Dystopian novels have been popular for decades. They first really came into popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the threat of nuclear war played heavily on the imaginations of readers and writers. It was reflected in film and television with programs like The Twilight Zone and movies like On the Beach, Soylent Green and Mad Max.
The popularity of these stories has continued with visions of the end of civilsation as we know it taking the form of solar flares ending power, asteroids hitting the earth, zombies, the ever popular destruction from WW3 and of course, pandemics. Imagine our surprise when the latter raised its head into inescapable reality.
All too suddenly, most of us are having to stay at home to help break the chain of infection. For readers, this should mean extra reading time! Yay! However, every book group I’m in has someone asking the same question; “Are you finding it difficult to read?”
The answers are many and affirmative. The stress from fear, isolation, worry over lost earnings and shortages of supplies (caused entirely by hoarders) has played on everyone’s mind and not only are many readers finding it hard to concentrate, but some writers are finding some difficulty in keeping their minds on their work in progress as well.
A friend of mine recently pointed out that most of us are going through a grieving process: grief for the loss of the life we knew and found familiar. This is a separate thing from personal grief for those who have lost a loved one.
I don’t completely buy into the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross five-stage model of grief which purports the stages are: 1 – Denial, 2 – Anger, 3 – Bargaining, 4 – Depression, 5 – Acceptance.
We’ve all seen stage one, Denial, from people who went out for a last day on the beach or had Covid parties before lockdown. But what I see is a different progression: 1 – Denial, 2 – Humour, 3 – Foraging, 4 – Participation, 5 – Acceptance.
Having got past Denial, social media has stepped up with posts about what we’re wearing for the apocalypse, what music should be in the soundtrack, appropriate weapons and endless jokes, especially toilet paper jokes. Humour gives us stress relief and perhaps some connection to the Denial stage where we try to pretend that it’s all just a bad movie.
Foraging became a necessity very quickly. We haven’t lost supply chains yet, people just started panic buying and causeda separate problem. Some of this is settling down now as stores impose limits and pantry space runs out. Social distancing has made shopping doable now as long as we all keep it infrequent.
Participation is the interesting stage. It’s been a long time since WWII and not many who saw those days first hand are still around, but a lot of people are stepping up to ‘do their bit’ in the midst of a crisis that was beginning to look dire in the face of selfish hoarding.
The UK government put out a call for volunteers to help the NHS, our health service, in various ways like transporting medical equipment or helping vulnerable people not covered by local groups. They hoped for 250,000 responses. They got over 400,000 in the first day, including actor Kevin McNally who is best known for his roll as Mr Gibbs in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
Performers have been creating content to enjoy online from storytelling to virtual concerts. Museums have released free virtual tours.
Writers have also stepped up, offering free books to help with self-isolation. Smashwords organised an event to centralise many of these. All my fiction is on there for free if you’re interested, except my newest release The Chase for Choronzon, which I hope to have formatted and uploaded by the time this article posts.
It is interesting to observe in the book groups that some people are targeting dystopian novels during this crisis, while others are avoiding them completely. Too real, they assert. I can understand that. However, when I was struggling to continue my current WIP, I came across a call for short scripts for the BBC, specifically dealing with self-isolation. I wrote one and sent it in.
Suddenly the writing began to flow again. Having directly written about the circumstances affecting us all released whatever inner stress had been causing my creativity to lag.
I’ve found that my cosplay friends who joke about dressing up and soundtracks are adapting quickly and dealing with the inevitable stress quite well. Whether this is a prescription for everyone is hard to judge. Perhaps total escapist Fantasy will serve some best, comforting re-reads of old favourites for others and for the daring, high tension zombie novels so that when you come back to reality after putting the book down, things aren’t quite as bad by comparison.
Whatever works best for you, let’s all keep talking, keep supporting each other and keep alive that hope that normality will return eventually. Keep a sense of humour and never, ever let the dark times crush your spirit.
Jaq’s books free on Smashwords until 20 April:
The Goblin Trilogy
The Glittering Dark and Other Stories of the Goblin World
The Wake of the Dragon (Steampunk)
Books available at: