Devils and Dreams: Post-Apocalyptic Tales
In the last week or so I’ve seen the movie Prometheus and read Beth Revis’s book Across the Universe. And for some reason the combination of these two stories is making me really want to dig my two favorite Monica Hughes books out of storage and read them again. These two books are Devil on my Back and its sequel The Dream Catcher. I’ve probably read them a dozen times since I was ten or eleven (and I named my daughter after one of the characters in these books).
I’m not too sure why Prometheus made me think of these books – maybe it was the look of the Engineers? With Revis’s book I think it’s the general vibe of the story, and the way their society is organized and stratified, plus her character Eldest kind of reminds me of the Overlord in Hughes’s books.
Anyway, if you haven’t read them, these two books are post-apocalyptic YA tales set in two different domed cities (called Arks or Arcs depending on who you ask). People first moved into the arks in response to nuclear war, and they have stayed inside them for hundreds or thousands of years. The first story is actually a lot like The Matrix (though Hughes wrote her story first); (most) members of Arc One’s society are plugged directly into the city’s computer and use it for everything from looking up schoolwork to taking holographic vacations. Tomi, the Overlord’s son, is accidentally ejected from the city and ends up unplugged from the computer. He meets people living outside the dome who teach him the truth behind the lie he has been living.
I like the first book a lot but the second is my favorite. It’s the story of Ruth, a girl in Ark Three. Her ark doesn’t have the same kind of supercomputer as Arc One, and her people have become talented in various psi arts – mostly telepathy and telekinesis. She starts having dreams about people and places she has never seen, but which readers will recognize as the subjects of the first book. Her dreams become so persistent that eventually an expedition is mounted to leave the ark – for the first time in countless generations – and search for the people of Ruth’s dreams.
I have always loved post-apocalyptic stories. I find them really liberating, both as a reader and (though I haven’t yet written one myself) for the writer. There’s kind of a sense that all rules are suspended, all bets are off, and anything can happen now – stuff that couldn’t happen, or would at least have to be very carefully justified, in a story set in a world that hasn’t fallen apart. They can be terrible and scary – and I don’t want us to have a nuclear war or a devastating plague or whatever – but there’s also an undeniable sense of adventure about these stories too. (And the frivolous girl in me really relishes the idea of being able to break into malls and take anything I want without paying for it. )
Here’s a list of all the post-apocalyptic books I’ve read that I can think of off the top of my head:
- Devil on my Back and The Dream Catcher, by Monica Hughes (as mentioned above)
- The Stand, by Stephen King
- Cell, by Stephen King
- Z for Zachariah, by Robert C. O’Brien (Note: This book is well-written but very depressing – it really gutted me as a kid and I wouldn’t recommend it for young readers)
- The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham
- The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
- Life As We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, and This World We Live In, by Susan Beth Pfeffer
- The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan
- The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
- Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (Does this count? It’s set in a far-off future, with a new society that’s very different from ours, but it’s been decades since I read it and I can’t actually remember if there was an apocalypse or not…)
There is a sequel or sequels to Carrie Ryan’s book, but I didn’t really like the first one, so I quit there. And there are some other post-apocalyptic books that I know of but haven’t read, like The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and On the Beach by Nevil Shute (I must read this one; my dad loves it).
I guess this doesn’t technically count, but another wonderful book with a post-apocalyptic feel is The Magic Meadow by Alexander Key (the same guy who wrote Escape to Witch Mountain). The Magic Meadow is another book I’ve been reading over and over since I was a kid.
Maybe someday I’ll write a post-apocalyptic story. I started one once when I was a kid, and let my mom read what I had (which was no more than five pages). She always said that was her favorite of my stories. And as I said, I just really love the freedom in the idea that anything at all could happen, because it’s not our world anymore.
Do you like reading post-apocalyptic stories? What are some of your favorites? Do you love or hate any of the books on my list (and why), or is there something else you would add to it?