I just finished reading a great book, The Girl With All the Gifts, by UK author M.R. Carey (Mike Carey, of X-Men Legacy fame). I loved it as much as I did The Martian, by Andy Weir. At first glance the two novels have nothing in common other than they are both considered speculative fiction, but they do have one common feature–they both really rang my bells.
My friend, who also does not normally read dystopian fiction, directed me to it. The action is intense, and it is at times gory, but what makes this book so significant is not the fact it is about Zombies and the war against the undead (which is a theme I don’t usually gravitate to.) The truly powerful character of Melanie, the ten-year-old girl is the real driving force behind this novel.
I really get into character-driven works. That’s why I enjoy such a wide variety of genres in my eternal search for a good read.
The main character in this tale is Melanie, a girl who loves school and her favorite teacher is Miss Justineau. Melanie is multi-layered and despite the horrible truth of what she is, she is innocent and trusting.
So what is dystopian fiction? The core plot of dystopian fiction revolves around the premise that society has crumbled for one reason or another, and details the struggle to survive and raise humanity from the ashes. According to Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge:
Dystopia is defined as a society characterized by a focus on negative societies such as mass poverty, public mistrust, police state, squalor, suffering, or oppression, that society has most often brought upon itself. Most authors of dystopian fiction explore at least one reason why things are that way, often as an analogy for similar issues in the real world. In the words of Keith M. Booker, dystopian literature is used to “provide fresh perspectives on problematic social and political practices that might otherwise be taken for granted or considered natural and inevitable.”
No matter the genre, stories are all driven by one of two elements, plot or character. A plot driven story is one where the plot defines who a character is. Take J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Even if you remove Frodo, who is the main protagonist and replace him with another hobbit, the event, which is the battle for middle earth still takes place, the call to action still exists. He is an awesome character who leaps off the page, yes–but this is a plot-driven tale.
But in The Girl With All the Gifts, the plot is completely driven by Melanie. Her emotions, her love for her teacher and the innocent faith she has in both Miss Justineau, who sees her as a child, albeit a dangerous one, and Sergeant Eddie Parks, who sees her as a monster, but who nonetheless does the right thing–take these away and you just have a book about humanity dealing with zombies and the collapse of society.
In all of the books I have lately read, several that were character driven really stand out. Characters who are not flat, who leap off the page and grab you–characters who strike some chord within you and who stay with you long after the last page. When I close the book after the final paragraphs, if those characters are still with me, that book is a winner.