When I set out to write the Safe Lands trilogy, there were three novels that greatly influenced my writing. These were all books I’d read long ago, and I actually pulled them out again and re-read them to refresh myself with why they had left such an impression on me.
The first was The Giver by Lois Lowry. This book won the 1994 Newbery Medal and has become standard reading in many high schools in our country. The Giver tells the story of twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in an ideal life in a world of conformity and contentment. As happens to all children his age, he receives his assignment—the job he will be trained to do for the rest of his life—the job the community thinks is best for him. He is to become the new Receiver of Memory but has no idea what that means. He begins his training and learns the dark, secret history his community has been hiding from everyone for so long. It is an incredibly heavy burden for anyone to bear, but especially for a young man like Jonas.
This book left me with the warning that when mankind tries to make life perfect—to force peace—over time, the opposite tends to happen. I liked the idea of a place where people thought they were living the perfect life and nothing bad ever happened—even though it was a lie. That is a belief I gave to the people of the Safe Lands.
The second book that inspired me was the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, which was first published in 1949. I had to read this book back in tenth grade and I remembered hating it, but the theme of a controlling government that is always watching stayed with me. In this book, London is a depressed city where Big Brother is always watching and the Thought Police can nearly read one’s mind. Winston is a man who finds the courage to join a secret revolutionary organization that is dedicated to the destruction of the controlling government.
This book helped me with my worldbuilding. It gave me an example of a complex government that had a past it didn’t want its citizens to know about. Inspired by this novel, I worked hard to give my government a mysterious past and a reason for them to monitor their people at all times. Such control also invited the existence of a rebellion that would fight back.
The third book was also a classic. Having been published back in 1932, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was frighteningly prophetic in some ways. It tells the satiric story of a “utopian” future, where humans are genetically bred in labs to fill a certain role in society and those who have more freedom are encouraged to experience as much pleasure as they can. The problem is, too much self-indulgence can make life empty. Bernard discovers just that. He feels something is missing in life and hopes that his relationship with a young woman could grow into something deeper than shallow pleasure.
This book inspired the Safe Lands motto “Find pleasure in life.” I wanted a government that was hoping to distract its people from the reality of the disease they all had. Encouraging their people to seek lives of joy seemed the best way to do that. And I also feel like our society is well on the way to a similar mantra. Most Americans live their lives each day to be entertained, so the “Find pleasure in life,” mantra seemed fitting for both my story and the people reading it.
Have you read any of these books? Whether you have or not, what is a theme or situation from a dystopian novel you’ve read that you see coming true in our world today? Share your thoughts in the comments.
And if you’ve not yet discovered the Safe Lands trilogy, all three books are now available. This series tells the story of three brothers who are taken captive into the Safe Lands along with the people from their outsider village. The Safe Lands citizens are all infected with a fatal disease, and the government hopes to use these uninfected outsiders to discover a cure. Of the three brothers, Levi wants to rescue their people, Mason wants to help the Safe Lands find a cure for the disease, and Omar thinks this new home is a wonderful place to live. Check out the sample chapters of Captives on Amazon.com to see what you think. It’s an adventure you won’t want to miss.