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Dark mirrors: readers are lapping up stories about our bleak times

Published by Jennifer Platt for the Sunday Times

Dystopian fiction has knocked the glistening vampire off the young adult shelf. It is hardly a new genre – think Lord of the Flies, 1984 – but there has been a steady uptake of these novels for young adult readers. Maybe it is because these novels are mirrors of our world, which is a terrifying place.

Dystopian fiction recognises the crisis we are in today and through an alternative prism allows the reader to play out worst-case scenarios. The protagonist is often a young person trying to overcome odds like love triangles and fighting the controlled social structure of the new broken world.

It gives the younger reader a chance to relate; a way to view society and possibly solve problems.

But it’s not only younger readers who are immersing themselves in these bleak realms. Many people enjoy a good yarn and most of the stories are just that. These lesser-known novels will hopefully appeal to most dystopian fans.

AsylumAsylum, Marcus Low
Set in the Great Karoo, Low’s story plays out in a not-too-distant future in which a lethal, incurable illness kills off most of the population. Barry James is one of the sick – imprisoned and quarantined in an asylum where he is expected to die.
 
 
 
 
The PowerThe Power, Naomi Alderman
The Baileys Prize-winning novel imagines a world where women have the ability to electrocute men at will. It’s a work of contemporary feminism that confronts today’s patriarchal system.
 
 
 
 
Station ElevenStation Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
A travelling theatre troupe, a deadly strain of swine flu and destructive relationships are the basis for this award-winning novel set in the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada.
 
 
 
 
 
Apocalypse Now NowApocalypse Now Now, Charlie Human
Baxter’s life as the 16-year-old drug kingpin of his school changes when his girlfriend Esme is kidnapped. To save her, he goes into the dark, supernatural underground of Cape Town. Trippy.
 
 
 
 
Who Fears DeathWho Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor
Okorafor tweeted that her novel has been optioned by HBO to develop as a TV series with Game of Thrones author George RR Martin as executive producer. Dealing with race, ethnicity and female sexual empowerment, it focuses on 16-year-old Onyesonwu who must learn to navigate life in post-apocalyptic Sudan.
 
 
 
 
The RaftThe Raft, Fred Strydom
Humanity has lost its memory. Civilisation collapses. Kayle Jenner has vague visions of his son and as he sets out to find him, he discovers the truth about the world’s memory loss. Set partly in the Tsitsikamma forest and Kroonstad, The Raft explores existential and philosophical questions.
 
 
 
 
The Knife of Never Letting GoThe Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
The first of a series called Chaos Walking. Todd is the last boy in Prentisstown, where everyone can hear each other’s thoughts through something called the Noise. About information overload, it’s relevant as we are swamped by the noise of social media.
 
 
 
 
Dark Windows, Louis Greenberg
The Gaia Peace Party has been in power in South Africa for 10 years, promising a cure for crime. A contractor for the party is given the job of blackening the windows of several Joburg buildings. The dark windows project shows the cracks in the ruling party. A too-close-to-home political thriller.
 
 
 
 
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