Hi everyone! Today, Dystopian Domination officially starts with a guest post by Emma Newman about her debut novel, 20 Years Later. This post is the longest and the most detailed. I hope you will stick around for a chance to win an ARC copy of her book!
20 Years Later… beneath the thin veneer
I see 20 Years Later as sitting right in the middle of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. It's not an average post-apocalyptic tale, as many novels in that sub-genre deal with the immediate aftermath of an apocalyptic event, and the survival of a lucky few. The apocalypse itself is at the forefront of the story, and in 20 Years Later, that's not the case at all, as the apocalypse that killed almost everyone happened twenty years before the book begins.
20 Years Later leans towards a dystopian novel, but isn't fully one of those either, as dystopian fiction usually explores the control over the individual by a dominant force, such as a government or religious organisation. In 20 Years Later there simply aren't enough people left alive for that to have happened. But the gangs that now divide London between their territories are like dystopian societies in microcosm; they control individuals, often through fear of their leaders, punishment or the prospect of being thrown out to fend for oneself. Many fictional dystopian societies are established after some kind of apocalyptic event, or some kind of crisis, I suppose that's why the two sub-genres often get muddled.
So, I seem to have started this by saying 20 Years Later doesn't quite fit here, but I don't want to give that impression! Why? Well, because I feel 20 Years Later has many themes in common with pure dystopian fiction, and because I don't believe in letting a dry academic debate about genre classification get in the way of a book discussion. I love both dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, and I think the two are so closely intertwined that they should inform each other, rather than exclude.
Even though the apocalyptic event - referred to as 'It' by the survivors - happened two decades ago, 20 Years Later still explores survival strategies. It's one of my favourite aspects of post-apocalyptic fiction because it invites us to examine our own moral compasses when we read about characters killing others over a can of food, or abandoning fellow survivors to horrible deaths because it increases their own chances of survival. Would we do the same in those circumstances?
I studied psychology at university, and instinct and its interaction with society is something I have been fascinated by for a long time. I firmly believe that underneath our fine manners and complex lifestyles we are still just animals, and society is a simply a very thin veneer. Strip it away with an apocalyptic event and you get to see the animal in us all.
In the London of 20 Years Later, different gangs employ different survival strategies. They either scavenge or hunt, find their own food or take it from others, aim to be self-sufficient or so indispensable to others that it guarantees their safety. Each gang has different leaders with different styles, but survival is foremost in all of their minds.
But that isn't what 20 Years Later is all about. That's all just a backdrop, because the book is character-driven and revolves around an intense friendship formed between Zane, Titus and Erin, who come from very different backgrounds.
Zane has never lived within a gang. He's grown up next to a beautiful garden, raised by his mother, and is the only boy in London who thinks people are inherently kind. His mother has worked hard to protect him from the gangs and their violence and politics, but she can't do that forever.
Titus and Erin have had very different childhoods, and I can't tell you too much about them without spoiling the book! Suffice to say that their lives have been much harsher.
Loyalty in adversity
Their relationship with one another is for me, one of the most important aspects of the book. Yes, there is a mystery to solve and a kidnapped sister to find, but in doing that, each of them are learning from each other, and experiencing loyalty to people outside of their immediate families for the first time in their lives.
That's a major theme in 20 Years Later; the difficulty in maintaining loyalty to different groups of people whilst remaining true to yourself and your friends.
An overall message?
I didn't sit down to write 20 Years later with a message in mind, but lots came out in the book. I carried the story around in my head for years before I was able to find a way into it, a way to tell the story on paper. Then one morning I woke up hearing the prologue in my head. I ran to the computer and half an hour later it was on the screen and hasn't changed a great deal since that first draft.
The rest of the book poured out in 26 days. The first draft that is! I wrote between 3-4,000 words a day, I couldn't stop. Then began a long process of revision, multiple re-drafts and lots of rejections, but I didn't give up. I had to get this story out there, and it's taken five years to do it.
The only message I was truly conscious of is one I can't tell you about, as it would be the worst spoiler ever! I plan to set up a secret area on my site for people who have read it and don't need to worry about spoilers, so we can discuss it there if you like.
That message didn't inform the book. I didn't have an agenda and for me that's important. It means that the characters led the story, not me on a soapbox. Ultimately, every reader finds something different in a book, it's my hope that 20 Years later will invite you to think about courage, about loyalty and about the lengths people will go to in order to survive. But most of all, I hope you fall in love with the characters, that you'll forget your comfortable, safe life for a few hours and be transported to a dead London, dusty, ghost-filled and strewn with bones. What you choose to take with you once you leave is up to you.
Thank you for sharing, Em! :) Glad to have you in this event!
20 Years Later will be out on July 5, 2011 (hardcover)! But…the ebook version is already available! Her debut short story anthology, From Dark Places (which I have and have not had the chance of reading yet but I’m dying to, thanks to my hectic schedule and intense advanced summer classes) is already out! Em is really fun and her short stories rock! I'm a member of her short story club and have been enjoying her fiction for weeks now! Discover her awesomeness here.
You can find her in twitter: @emapocalyptic
For more info, visit her at website at www.enewman.co.uk.
Giveaway: Two ARCs of 20 Years Later by Emma Newman
LONDON, 2012: It arrives and with that the world is changed into an unending graveyard littered with the bones, wreckage, and memories of a dead past, gone forever.LONDON, 2032: Twenty years later, out of the ashes, a new world begins to rise, a place ruled by both loyalty and fear, and where the quest to be the first to regain lost knowledge is an ongoing battle for power. A place where laws are made and enforced by roving gangs-the Bloomsbury Boys, the Gardners, the Red Lady's Gang-who rule the streets and will do anything to protect their own.THE FOUR: Zane, Titus, Erin, Eve. Living in this new world, they discover that they have abilities never before seen. And little do they know that as they search post-apocalyptic London for Titus' kidnapped sister that they'll uncover the secret of It, and bring about a reckoning with the forces that almost destroyed all of humanity.
Thanks to Mark of Dystopia Press, there are two ARCs of 20 Years Later for giveaway! Mark was very generous to offer to do this contest internationally! Yes, you heard me right. Open worldwide!
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