also experienced by the characters. The blasts, one of the earliest scenes in the book, is vivid and chilling.
Children of the Dust is divided into three vignettes: three generations of teenagers who live through the war or in the years beyond it. What this book does best is relate the struggle each character has with not only their survival in a world changed forever, but also their place in it. Lawrence questions whether human beings can have a place in a world that they themselves have destroyed. I found this to be both brilliant and thought provoking.
While writing the book Lawrence was clearly motivated by fears she had about what she saw in the world around her--the very real threat of a nuclear holocaust.
But what motivates today's dystopian authors? Clearly dystopian novels are the books du jour right now. But as I run my eyes over my shelves, I wonder how many of my beloved books have even half the conscience of Children of the Dust, and how many are merely following fashion.
Is there a message in today's dystopian fiction, or has the genre become populated with books that are edgy and cool, but ultimately shallow?