The Future Makes A Comeback

This post, by L.J. Sellers, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective blog on 11/4/11, and is reprinted here in its entirety with the author’s and site’s permission.

We’ve all seen the ads for the new book When She Woke (by Hilary Jordan), a futuristic novel in which a criminal’s skin is dyed to reflect her crime, a story that’s been compared to the classic, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. In recent years, other similar novels have been wildly popular too, such as The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. These novels are dystopian and reflect a society that has completely broken down and morphed into something ugly.

As a reader, my love of futuristic thrillers—which I distinguish from dystopian novels—started long ago with a terrific novel by Lawrence Sanders called The Tomorrow File. For the record, he’s my all-time favorite author, and TTF may be one of the best books I’ve ever read, or at least that’s how I remember it.

The story was written in 1975—and takes place in the year 1998. I read it in college and was captivated by Sanders’ vision of the future, in which genetic classifications are based on whether one is natural, produced by artificial insemination, artificial inovulation, cloned, or otherwise created without the necessity for sexual intercourse. The objects (people) of tomorrow eat food synthesized from petroleum and soybeans, and enjoy unrestricted using (sex) and an addictive soft drink called Smack.

The new language took some getting used to, but the story was so engaging with so many twists that it was hard to put down. Most important, the book triggered my fascination with well-told futuristic thrillers.

Another of my favorite novels set in the future is The Handmaid’s Tale, published ten years after The Tomorrow File. The book won numerous awards, was made into a film, and is so well known I won’t bother with the details, except to say it’s a feminist portrayal of the dangers of a conservative society. I admire Atwood immensely for tackling the subject. (I took a stab at that issue when I wrote The Sex Club…but that’s another story.) Reading The Handmaid’s Tale further inspired me to someday write a thriller set in the future.

Interestingly enough, yesterday a blogger posted comparative reviews of The Catcher in the Rye, The Handmaid’s Tale and my futuristic thriller, The Arranger. The blogger focused on insecurities as the theme, both social and personal, and concluded they were necessary in fiction. First, I find it interesting that people are reading or re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale from 1985 because of the advertising for When She Woke. It’s fun to see the novel resurrected.

Second, it’s an honor to be listed in the same company as works by J.D. Salinger and Margaret Atwood.

I don’t mean to imply The Arranger compares to any of the brilliant works I’ve mentioned, most of which imagine a shockingly different future. (I’m still not sure why Catcher in the Rye is in there, but that was the blogger’s choice.) My story is set only 13 years in the future, and I don’t consider it dystopian. It presents a bleak vision of the United States, in that the economy is stagnant, government has shrunk, and people without health insurance are left to fend for themselves. But all that seems quite realistic to me and didn’t require much imagination.

The Gauntlet, however, is an intense physical and mental competition that provides a backdrop for my novel and required me to create entirely fictitious scenarios.

Overall, I’m excited for the revived interest in futuristic novels. Does it represent a dissatisfaction with our current state of affairs or a fear of what is waiting for us? Or both?

Do you read futuristic novels? What are your favorites? What themes do like to see?