Monday, November 7, 2011

Dave Wolverton - Dystopia

(QUICK NOTE: I'm signing at the Costco in Sandy UT this Saturday (the 12th) at 1 pm.)

I'm honored to call myself a friend (and student) of Dave Wolverton, aka David Farland. He has a new book out called NIGHTINGALE, and I've read it, and it's awesome. I highly recommend it. Also, he's doing a blog tour and has written a guest post exclusive to the Dashner Dude. On a topic that I chose (Dystopias and why they're popular). In other words, Dave Wolverton is not only a genius, but a major stud.

You can find out more about him and his book at the following website: CLICK HERE. You'll be amazed enough at the website.

Okay, here are the words of the man himself:

Writing in the Ruins

Dystopias sell, and they’ve been on a long run. Certainly, when H.G. Wells wrote the The Time Machine he was dealing with dystopias, but one can go back further than that. Consider Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist. Doesn’t the story of a boy forced into a workhouse and then escaping to the mean streets of London during an unending depression qualify as a dystopia?

As a child, I recall that many of my fantasies revolved around horrifying scenarios. What if the Russians took over? What if aliens attacked? Wells beat us all to it. What if there was a nuclear war? What if we run out of food and have to start eating each other? What if some weird religious cult took over and tried to force women back into slavery?

You get the idea. There are a lot of ways that the world can end, and all of the scenarios above have been turned into very popular movies and books. So what’s the attraction?

First, I think that we recognize that thinking about the “unthinkable” is a valuable activity. Simply by envisioning the consequences, say, a disaster, we can alter the course of history.

When I was a child, I recall having several school teachers who believed that a nuclear war between the US and Russia was inevitable. Certainly the rhetoric was all there, and Fidel Castro recounts how he begged the Soviet Union to let him launch missiles into the U.S. and start an all-out nuclear war. He says that he knew that Cuba would be wiped off the map in the resulting counter-attack, but he was willing to sacrifice his nation.

But that never gelled. Why?

Probably because a few world leaders understood the consequences all too well. They’d read books by geeky sci-fi writers like me, set a thousand years in the future, where radioactive clouds still swept across the face of a struggling earth, and generations of children, burned and scarred and cancerous, sought to eke out a miserable existence because of their ancestors’ mistakes.

So we dodged a bullet. In fact, we’ve dodged a lot of them. I recall once that a newspaper pointed out during the 1970s that the Russians had enough nerve gas to kill every living creature on the planet 10,000 times over. The next day, President Nixon announced that the U.S. had enough nerve gas to kill everything on the planet 60,000 times over. My, wasn’t that comforting.

It wasn’t long until both countries began destroying their chemical weapons arsenals. In fact, within the next few months, the U.S. will have burned up all of its old munitions—a process that has taken twenty years.

We’ve dodged bullets with industrial pollution, viral outbreaks, and economic ruin over and over again, and much of that success I’m sure comes as a result of the forewarnings by storytellers.

That said, think that readers have other reasons for devouring dystopic fiction. The truth is that when we’re reading fiction, we often enjoy thrusting ourselves into a world, into an imagined scenario, that would crush us in real life. Want to get captured as a child and sold into slavery? Want to die and find out what happens next? Want to see what happens when an asteroid the size of the moon strikes Chicago.

Catastrophes and dystopias make for good fiction in part because they’re not real. No matter how well I write a scene, how well you experience it in fiction, you know that the story isn’t real. (I did have a schizophrenic read one of my novels once, and months later he seemed to believe that he had actually been on another planet and lived through the adventures I had described. Don’t you do that!)

The truth is that all entertainment does roughly the same thing: it puts us in danger, yet keeps us safe. If you watch a football game, you feel a sense of emotional jeopardy as your team is pitted against another. If you jump out of an airplane, you’re putting yourself in physical danger as you wait to see if your parachute opens. Entertaining activities all put us in some sort of jeopardy.

Reading a story is much like any other form of entertainment. Part of our mind accepts the story as truth. Our heart might race when the hero is being chased by a monster. We might weep as the heroine finds her true love. When watching a movie, we scream when the killer leaps from the closet.

When we enjoy a story set in stark and horrifying dystopia, we’re performing an emotional exercise, one that helps us cope with our own real-world problems just a little better. So in a very real sense, reading a story is like going to the gym, where you practice powerful emotional exercises. The setting, the dystopia, is just a part of the exercise equipment.

In short, we enjoy stories set in dystopias because on a subconscious level, we recognize that they’re good for us.

In his latest novel, Nightingale, award-winning, New York Times Bestselling author David Farland imagines a dystopia unlike any that has ever been visited in fiction. Be among the first to discover this thrilling and powerful story. Go to


Anonymous said...

Such an awesome guest post. I'm a huge fan of David Farland (and his work as Dave Wolverton, especially in the Star Wars universe) AND dystopia. It was great to get his perspective on it. Thank you!

Angela Brown said...

It's funny. I was a hug fan of dystopia long before I knew the name of the genre. There's just something about "life after" whatever event that changes the course of things as we know them.

Ben said...

I just finished reading the Death Cure and I have to say that the Maze Runner Trilogy was one of the best dystopian series I've read in a long time.
Keep up the great storytelling!

Taffy said...

Mr. Wolverton/Farland is a great way with words and imaginary!

J.R. Johansson said...

I never really thought of it that way, but it makes perfect sense. The what if is always such a driving force for me, but absolutely, part of my brain does accept it as truth. Great and thought-provoking post!

Laura said...

Wow. This is definitely one rare deep post. I've never heard it put that way, but now I'll never think of it the same again. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Alice said...

Great guest post. Makes you look at dystopias in another light. Thanks for the insight.

J Scott Savage said...

Wow, for just a minute I thought you wrote a blog post that long and was going to fall over in amazement! :) Just kidding. Congrats on both of the state awards, NYT, and the awesome tour. Your cok, bro!

Ashley said...

I have a question that has been bugging me for a while: What is Thomas's real first name?

Anonymous said...

James Dashner:
i finished the Death Cure.
i won't do any spoilers, but i just have to say that that book is BRILLIANT.
i was sobbing for literally half an hour at the end because of one character. and then near the end with the note and stuff just made me cry and also made me think about what i would do.
and this book also made me think about the value of life. like in all dystopian novels, it makes you think about if you were in that place, would think life was worth living?
and let me just say the last sentence was PERFECT!!!!!!!!!!!! dare i say the best ending out of all the books i've ever read?!?!?! ESPECIALLY the twist that you threw in in the paragraph above. you just snuck that tiny and yet catastrophic detail in so casually and my friend and i were like "WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!"
i just can't get over it and it is one of the most well written books i've ever read- personally, its like the harry potter of the dystopian world to me!!! (in brilliantness, not subject or anything, obviously!!!)
you have a ton of fans in NH, so you should stop by!!! or at least come to boston! haha, when i told my friends that i had TDC, we literally had to make a waiting list so they could all borrow it with it being "fair"!!!
keep doing what you're doing because it is GENIUS and let me just say that i called that it would be T and B in the end wayyy back when they met in Scorch Trials!!!!!!
<3 Julie <3

Kendall said...

Excellent food for thought. Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 were the first books that really turned me on to the dystopian genre. Then I read The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games, and I just couldn't stop! You're wrtiting is so good that you can use it to perfectly describe your own type of writing... (what?!) You'll go down in history as one of the best YA dystopian writers. :) Congratulations.

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