Imagined Futures: Death and the Post-Disaster Novel
Speculating on the future of the human race is not a new practice, nor is the tendency to set that future in a world irrevocably altered by a cataclysmic event. In the last few decades or so, however, the number of post-disaster scenarios appearing in Western cultural discourses has increased signifi cantly. M. Keith Booker argues, for example, that this period has seen the rise of a dystopian mood in popular culture as a whole (Literature 7), while Veronica Hollinger notes that it has been an extremely fertile time for the apocalyptic imagination: Encouraged by the “confl uence of a calendar system that situates us on a millennial cusp” and by a series of “apparently unprecedented epistemological and technological ruptures and transformations”, she contends, we have been persistently canvassing the idea of a catastrophic, nearfuture end to the present world order (160-61). This latent anxiety about such
issues as environmental pollution, nuclear war, and rapid advances in technology is especially apparent in literature written for child audiences. Indeed, in the 1990s, the post-disaster genre became one of the most prominent in British, American, and Australian children’s fi ction (Nikolajeva 167). Critical studies point to the prevalence of this theme in YA novels in particular: Carrie Hintz argues that YA readers have been sensitised to dystopian writing through popular works by Lois Lowry and Monica Hughes (255), and John Stephens’s analysis of contemporary post-disaster novels for children is almost wholly concerned with adolescent texts (“Post-Disaster”).1 For several reasons, the genre is an important one for this study: Firstly, because of the gendered nature of the genre’s ideologies; secondly, because the future societies imagined in post-disaster fi ctions are built upon the ashes of others and thus engage at a fundamental level with notions of life and death; and, thirdly, because post-disaster literature for YA readers tends to confl ate the personal with the political in such a way that broad social issues are addressed within the (sexual) developmental narrative of adolescence (Hintz).