In my opinion, some of the best science fiction published today is in the young adult section. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins are two of my favorites, and I just ordered a book called Matched by Allie Condie, which I’m eager to read.
All three books could be classified as a specific kind of sci-fi: dystopia. They all present a future gone horribly wrong. Uglies is about compulsory plastic surgery; in The Hunger Games, children fight to the death as a form of entertainment; Matched, according to its description on Amazon, is about a world where the state determines who you can marry. It reminds me most of the original utopia, the perfect society advocated by Plato over 2000 years ago, which also included a government run breading program.
And these books are meant for kids, age 13 and up.
I grew up watching Star Trek, one of the most optimistic sci-fi series ever created. It presents a future without poverty, racism, or war (except occasional wars against Klingons, Romulans, or the Dominion). It shows technology making our lives better. It shows a government that respects the rights of its citizens and noncitizens alike. It boldly tells us that no matter how bad the world is today, there’s always hope for tomorrow.
Star Trek’s message shaped the person I am today. Although I would never discourage children from reading books—any books—they’re interested in, I have to wonder what impact all these dystopias have on young minds. Are we making a generation of pessimists?
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It’s two weeks since I originally posted this, and I can safely say Matched by Allie Condie is an excellent book. These are all excellent books. My only concern is that a steady diet of dystopias might make kids afraid of the future… afraid that we can’t solve our problems without Big Brother style government.
With that said, dystopia for young adults is nowhere near as pessimistic as the classic dystopias, like Geroge Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. No matter how bad things get in Uglies, Hunger Games, or Matched, there is still hope for a better world. Even hope for a real utopia.