Shades of 1984

Just as Suzanne Collins did with reality TV and The Hunger Games - I love to take something current and noodle it into a story about the future. It's not hard to see how many times science fiction writers have been spot-on about what the future will bring. (see my older post about Isaac Asimov and a future World's Fair.)

However, when a news story comes along that highlights something the government is condoning that is right out of George Orwell's 1984 - I get scared, very scared.

How do you feel about the police being able to secretly track your every move without your knowledge or consent?,8599,2013150,00.html

And - since I can't be everywhere, reading every interesting story that comes along - what are the signs that your worst fears about the future are coming true?

All About Evil

There are a lot of bad guys in dystopian lit and sci fi.

There are some truly notable bad guys out there, but let's focus on one of the most iconic:

Darth Vader.

Now, in the Star Wars series (we're talking original here, I'm not on speaking terms with things associated with Jar-Jar), there were two main baddies. Darth, and the Emperor.

But when you think about the series, you don't think about the Emperor as much--or at least, I don't. You think about the heroes--Luke, Leia, Han (*sigh*Han)--and then you think about Darth.

Of the two, the Emperor is the more evil. But Darth is the more memorable.


Because Darth Vader has a mask...and he takes it off.

I don't just mean that he has a plastic helmet and he takes it off--although, obviously, he does.

What I really mean is that there's more to him--over the course of the original trilogy, you find out not only who he really is, but also why.

The Emperor has no mask. He shoots lightning from his fingers and that's that. But when Darth slashes Obi Wan Kenobi with his red light saber, you eventually find out why, and what it must have meant to him, too.

When you look in the Emperor's eyes, he's soulless. He's just, pure and simple, evil.

But when Darth takes off his mask and looks at Luke--there's something more there. History, background, motive, desire. Love. Hate.

I thought about this as I read MOCKINGJAY (omg, you guys, that last chapter!!!). No spoilers, here, but if you've read the first two books, you know that President Snow is a bit of an Emperor. And, honestly, I felt that he was a bit of a weaker character for it.

To me, the much better villain is the one you can understand. The one you can almost sympathize with. The one that if, given different situations in your own life, you think you might have become.

Although, please, don't cut your son's hand off with a lightsaber. That's taking it just a tad too far...

Why Is The Hunger Games So Popular?

Okay, so we could discuss lots of things that makes The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and now Mockingjay so popular. The inventive plot. The quick pacing. The fact that it strikes a fear in our hearts, makes us realize what our world could become.

For me, it's the characters. Let's examine.

Katniss Everdeen: She's brave, even when she doesn't want to be. Everything she does, she's not sure about. (Who doesn't feel like that?) When she thinks she's screwed up, or when she's just doing what's natural, it comes across as being heroic, beautiful. (Who doesn't want their normal, everyday actions to influence people's lives?) She's loyal and caring, but at the same time she's got her opinions and she's not afraid to let anyone know.

She's brilliant.

Peeta Mellark: He's quiet, reserved, and undoubtedly in love with Katniss. His motives are purely to make sure she stays safe--or as safe as possible. (Who doesn't want someone like that in their life?) He's talented with paint and flour, sensitive, yet ferocious. (Who doesn't want a man who can cook as well as offer protection?)

He's adorable.

Gale Hawthorne: He's the childhood friend, the strong silent one through the first two books. (Don't worry, no spoilers here.) He's Katniss's equal in strength, in cunning, in temperament. (Who doesn't want someone who completes them in every way?) Even though he's not around much during the Games, he worms his way into the arena, into the reader's hearts.

He's swoonworthy. (Yeah, okay, I'm on Team Gale.)

President Snow: He's evil personified. The way he threatens Katniss in those subtle ways, the way he takes the individual pieces of her life and crunches them before her eyes. *shudder*

He's the perfect antagonist.

I could go on and on about Cinna and Haymitch and Rue and about a dozen others. I won't. Instead, I turn it over to you. Who do you love in The Hunger Games or Catching Fire? Why do you love them so much?

Also, if you think there's another reason for The Hunger Games coolness factor, spill spill! I'd love to discuss what makes this book (series) so successful.

Are the Games Believable?

Recently, author Nancy Kress—of whom I’m a big fan, btw—blogged that THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy disturbed her. She praised many things about the books: good writing, excitement, and an appealing heroine. And, the violence didn't particularly disturb her. What got Kress was the "psychological implausibility" of the premise:

We're expected to believe that torturing their children keeps parents passive, rather than as enraged as a she-bear with cubs.

I don't believe it. Parents would not passively send twelve-year-olds, year after year, to torture. An entire population would not watch these televised Games without a resistance movement arising sooner than 75 years.

Does she have a point? Wouldn’t parents do everything to protect their kids? We’d certainly like to think we’d go all “Mama Grizzly” when anyone came after our cubs.

So, why didn’t the parents become enraged she-bears in THE HUNGER GAMES?

Let's start with the back story. The Capital has thrust the games on the populace as a measure of control. The games are supposed to demoralize the people, who are already living at subsistence levels (at least in most of the districts). And, an earlier uprising resulted in the obliteration of District 13. So, under the fear of reprisals—which may also include becoming voiceless slaves in the Capital—parents grudgingly stand by while their child is selected for the Games. Certainly, some parents must fight back or hide their children, but hungry and scared people will do things we well-fed citizens of democracy may shudder at—just to keep the rest of their family alive.

What about our world? Kress writes that “not even Rome had child gladiators.” Maybe not. But here and now, thousands upon thousands of children are trafficked for:
Today’s child gladiators are wielding AK-47s (or whatever is the gun of choice). Very often the kids are abducted; in other cases, though, the children are sold by their families. (Yes, I know these are the horrible exceptions to the proverbial rule. And I do think most parents in the world are decent parents, but, let’s face it, we humans are capable of doing some crappy things to our kids.)

So, I'm willing to suspend disbelief and buy the premise of the Games. And so are many, many other adult readers.

However, does it really matter if THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy is psychologically believable from our perspective? Is the experience of the Games really about what might happen in the future? Or is the story more about being a teenager now? Maybe the story resonates—and is thus psychologically believable—because it’s about the feeling trapped in a system outside your own control (like school) and being forced to compete with your peers.

What do you all think? Is the premise of Suzanne Collins’ fantastic trilogy plausible—psychologically or otherwise? Do the Games need to be believable for both adults and teens? Discuss.

Are We Getting Close to The Hunger Games?

I despise reality TV.

No, seriously--Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives of NJ, Keeping up with the Kardashians, the one where that vile woman hooks millionaires up with bimbos--they make me crazy.  I know, I know, I shouldn't take them so seriously but they key off this knee jerk anger in me.


Well for one, see above. That's a picture of the aftermath when Jersey Shore Cast member Nicole Polizzi (Snooki) was punched in the face by some agro meathead at a bar while filming the show. Reality TV is a form that revels in this kind of ugliness.  When the inevitable violence breaks out there's some pro forma handwringing (generally done over a video loop of said violence) and then it's back to business. I've never considered myself to be of delicate sensibilities, but I just can't take it.

The other reason is the manipulation involved. It's not exactly breaking news that reality TV isn't real. That reality TV is a misnomer isn't what bothers me though, what bothers me is how the form takes real three dimensional human beings gives them nicknames and reduces them to a stock series of (usually ugly) personality traits and contrived story arcs. Not only does this dehumanize the participants but it asks us to look at other people as objects that exist for our amusement.

Young girl punched in the face at a bar? That's not Nicole Polizzi, 22 year old from New York. That's just Snooki. That's entertainment. Doesn't that dehumanize us too?

As Beth discussed yesterday, one of Suzanne Collins' inspirations for The Hunger Games was classical myths. Well the other one was, you guessed it, reality TV. Collins said she was watching TV late one night, flipping past a barrage of reality TV shows that got mixed in with news of the Iraq war and Katniss and The Hunger Games was born from that combination.

I think one way to look at the series is as a very biting comment on this kind of "reality" spectacle. Sure, maybe we don't watch young people kill each other, but we do watch humiliation and violence (again, see above) and horrendous misogyny. Sometimes we pause for a moment of uplift, but then it's right back in the gutter.

Maybe what we see in the Hunger Games is an escalation of all the programs that show us hordes of  the most abhorrent people imaginable--the vain, the intolerant, the deluded, the rageaholics--trapped in shore houses and McMansions clawing at each other on their way to....what?

A little bit of money? Fame? The validation that comes from being seen?

I mean, geez, at least Katniss was fighting for her life!

In what way do you guys see Collins using Katniss and the struggles of her fellow tributes to comment on reality TV? How does the fact that all these people are on a reality TV show effect the plot of the story? Also what does this sort of reality game say about the government that sponsors it and the people who watch it?

(PS: Ok maybe not all reality TV is awful.  I have to admit that I'm a big Project Runway and Top Chef fan. At least nobody is getting punched out on those.)

HUNGER GAMES Roots: Greece and Rome

Watch out. I'm about to get my nerd on.

But in the case of reading HUNGER GAMES, my extreme nerdiness actually came in handy. See, Suzanne Collins clearly comes from the school of nerdy writing--there are tons of great historical allusions in HUNGER GAMES that gives the story a little something extra for fellow nerds.

I think the greatest influence comes from Ancient Greece and Rome. Some are obvious, some aren't. Below, you'll find some of my favorite references and influences of history in HUNGER GAMES.

Theseus & Tributes
The story of Theseus is most often associated with his epic battle with the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull monster at the center of the Labyrinth. But before he did that, he had to deal with a tribute system that will remind HUNGER GAMES readers of how Katniss and Peeta became tributes.

King Aegeus was ordered to send seven of the most courageous young men and seven of the most beautiful young women of Athens to Crete as a tribute to King Minos every seventh year (there are various accounts of this; some use the number nine instead of seven). Crete had defeated Athens in battle; the tributes were to be a lasting reminder of Crete's power and success.

Sound familiar? It should: Suzanne Collins definitely had this story in mind when she wrote. She said in an interview with School Library Journal:
Theseus and the Minotaur is the classical setup for where The Hunger Games begins, you know, with the tale of Minos in Crete….
Spartacus & Gladiators
But of course, the story's not just about the selection of youths sent to die--it's also about the fight. There's definitely a gladiator feel to the setting: any situation where people are pitted against each other is reminiscent of the arena. (Interesting side note: the etymology of the word "arena" is "sandy place" because originally arenas were covered with sand on the ground in order to better soak up all the spilled blood. I warned you I was getting my nerd on with this post.)

But Suzanne Collins wasn't just thinking about gladiators in general when she wrote HUNGER GAMES. Nope. She had one specific one in mind: Spartacus.

Those of you who don't know the story (or only know the movie version), here's a quick summary: Spartacus's early life is a bit obscure, but he was probably a soldier in the Roman army who committed some crime, possibly desertion. As punishment, he was forced to be a gladiator. He didn't take too kindly to this. He was part of a rebellion at the training center (using, in part, knives from the kitchen!), and led the rebel group to camp out near Vesuvius (famous for Pompeii). Many battles followed, until he eventually died (also in battle).

You can see the similarities: a person originally law-abiding becomes a "tribute" (if you will) as punishment, is forced to battle as a gladiator, and eventually leads a rebel group to fight against the kingdom.

The problem?

Spartacus dies.

If Spartacus is Katniss, and Spartacus dies.... *shudders at the thought*

Some people speculate that this comparison--which Collins acknowledges--is actually a hint that we should be preparing for Katniss's ultimate death:
But once the “Hunger Games” story takes off, I actually would say that the historical figure of Spartacus really becomes more of a model for the arc of the three books, for Katniss. We don’t know a lot of details about his life, but there was this guy named Spartacus who was a gladiator who broke out of the arena and led a rebellion against an oppressive government that led to what is called the Third Servile War. He caused the Romans quite a bit of trouble. And, ultimately, he died.

Rome & The Capital
The Roman Empire grew and changed throughout history, but there was certainly a time when decadence was key. The word "orgy" has it's roots in the Roman Empire--that should give you a hint about the wild times they had. Rumors--some historically proven, some not--abound, including that the Romans developed a taste for food such as hummingbird tongues and the Romans would eat so much at feasts they developed a knack for vomiting afterwards to make room for more. Games--including gladiator games--became hugely popular.

The fall of the Roman Empire happened in part because of this decadence--rulers weren't focused doing their job half so much as partying. But there was also a series of rulers who were either cruel or inept or both--some of which were probably psychotic (Caligula, Nero, etc.).

Suzanne Collins mirrors the decadent Roman Empire in the Capital--partly in the parties (remember the feasts where Peeta and Katniss are disgusted by the idea of vomiting in order to eat more?) and partly in the attitude of the people (how many times was it commented that the Capital people didn't think of the Games as anything more than entertainment?). But I think it might also be true of President Snow...he has a distinctly Nero feel about him, no? If he plays a fiddle while the Capital burns, don't forget I told you first!

MOCKINGJAY Week Kick-Off: What Do YOU Think?

It's going to be all MOCKINGJAY all the time this week here on the League! We're stoked about this series, and know you probably are, too :) And speaking of, congrats to our two pre-order giveaway winners, Alannah and Meadow!

We thought we'd start this week with some discussion--fitting, since this book is arguably the MOST discussed book there is! Now, we know some people have gotten their pre-orders early and others are slower readers, so, the blanket rule for this entire week is simple:


In the discussions, we will (obviously) talk about HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE: but NO ONE should talk about the plot of MOCKINGJAY beyond speculation--if you've read it, don't spoil it. This goes for all week long.

OK, now that that's out of the way, let's get rolling!

There is one obvious question that I think everyone wants to know from MOCKINGJAY: Who will Katniss end up with??? There's valid arguments for both sides: Peeta seems to truly love Katniss and has proven it twice in the arena...but Gale represents Katniss's free choice outside the control of the Capital. Which will she end up with?

Who should Katniss be with?

The next HOTLY debated topic has been who will die. This is HUNGER GAMES we're talking about...someone's going to die. Which do you think won't make it to the end of MOCKINGJAY?

Who will die in MOCKINGJAY?

And a proud supporter of TEAM CINNA!!! I can't let a poll go by without asking whta you think happened to him at the end of CATCHING FIRE.

What Happened to Cinna in CATCHING FIRE?

GO FORTH! Vote and discuss here in the comments! What do YOU think is going to happen?!?!? The only thing I know for sure...I CAN'T WAIT TO READ MOCKINGJAY!!!!!!

Get Excited!

Okay, so going into fall, I'm always excited about one thing: new books.

Besides the much-anticipated MOCKINGJAY (by Suzanne Collins) that's coming out on Tuesday, here are some other titles I can't wait to sink my reading eyes into. (Sidenote: Not all of these are dystopian/sci fi.)

THE SCORCH TRIALS by James Dashner (releases Oct. 12)
CLOCKWORK ANGEL by Cassandra Claire (releases Aug. 31)
SAPPHIQUE by Catherine Fisher (releases Dec. 28)
BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (releases Oct. 12)
BEHEMOTH by Scott Westerfeld (releases Oct. 5)
THE DARK AND HOLLOW PLACES by Carrie Ryan (releases March 22, 2011)

And of course, I know you've got XVI (by Julia Karr), ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (by Beth Revis), MEMENTO NORA (by Angie Smibert) and THE LONG WALK HOME (by Jeff Hirsch) on your list too, right? Right.

What other books are you getting excited about??

Getting Ready for Book Club (and Mockingjay)

Next week, we’ll be discussing Suzanne Collins’ books THE HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE. (And don’t forget the MOCKINGJAY giveaway!) So, this week I thought I’d give everyone who hasn’t read them (or needs a little reminder) a brief run-down on both books. I’ll try to stay clear of the spoilers as much as possible.

Hunger Games

In the ruins of what was once North America, the nation of Panem is divided into twelve districts, with the Capital controlling all with a very tight fist. Katniss Everdeen (16) lives in the 12th district. She and her friend Gale hunt and forage for food in the forest surrounding their impoverished mining district. Both of them provide the main source of food for their families. Life is hard in most of the districts, and the Capital makes it even harder once a year. During the Reaping, two teenage tributes from each district are chosen by lottery to fight to death in the Hunger Games. When her baby sister, Prim, is chosen from District 12, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Along with Peeta, the baker’s son, she travels to the Capital and competes in the games.

Catching Fire (Spoilers!)

Katniss wins the Hunger Games (and saves Peeta) with an act of defiance against the Capital. She and Peeta travel back to District 12 as victors. However, the Capital isn’t done with them. The President sends them on a rather cruel Victory Tour of the districts. And, every 25 years, the Capital can add a special twist to the Hunger Games. The Capital announces that the 75th Hunger Games will pit past victors of the games against each other. Katniss and Peeta will have to fight in the games again. Meanwhile, talk of rebellion is spreading through the districts.

For those of you who have read the books, what District would you represent? (Being from Southwest Virginia, I’m pretty sure I’d be in District 12, aka the Seam.) What were your favorite parts of either book? Why do you think these books have become so extraordinarily popular?

btw, don't forget to register for the Mockingjay giveaway! Please don't sign up more than once, though.

I Was Promised a Jetpack! And Nuclear Fusion!

There's a great article over on Wired explaining why we keep getting promised all this awesome sci-fi technology--jetpacks,  quantum computing, lasers, invisibility cloaks--but never seem to actually get any of it.  Here are a few choice examples, but definitely head over and read the whole thing.

What's the piece of high technology you guys would most like to see happen? For me it's all about fusion power. How awesome would that be? Clean, plentiful and super science fictiony. I want it!

Food in a Pill

 "It turns out that a food pill, while the essence of convenience, would violate the laws of physics. The average person needs to ingest around 2,000 calories a day. Carbohydrates and proteins provide about 4 calories per gram; fat provides about 9 calories per gram. If you put 2,000 calories’ worth of fat into pill form — the most efficient way to do it — you’d need to pop roughly half a pound of pills a day"

Laser Guns

"Chemical lasers, long the Pentagon’s favorite form of death ray, can generate titanically powerful beams, but you have to mix loads of dangerous substances to generate lots of energy, and that makes them potentially more dangerous to our own soldiers than to our adversaries. Solid-state electric lasers are smaller, easier to operate, and can fire more shots — but are much less potent. Only in the past year have prototypes delivered a weapons-grade 100 kilowatts of power — but the hardware is so bulky it takes a 747 to house it"

Fusion Power

"The trick to harnessing the phenomenon for peaceful purposes is to keep it contained — and, of course, to make sure the reaction produces more energy than it consumes. Physicists have declared imminent victory several times since the early 1950s, using such “bottles” as magnetic fields, lasers, and sound waves to contain ionized gases (also known as plasmas). But the most promising methods have invariably disappointed over the long run. “The problem is that plasmas are really creative at getting out of the bottle,” says Barrett Rogers, a Dartmouth College physics professor who focuses on fusion. “Their behavior is so complex and varied that it’s hard to invent a really effective bottle.”


"There are lots of excuses for why we don’t have jetpacks. For example, you’re always hearing about how they need to be “controllable” and “stable.” Or that they cost thousands of dollars but hold only 40 seconds of fuel, which isn’t even enough to get you to safe parachute height. And that you can’t use stronger fuels without the risk of “burning off your legs.” Sometimes people point out how useless they are, calling them “unicycles in the sky, except at least you can juggle on a unicycle and it doesn’t send you into a telephone wire at 70 miles per hour.”


"Professional robot maker Colin Angle has some disappointing news for you: Don’t expect to get your own wisecracking C-3PO anytime soon. “There’s no good business model for a robot servant,” says Angle, cofounder of iRobot, which makes military bots and the Roomba vacuum. The problem: Nobody wants to pay massive amounts of cash for the androids we are capable of making today. The truth is that almost any task can be done more cheaply and efficiently by (a) other humans or (b) inexpensive, single-purpose intelligent appliances that have more in common with a blender than Rosie the maid. That’s why we already have bots that build cars, defuse bombs, and clean gutters, but none that make conversation and dinner at the same time. "

Again, the whole thing is here and don't forget to hit us up in the comments with your picks!

The things I remember...

To me, a good book is one that tucks away some of its best parts in my memory and those memories tend to define the entire book for me. I thought I'd share a few of my sci-fi / fantasy favorite memories...

1. From More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon - I learned about gestalt - and still have a mental picture of the baby and the twins in the story.

2. From All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury - I can see all the children laughing and playing in the sun while Margot is locked inside the closet. Tragic!

3. From The Hobbit by J. R.R. Tolkien - so many things... but, I always am reminded of seed cake, the goblin tunnels, Gollum and the giant spiders in Mirkwood. And... how wonderful it is to be home for Elevenses!

4. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass - again - so many things - but. I love the pig and the pepper - and the Tenniel illustration of the sheep in the train car!

5. Dune by Frank Herbert - melange (didn't everyone want to taste it?! I know I did!)

6. The Worm Ouroboros and The Zimiamvian Trilogy by E. R Eddison - O.M.G. I wanted astral and time travel to be real!

What are some of your favorite sci-fi/fantasy book memories?

Realistically Speaking...

When I was in grad school, one of my professors told me a story about a well known medieval scholar who was asked once which of several recent movies most accurately portrayed the Middle Ages. The person asking offered several examples of documentaries and deeply researched historicals, but the professor had an immediate answer:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail.


The one with the knight with a flesh wound, the killer rabbit, and Tim the Enchanter.

The Middle Ages, he said, were not all kings and queens prancing around in castles. There was mud. And squalor. And people dying of the Black Plague, and others just carrying on. And of course, there was still jokes and laughs.

That story really stuck with me. We romanticize so much, from our own lives and memories to the way we think about the history.

And about the future.

Recently, I was watching a movie. Some people probably thought this movie was a bit over-the-top, just looking for laughs, but as I was watching, I realized that this is my Monty-Python-dystopian; what I think the future is most likely going to be.



Twinkie-obsessed, foul-mouthed, horny-in-a-nice-way, Zombieland.

THAT'S what I think the future apocalypse will hold.

Here's the thing: whatever the end of the world brings, be it aliens, zombies, environmental, whatever--the survivors are going to survive by cardio. And they're going to want Twinkies. And they're eventually going to get desensitized to whatever caused the end of the world.

Yes, obviously, this movie is a comedy. Obviously it did things for shock and comedic value. But you know what? I think when the world ends, the ones left over are going to be a lot like the characters in the movie. Some are going to be brutal killers, dependent on only themselves for survival. The children aren't going to know about simple things we take for granted, such as watching Ghostbusters, but they are going to know how to shoot and kill.

And some are going to want Twinkies.

So, what about you guys? What movie or book do you think is the most realistic version of the end of the world?

(PS: My runner-up for most realistic end-of-the-world movie? Shaun of the Dead.)

Writing Genre Fiction by League author Julia Karr

Dude, you guys, I'm so tired. I've been behind the scenes at an online writer's conference this week -- WriteOnCon. I have nothing in my brain and it's 11:30 on Thursday night.

So instead of torturing you with something from the scary place inside my skull, I thought I'd let League blogger Julia Karr do the talking. Here's her vlog from the WriteOnCon conference. It was amazing.

The Adapted Man

After perusing Beth’s film link Monday, I was struck by something that I actually already knew. Adaptations rule. And the most adapted writer (other than Stephen King) is someone most non-science fiction readers have never heard of: Philip K. Dick. He has four films in the Top 50 Dystopian Films list:

5. Blade Runner (1982) – based on DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SLEEP (1968)
9. Minority Report (2002) –based on “The Minority Report” (1956)
29. Total Recall (1990)—based on “We can Remember it for You Wholesale” (1966)
36. A Scanner Darkly (2006) -- based on A SCANNER DARKLY (1977)

Dick’s work was also probably a big influence on some of the other Top 50 films, such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and The Matrix.

Other PKD film adaptations include:
Screamers (1995)—based on "Second Variety" (1953)
Imposter (2002)—based on “The Imposter” (1953)
Paycheck (2003)—based on “Paycheck” (1953)
Next (2007) –based on “The Golden Man” (1954)
Radio Free Albemuth (2010)–based on RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH (1985)
According to the official PKD website, movies based on his works have netted over a billion dollars to date. And, there are several PKD-based films currently in some stage of production, including Disney’s animated King of the Elves (2012) and The Adjustment Bureau (2011). Dick’s work has also been adapted into stage plays, operas, and comic books.

Sadly, Philip Kindred Dick died of a massive stroke months before Blade Runner hit the screens in 1982. His fans (who call themselves Dickheads) and his children kept his legacy going, though.

His books and short stories are a well worth the read. He melds a dark sense of humor with wildly philosophical sense of possibilities in his work—which often doesn’t come across on the big screen. My personal favorite of his books is MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, an alternate history in which the Allies lost World War II. Or maybe it’s the PENULTIMATE TRUTH. It’s a dystopian novel about a fake war being waged through the media. (Actually, quite a lot of Dick's work is dystopian.)

So many PKD novels, so little time. Any other Dickheads out there? What’s your favorite PKD story or film? Or is there another highly adapted dystopian author out there that you like?

While you're pondering those questions, check out the trailer for upcoming PKD flick, The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon. I love the premise.

Do Novels Matter?

I got to thinking about this after reading Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story.  (It's really great by the way. Definitely check it out.) Shteyngart's book is a satirical dystopian romance set in a future where books are a thing of the past. Instead of reading, people spend all their time glued to their apparat, a smart phone like device, where they shop and watch videos.

Now people have been saying the novel is dead since...what? The 60's? And it's not dead yet. On life support maybe, but not dead.

But we have to be realistic, right? Art forms fade. Heck, there was a time when epic poems were all the rage. Things like plays and poetry and opera and the ballet used to be at the center of the cultural conversation and now they've become the province of relatively small groups of enthusiasts. And we have to admit the fiction outlook is not the best it's ever been. Fewer and fewer books are sold each year and movies and TV seem to be doing better and better.

Now there's probably not much point in getting into the old "is the novel dying or isn't it" argument. I think it's safe to say that pretty much everyone here thinks that the novel will and should endure. What I think might be a different way to go about this is to think about how it will endure and why it should.

A little background. Before I wrote books I wrote plays. Have an MFA in it actually. You think the novel is in trouble? Try theater.

Live theater has been under threat for a while now for any number of reasons--it's expensive to produce in comparison to the potential audience size, and the realistic stories of characters and relationships that were the bread and butter of theater for so long...well, TV tells those sorts of stories really well now. Also it costs a heck of a lot less and is right there in your living room

Theater artists saw that trying to emulate movies and TV was a losing game and to survive they had to have a frank discussion about what it is that theatre does that no other medium can offer.  Something people could only get in a theater. Where that conversation took theater varied. In some cases artists created smaller more intimate work that relied on a strong actor/audience bond while others took theater to a more boldly theatrical place, full of physicality and lyricism. By and large you see a little less strict realism. More ideas. More poetry. A greater connection to the local community the theater is created in.

 Now obviously theater hasn't taken over the country, but I will say that this conversation has led to some amazing work and has done a lot to justify it's continued existence artistically.

So if the novel is in trouble then we, the lovers and practitioners of the form, have to be the ones who advocate for it's continued place in the culture. We're its ambassadors. We have to be able to argue for why it's unique and why it cannot and must not fail.

So how would you all approach this? How would you answer the questions, "Why is the novel important?" and "What can the novel do that no other art form can?"

And hey, if there's anyone out there who thinks the novel is doomed I want to hear from you too!

It's the Future - What's Your Plan?

In any futuristic story, even if it's "near-future" - usually something besides the government, or the powers-that-be driving the antagonistic part of the story - is different. Maybe just a tweak different or maybe majorly so. It could be that space travel is commonplace, mood-altering drugs are the norm, food is boring, pre-packaged glop and medical diagnoses are contained in a tiny scanner. 

Contemplating the future is something I love, and I know I'm not alone in that joy. And, mostly I contemplate useful gadgets or methods (it's the gov't that scares me! lol!) So, today I'm opening the comments for your sharing of things you'd like to see in the future. The good stuff - the things that will be invented or the methods that will come into common usage that will make life so much better for the world.

Some questions to fire your imagination. 

1. How will we get from Point A to Point B? (i.e. what's travel going to look like?)
2. What's in your laundry room?
3. TV - will it still exist?
4. What's a cell phone?
5. How will we shop?
6. Sports. What kind?
7. Books. Will we still read?
8. Water. Plentiful? Potable? 
9. Fuel. Liquid? Gas? Solar?
10. Schooling. How will we educate?

What do you think? How are these things going to be different? I can't wait to see what y'all come up with! :)

Links for the End of the World!

There's so much awesome dystopian stuff going on this month, I wanted to make sure you all knew about it!

First, be sure to read the blog at Presenting Lenore all month long--she's doing an entire month dedicated to dystopian YA lit. Book reviews, author interviews, discussions...Lenore is really going to feature the whole genre all of August. And watch might see some never-before-revealed stuff from all of us Leaguers :)

Second, a fellow aspiring author, Heather Zundel, is honoring MOCKINGJAY this month by holding a bracket of YA fantasy characters duking it out in battle. Lots of authors in the blogosphere contributing battles between beloved YA characters from Edward Cullen to Tally from UGLIES in a showdown where you, the reader, get to vote on the outcome of who makes it to the top. This site is going to be lots of fun--it goes live tomorrow, and you've got until the weekend to vote for the first round of characters.

And speaking of MOCKINGJAY...don't forget to enter out contest for one of TWO pre-orders of the book, and we'll be discussing HUNGER GAMES at the end of the month for our Book of the Month Club!

With all this awesome dystopia stuff going on, you may (like me) start randomly talking to strangers about the cool books and everything else out there dystopian. When they give you funny looks (and they will) point them to this site, one of the most comprehensive definitions of the dystopian genre out there.

Once you've properly converted them to dystopian, have your friends check out this online questionnaire, that has some pretty basic questions, but ends up with good suggestions of what kind of dystopian books you will probably want to read next.

And if that doesn't help, here's two lists: the top 50 dystopian movies (I agree with SERENITY and 12 MONKEYS but have never heard of their top pick), and the 16 best dystopian books of all time (I *just* bought THE HANDMAID'S TALE).

MOCKINGJAY giveaway!

Okay, so hopefully you saw Angie's announcement that the Book Club selection this month is The Hunger Games and/or Catching Fire. We love our Suzanne Collins around here. The discussion kicks off the week of August 23 -- and MOCKINGJAY, the much-anticipated and final installment in the trilogy comes out the 24th.

And we're giving away two copies (when it's available)! That's right -- TWO winners. You need to enter by August 20, and we'll announce the winners on the 23rd.

All you have to do is fill out the form below. Easy, peasy. And you could tell us how excited you are for Mockingjay if you want. We'll totally understand. *wink*

Eureka Moments

Not too long ago, I watched an interview with Catherine Asaro over at Big Think. She was primarily talking about how she uses ideas in physics to guide her stories. This was certainly interesting (and it’s not quite what you may be thinking), but I was more struck by her Eureka moment story. (Stories, actually, but I’m only going to talk about one.) She was in the slower reading group in school until one day she devoured one of her older sister’s books. Then her parents and the school realized she’d just been bored—not slow. Asaro then discovered a series of stories about two kids going into space with their cat. That was her Eureka moment. That reading could be about these ideas—like space. She was fascinated with the idea of outer space and started devouring all the other science fiction in the kids’ section of the library. Now she’s not only a science fiction writer but also a theoretical physicist.

That's the impact science fiction can have on kids--and girls, in particular.

As a young kid, I think I got most of my sci-fi from TV. Twilight Zone. Star Trek. Doctor Who. But it was a Ray Bradbury short story, “The Playground,” that got me hooked on reading science fiction. The story’s about this insurance salesman father who fears the playground across the street. Playgrounds in general. I won’t give it away, but it’s a great childhood-as-nightmare story with a Twilight Zone kind of twist to it.

Bradbury dramatized the story for his TV show (circa 1985):

Though Bradbury wrote the screenplay, I don't think it was as good as the short story.

Something about that short story made me want to read more. It made me realize too how science fiction (and fantasy) could be about people AND ideas. I devoured all of Bradbury’s books—Fahrenheit 451, Martian Chronicles, etc.—and then moved onto harder stuff. Asimov. Heinlein. Le Guin. Herbert. So Bradbury was kind of my gateway drug … I mean author into science fiction.

What was your science fiction (or fantasy) Eureka moment? Who was your gateway author into the genre? Did your early reading inspire your career choice?

Does Genius Exist?

Thought I'd take a small step back from the end of the world to talk about the notion of genius.

I was listening to Radiolab in the gym the other day and they were doing a really interesting interview with Malcolm Gladwell about the concept. The whole thing is here if you want to check it out and you can also download it on iTunes.

Gladwell rejects the classical idea of genius. Whether we're talking about artistic geniuses, or geniuses in math or science of what have you, he says the traditional notion that genius is this random bomb that drops on an individual and magically renders them brilliant is nonsense.

If I'm hearing him right he's saying that extraordinarily successful people, or "geniuses," become that way because of three basic factors:

Circumstances -  One instance Gladwell talks about is how the high school Bill Gates attended happened to have a computer he could use to do some serious programming. Now, this was in 1968 we're talking about here,  this was a rare thing.  Just think how different Gates' life might have been if it wasn't for this extraordinary circumstance. Sure, he may have still gotten involved in computers later on, but would he have become who he was without the head start afforded by availability of that computer? Who knows.

Love -  Gladwell says it's love for the game that's the key difference between the achiever and the non-achiever. Going back to Bill Gates, as a fifteen year old boy he made himself get out of bed from 2AM to 6AM five days a week just so he could program in addition to his regular schoolwork. Could he have done that if he didn't have a love for coding that was off the charts intense? Gladwell says it's this love that not only causes people to do the practice they need to do, but creates a fixation that leads them to think about their subject in a deeper and more complex way than others.

Practice -  Or really I should say practice practice practice practice. Here, Gladwell sites the 10,000 rule, the idea that it takes about 10,000 hours of focused practice to achieve mastery of a subject.  So when Gladwell is talking about practice he is talking about a serious amount of practice. He's talking about a level of dedication that few people can muster.

The only thing really missing for me is some idea of talent. Gladwell is a little squirrelly on whether or not he believes in the existence of talent (he seems to give primacy to love) but for me it's gotta be in there somewhere, even if it's not the most important part of the equation. Heck, maybe talent is even too grand a word. Call it a knack. You start out life with a knack for words, or computers, or math, or hockey and when that collides with circumstances that support it and a love for it that fuels you to practice and develop that knack, then I think you have something.

And besides, if we look at highly successful people not as people touched by God, but rather as people who got where they are because of a number of factors, some of which can be controlled, maybe we can do a  better job helping to nurture that success in ourselves and others.  Gladwell's definition of genius isn't passive. It's something you strive towards.

That just seems more helpful, and more hopeful, to me.

What do you all think? Do you buy this way of looking at genius? Would you add anything to this list of factors that support success? What factors go you where you are?

Announcing the Apocalypse

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we interrupt our program...”
If you tuned in late, those might have been the first words many listeners heard of Orson Wells’ radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” Here’s a link, with a youtube link, to an article that Time magazine did on the 70th Anniversary of the show. 
At that time, radio was the medium and that’s where everyone got the latest breaking news, which was considered gospel. Yes, the explanation (that it was a re-telling of Wells' story) was given at the beginning of the show - but if you missed that - you were sure the world was being invaded, with death and destruction imminent. As a matter of fact, this event - which had folks running into the streets in terror to their churches to prepare to meet their Maker, wet towels clutched to their faces as makeshift gas masks - has become a case study on mass hysteria.  
It doesn’t take much to imagine how people felt, especially after our current events of 9/11, when we stared in horror at the images unfolding on any available TV or internet news webpage. Or, when New Orleans, as we knew it, was being wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. Or, our horror and sadness at the devastation in Haiti.
However, one has to wonder if we will become so inured to horrific events that they will become mundane and we’ll just click to a different channel or open a new webpage and not realize the actual apocalypse is at the door.
What do you think?

Must See (Post-Apocalyptic) TV

Dude. YOU GUYS. You're going to love this.

So I've seen advertisements on the Discovery Channel for awhile now on a new show called THE COLONY. The Discovery Channel calls it a "social experiment" but it's basically reality TV at the end of the world. Seriously. They grouped together seven everyday people (a carpenter, a model, a teacher, an inventor, a construction worker, etc.) and put them in an area that's been burned out and decimated. The scenario is that a "nuclear flu" has wiped out most of the population--can they survive? This means finding their own food, treating their own wounds...and fighting off other (possibly contaminated) survivors for their hard-won supplies.

I went into the show a little skeptical. To be honest, I was mostly watching it for YOU. I figured this was something I needed to see so I could report back to you on the latest in reality-TV-dystopia.

But it's actually pretty freaking awesome.

It's clear that the producers are trying to make this as realistic a scenario as possible, and I think by the end of the first episode, the survivors realize this. All the actors start with a 72-hour long isolation period where they are waiting "quarantine." At the end of this time--in and of itself psychological, let's be honest--they emerge to a set that is very realistic--burned out building, broken glass, and about a week's worth of supplies. They pick beans off the ground and start a water filtration system.

It's interesting to see how they solve problems. Fire is made by sparking off a tractor battery. A metal railing becomes a grill. Makeshift netting isn't productive at fishing...but plastic storage containers quickly becoming rain collectors.

It was also interesting to me to see the personalities clash. Within the first episode, you can already tell who the lazy jerk is going to be...and it made me wish this was a zombie scenario so they could use that guy for bait.

But I don't think anyone--the survivors or the viewers at home--expected this show to be very realistic until other survivors show up. These are people the producers have hired to be opposing forces--but they are treating it very real. In the first contact, three "others" ask for food and water. Our survivors are scattered in their response. One man, a Christian, wants to give food and water. Other oppose him, telling them they only have so much. Some go to the supplies and fetch a hand-out for the "others"...quickly tipping off the others where the supplies are kept. Things turn bad when the others demand more--and there's a "fight" that isn't much of a fight.

At this point, my husband looks at me and says, "This is going to suck. It's all staged."

At the end of the episode, though, the first group of survivors have brought friends--15 to 20 members of a survival gang whose goal is to steal medical supplies and whatever else they can. They have pepper spray, metal pipes, and other make-shift weapons. Our group of survivors have no weapons. Three or four are at the front of the building, a few others are inside. They know a confrontation is going to happen, but they're trying to be calm, negotiating--

Then the first one gets maced.

Chaos ensues. Our survivors, for the most part, jump into the fight. They're fighting for real now. One picks up a metal pipe and beats down one of the others. They aren't holding punches--and they're not afraid to punch. In the first fight, it seemed almost as if the survivors were looking at the cameras going, "Really? I can hit him?" But now, it's as if the cameras are gone.

That's all it took. Three days. Two fights. And they forgot about the cameras. They fought for real. They believed in survival. Even the original kind-hearted man who wanted to be generous to other survivors was brawling in the street, defending himself and his friends.

I know this is a set-up. A television show engineered to create a situation. But like all good TV (and good books and movies and stories) it made me wonder what the world would be like the end...and how quickly we'd all dissolve.

This is the second season of the show--I missed the first season which apparently featured different people in a different scenario and location. I am definitely not missing any more!

More Info:

August Book Club Selection

Since MOCKINGJAY will be coming out at the end of the month, August's Book Club selection is the HUNGER GAMES / CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins. So, read one or both books (as if you haven't already), and swing by the blog during the week of August 23rd to discuss!