An interview with Cora, the end of the singularity and the popularity of teen dystopias

I don’t have a whole lot to say today, at least not here.

But head over to the blog of historical fiction writer J.R. Tomlin
where I’m interviewed today
and talk about writing and researching historical fiction among other things. Come on over and visit. J.R. Tomlin writes well researched historical novels set in Scotland (which is a rarity in this age of pseudo-historical kilt-rippers) as well as epic fantasy, so check out her work.

I’ve also added an interview page to the site, where past interviews with me are archived. So far, I have only two, but there are more coming in the near future.

And now for some links: is doing a reread of Alan Moore’s comics and is currently discussing some of my personal favourites and the very comics that convinced me to give Moore another chance after a very bad experience with Watchmen (which I still don’t like – heresy, I know), namely Alan Moore’s run on Captain Britain in the early 1980s. And while we’re on the subject of vintage Alan Moore, an earlier installment of the reread delves into Moore’s Doctor Who comics (which I’ve never read) and reveals how Moore apparently came up with the Time War thirty years early.

Finally, here’s an interesting article by Nader Elhefnawy about why the Singularity went out of fashion in science fiction and was replaced by retro-trends such as Steampunk. He makes some very interesting points there, though I’m not sure if I agree that the declining popularity of Singularity SF is linked to what Elhefnawy views as a general decline of the US/the West. Frankly, I don’t even believe that there is a decline, at least not a decline of “the West” in general.

And while plenty of Americans may fear that their country is in decline, those fears are reflected far more in the current popularity of dystopian novels aimed at teens, a trend that is mainly confined to the US at the moment. At any rate, it is notable that not even the most avid of readers among my students have read The Hunger Games (though this will probably change when the movie comes out), Divergent, Matched, Wither, Delirium or any other “teen rebel in dystopia” novels and mostly have never heard of those books either. So whatever it is that makes these YA dystopias so attractive to teen readers in the US – and I have a few theories – does not appeal to their peers in Germany.

As for why teen dystopias are so popular in the US at the moment, part of that may be due to the fact that American teens live very prescribed and controlled lives, much more so than their German counterparts, e.g. teenaged sex, even in the context of a committed relationship, and alcohol are very much taboo and parents are more likely to control reading, internet use, contacts with others and appearance. And YA dystopias mostly feature societies that are irrationally focussed on controlling appearance, emotions, relationships, partnerships and reproduction, i.e. all subjects of particular interest to teens. So as far as an American teenager is concerned, a YA dystopia is a somewhat exaggerated version of the world he or she already lives in (let’s not forget that teens tend to be overly dramatic) and the whole “teen rebel in dystopia” plot of most dystopian YA novels appeals to teen power fantasies fantasies of sweeping away all that they perceive to oppress them.

Secondly, an increased interest in dystopian and outright apocalyptic fiction in a given society is often linked to a perception of actual or imagined decline of said society. Hence the popularity of the cosy catastrophe genre in postwar Britain is often linked to the break-up of the British Empire and to a general fear of working class people not minding their place in society (or what the upper and middle classes felt was their place) anymore. So it certainly makes sense that a perceived or actual decline of the US in the twenty-first century would lead to a wave of dystopian novels, which are ironically feel-good pieces (which like the cosy catastrophes were feel-good pieces), because there is inevitably a lone teen rebel who overthrows the repressive regime.

But as for Steampunk superceding Singularity fiction, I suspect that the reason may be something else entirely. Because Singularity science fiction was never really satisfying and plenty of people did not enjoy it. I know that I certainly didn’t. Meanwhile, Steampunk is a return to the time when science fiction was fun and also a cheerful reclaiming of all the great and enjoyable tropes that one supposedly cannot use in science fiction anymore, because they are not accurate and believable.

So maybe the fading of Singularity science fiction is less due to a real or perceived decline of the US/the West and more due to the fact that those books were simply not very enjoyable, at least not after the first few trailblazers?

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