Ebooks Won’t Survive the Apocalypse: The Launch of Edyth Bulbring’s Dystopian YA Novel The Mark
Love Books owner Kate Rogan welcomed Bulbring, saying that the event was the first YA launch Love Books had ever hosted. “There are very few people who are filling the gap in the market for Young Adult fiction,” Rogan said, “but Tafelberg is one of the few that does publish into that market, and it’s great to see local stuff in that market.”
Bulbring chatted to Sunday Times books editor Ben Williams about cynicism in modern Young Adult fiction, whether ebooks will survive the apocalypse, and the sense of “moral outrage” that appeals to readers of dystopian fiction.
Williams opened the conversation by asking Bulbring to describe the world of Mangeria, the futuristic city where her seventh novel is set.
“I suppose it’s like all dystopian books,” Bulbring said. “It’s harsh, there’s no water, the sun is hot. I looked at a few things. One was food. I get really uptight about those people, like Monsanto, that make plants and they grow, but you can never grow them again from the seeds, to force people to keep on buying the seeds. So food was one of the aspects I concentrated on. Weather was another thing. I thought the sun would be the thing that would be the dominant kind of weather that you would experience if you were living in a post-apocalyptic environment. So it’s very hot, there’s no food – unless you eat stuff coming out of the laboratory – nothing survived.”
The Mark references a lot of other novels, including The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and The Hobbit. Bulbring says because the world of The Mark was so empty, she had to rely on the imaginary universes of other books to make sense of it.
“When I was writing the book it was very difficult for me to make comparisons, because there were so few comparisons that the heroine, Ettie, could ever make. Because it’s so bleak, there’s nothing. There’s sun, there’s soil, there’s nothing. She doesn’t know animals; she doesn’t know dogs, so she would never say ‘I feel as hungry as a dog’, or ‘as lazy as a dog’, or ‘as furry as a cat’. Or ‘this is as sweet as mango’, or ‘this is as soft as silk’. She doesn’t know those references. The only references she has are from books. And she learns to read from someone who teaches her, and her only references are to children’s stories and books.”
Williams observed: “The reason that adults read the Sunday Times is the same reason that young adults read post-apocalyptic fiction, and that is because they crave a sense of moral outrage. There’s a lot of injustice in The Mark.”
“The society if very stratified,” Bulbring agreed. “For example, once you turn 15 your assigned a role, a job. And with some of those jobs comes a lifespan of just seven years. I think that’s similar to a lot of countries; you may not be assigned a job, but you really don’t have a lot of choice.”
Williams turned the conversation to Bulbring’s theories about the future: “Books survive the apocalypse. The actual things made of trees, they make it into the next world. But something that doesn’t is ebooks. From the book: ‘People who know say in the olden days people used to read books on machines, but everything went meltdown. The virus ate the books on the machines.’
“So you believe books might outlast ebooks … I think you might be right about that,” Williams said.
In response to a question from the audience about the differences between modern YA heroes and classic heroes, Bulbring said she thinks there is much more cynicism nowadays, observing that the youth tend to believe that “organised rebellion just results in the same old power structures.” In The Mark, Ettie chooses not to join the rebels, despite almost being the catalyst for the rebellion: “She believes that the answer is to have integrity in your own life, and make changes to the people you touch. She’s just trying to make a difference where she can.”
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