Since Election Day 2016, there’s been a steady stream of comments and memes on social media comparing the United States to [fill in your favorite/popular/overhyped dystopian fiction]. From Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu to cracks about the Hunger Games, just when we thought dystopian fiction had worn out its welcome and it’s finally time for sexy yetis or magical narwhals or whatever to be the Next Big Thing, the world changed dramatically almost overnight, and now we cling to those dystopian books as more than escapist fantasies—they’re primers for dealing with daily life and planning the revolution.
2016: Trump won’t win.
2017: President Trump can’t do that, can he?
2018: You watching The Hunger Games tonight? I hope my District wins.
— Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks) March 2, 2016
Or maybe people are just reaching for the easy jokes. But good comedy is usually based at least partly in truth, and humor is a longstanding coping strategy when things get completely awful. All kidding aside, for an increasing number of people living in America, things are getting pretty bad. The worst. People are literally dying as a result of the choices our current administration is making every day. If a self-interested, likely corrupt and compromised government hell-bent on disenfranchising, deporting, discrediting, dehumanizing, and outright killing its own citizens isn’t a dystopia, then I don’t know what is. So, perhaps we cling to dystopian stories now because as bad as things are, at least it isn’t quite that bad yet—or to help us prepare for what’s coming—just as children and teens read young adult fiction to get a preview of the embarrassment, relationships, and challenges that lie ahead for them.
These days, for many years now, dystopian fiction and YA go hand in hand. There are lots of reasons for that—high school is a kind of dystopia, adults are the establishment, and so on—and consequently in the early days of 2017, many people, including myself, made references to waiting for teenagers to save the world.
Contrary to some comments I’ve seen: I’m glad my friends and I have kids. We’re gonna need teen protagonists to fix this dystopia we built.
— E. C. Myers (@ecmyers) November 9, 2016
Again, going for the easy punchline, but with an underlying flavor of truth. It makes sense that young adults would gravitate towards stories where teens tackle gross social injustice and change the world for the better, while picking up a boyfriend or girlfriend or two along the way. But a tremendous number of not-so-young adults are also reading this stuff, and always have been. Depending on who you ask on a given day, upwards of fifty percent of YA sales are to grownups. What’s up with that? What could possibly be of interest in these books for people on the wrong side of high school graduation?
The heart of good YA fiction is a character learning about their world and figuring out how they fit into it, and that doesn’t stop once you become an adult with student loans and mortgages, jobs and children of your own—and a world filled with big, seemingly impossible problems to solve like climate change and expensive healthcare and rampant sexual harassment and too many subscription services for streaming video. Back in the golden, olden days, when the world lived on the brink of nuclear war, people tended to stay in the same job for their whole lives. But these days, it’s more common for people to change jobs every few years, maybe go back to school for a graduate degree, live on unemployment for a while, start their own business, and so on. We are all constantly reinventing ourselves as we find new places for ourselves in a changing world. Newsflash: adults don’t have their acts together any more than teens do, and we’re desperately searching for meaning and purpose in our lives. Yeah, we can still relate to YA fiction, and we need escapism more than ever.
But another key element of YA fiction, especially dystopian YA fiction, is that one person—or perhaps a band of preternaturally beautiful, scrappy, snarky teens—can make a difference, albeit often at great personal sacrifice. They can change the world. They can save the whole damn world. And that’s what all those jokes are about. We need that kind of optimism right now. Only just as your average YA protagonist can’t wait for adults to come along to make everything better, it turns out that we can’t wait for our kids to grow up and fix our mistakes.
Okay, so what does all this have to do with ReMade? Fortunately, the teens in our series were killed before the 2016 presidential election, though they awakened in a distant future that clearly has seen its share of dystopias and is deadly in its own right, what with the lack of food and a surplus of killer robots. They have literally been remade—faster, better, stronger—and now, with the entire future they had planned lost to them forever, along with their friends, family, iPhones, and Instagram, most of them seize the rare opportunity to change their identity. Realizing that no one is coming to save them and there’s no going back to the way things were, they rise to the challenge of surviving and saving the world.
And I’m seeing that happening now in America. A year after the election, people have stepped up in surprising, inspiring ways. Many who hate talking on the phone and to strangers have called their representatives, sent e-mails and letters, marched around the country for what they believe in. People who never had any interest in politics are running for office—and winning! People are subscribing to and reading freaking newspapers again, which has to be a sign of the apocalypse. People are speaking up and speaking out against institutional racism and harassment, raising funds for human rights organizations and disaster relief. People are voting, even for local elections. If the America we know died on the night of January 20, 2017, then we have the opportunity to remake it, and ourselves and decide what kind of a nation we want to be.
So imagine this farfetched scenario. Your parents are absent or dead. You’ve just realized or accepted that the world is an ugly place and you can’t trust your own leaders. You’re under constant surveillance, manipulated by social media, and more people are suffering and dying every day. The polar ice caps are melting. What are you going to do?
We are each the protagonist of this dystopian nonfiction. Forget about making America great again, whatever that means. It’s always had room for improvement. Let’s work together to remake it better than ever. No one is coming to save us, and it’s up to us the save the damn world.
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E.C. Myers: assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and the public library in Yonkers, New York. He has published numerous short stories and four young adult books: the Andre Norton Award–winning Fair Coin, Quantum Coin, The Silence of Six, and Against All Silence.
His most recent work includes contributions to anthologies Feral Youth, Behind the Song, Where the Stars Rise, and A Thousand Beginnings and Endings(forthcoming). He isYou can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at and on Twitter: @ecmyers.
ReMade: Read @ Serial Box