I expected a few pessimists; maybe even a 50-50 split – possibly someone who’d jokingly mention a zombie apocalypse and another who might lean more toward a Star Trek version of tomorrow. But in each assembly, only one or two optimistic teens would admit to being hopeful about the future. Overwhelmingly teens believed the worst. It didn’t matter whether I was speaking to teens in the US or UK. It didn’t matter if it was an affluent school or a school in a disadvantage community. The response was the same, bleak.
I always tried to turn the tide and suggest advances in technology and medicine which might make our lives better. Teens could imagine curing cancer and living on the moon, but most focused on the negative. Usually a young man would explain the demise of humanity with horrific efficiency: world war then total annulation.
I wrote my futuristic novels because I wanted to explore interesting questions. Speculative fiction offers readers an escape as well as the ability to consider contemporary issue with a distance from reality. Now I’m afraid that teens are reading my books as ‘how to survival guides’. I always thought that the recent increased interest in futuristic teen fiction was because these tales allowed for real action and adventure with teens at the heart. Now I’m concerned that teens think books like the Hunger Games and Divergent are prophetic.
I’m an optimist. I believe in the fundamental good in people. I could only write my dark futuristic stories because I saw them as complete and utter works of fiction. They offered the opportunity create true heroes who conquer evil and give hope. I never for one second believed that the futures I imagined would ever happen. I’m still proud of my books and pleased I’ve written them. But after a year of understanding teens’ vision of the future, I’m not sure I want to feed my readers dark vision of the future any more.
Last year I finished a teen novel about a girl who could travel among her parallel lives with one life line set in a war-torn world. I wanted this story to challenge readers perception of reality and like all my books, demonstrate that one person can make a difference – and in the case of this book, save the world. I still love the story and characters, but I’ve set it aside – at least for now.
My new work in progress is contemporary. There’s still action and adventure and unlikely heroes. Bad things still happen to good people. But there are no plagues, world wars or dystopian futures. The good guys win, and the future is bright.
Maybe I’ll write about the future again. Never say never. I do love the discussions I’ve had with teens about the future and their roles in making it better. But for now – I’m leaving the dark future behind me.