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Guest Post: Terrible Worlds or Terrible Books? by Jennifer Arntson, Author of Scavenger Girl: Season of Atchem

A little while ago, I introduced you to the fantastic Scavenger Girl: Season of Atchem and its even more fantastic author, Jennifer Arntson. As you may have noticed, my review made much of the word “dystopian” as a genre/theme, pointing out the challenges I think are associated with such a label. This is a part of a larger conversation that I’ve had not only in my own head (where many conversations start – and even more go to die, teehee…) but also with Jennifer. Today, I’m pleased to bring you her thoughts on the topic. Without further ado, I bring you Jennifer Arntson!

Terrible Worlds or Terrible Books?
by Jennifer Arntson

Dystopian novels are books that readers either crave, or outright avoid. It’s one way or the other, with readers unfamiliar to the niche finding themselves basing their next read on the movies made from books that fall somewhere within the lines of acceptable. Thanks to Hollywood’s reach with the silver screen, dystopian novels conquered the scene in the early 2000’s and with an uprising of interested readers, inspired authors to write finely crafted tales of struggle and survival after the epic fall of civilization.

And readers went into a dystopian frenzy.

Many first time readers to works like Hunger Games or Divergent burn through them before they find themselves somewhere else entirely. Occasionally, readers trip into unexpected dark worlds they suddenly want to escape. They put down the genre and opt for a feel-good story to wash away all the people-eating horror. At least for now anyway.

But readers shouldn’t quit, they need to understand the plight of an overused term. Let me explain…

The term dystopia is by definition, the exact opposite of utopia – a perfect world. It is an imagined place where people are unhappy or afraid because of social injustice and oppression. More commonly, it’s a fight against the established ruling class, government or institution.

While the volumes of stories within the genre share many similarities, the truth is the word dystopian has come to be a catch all for works struggling to find their space on the literary spectrum. A post-apocalyptic tale following a nuclear war, a zombie or alien takeover with human militias on a mission to save the human race, or an underdeveloped society lacking today’s technology, are all subject to the same single-word definition. Unless a reader is experienced enough to know this, or are savvy enough to know what to purposely avoid, seekers are in for quite a surprise when choosing their next read. Sadly, dystopian works include a plethora of great reads that tend to be largely overlooked by newcomers who find themselves disappointed by landing on the wrong spot on the dystopian twister board. Due to one not-so-great pick from the many available titles of their Amazon search, they opt to set the genre down temporarily, if not for years, and it’s just not right…

I can speak to this because the Scavenger Girl Series is categorically a dystopian novel. You won’t find zombies, fallout shelters or robots in the pages of my works, but when deciding where to put my thumbnail in the Amazon catalog, that single definition may cause a would-be reader to keep scrolling by, if not change their search perimeters completely. There is a subset of the genre that tells a finely crafted story in the midst of a dystopian world. It may lie in the background rather than an aggressive study of the accepted theme. In some cases, like in Season of Atchem, it becomes the backdrop to a much richer story—one anchored in the basic struggles we face in the real world. In the safety of a good book, our common worldview can be systematically torn apart to be further examined under a lens tinted with the imagined world of an author’s mind.

In Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist he writes: “The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. Write the kind of story you like best—write the story you want to read.” When authors do that, be prepared for a book that doesn’t commit to any one genre. Books like that introduce us to an unknown version of ourselves and our world. We discover the everyday heroes we can become when the odds are stacked against us. It doesn’t need to be uncovering some great conspiracy or finding the cure for a rogue virus. It could be bringing our neighbor a meal when they’re sick, or inviting an old friend over for coffee. While every book cannot end with an HEA kiss between our favorite characters, the best novels are the ones that keep us thinking of what was and what might happen after the final page, and making us different because of it.

If you find yourself interested in dystopian novels, I urge you to take a moment and read the description and a couple of reviews. I also find the website www.yasiv.com fascinating for book recommendations. I’m a highly visual person, so seeing the spiderweb of book likenesses appeals to me. The graphics will show you similar works within your preferred styles based on what other readers have indicated. These two things will help narrow your focus to a dystopian novel that fits your niche and can introduce you to authors you’d never consider by the thumbnail picture in your scroll.

Personally, I’d say pick up a book with fire on the cover…I hear those are always good.

Jennifer Arntson
Author, dreamer, and sworn enemy of Caillou
www.ScavengerGirl.com

Jennifer Arntson has a long history of crafting tales that people find unbelievable, but often true. As an observer of human and social development through the ages, a curiosity of faith, and dedication to the underprivileged of the developing world, Jennifer finds her creative outlet in stories and fables. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children, and a mini-farm of otherwise useless animals where the family eagerly caters to their every need.

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