From The Hunger Games to Divergent and The Maze Runner, our appetite for dystopian novels has never been greater. Here, Lucy Bryson reviews a new title that promises to appeal to both teen and adult readers.
Dystopian literature, with its licence to examine modes of thinking about rights, liberty and corruption, have provided many of the most important cultural critiques of the last century. From Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, to modern classics like The Hunger Games, the genre continues to dominate book sales in the UK and internationally. As a vessel for political commentary – and as a warning of the dangers of totalitarianism – they are more apt today in our turbulent political climate than ever before.
Threads in Time, Hannah De Giorgis’ superb YA debut, brings dystopian fiction back to the forefront. Like those classics before it, it has a powerful literary and political heart that makes it tailor-made for adult crossover. Part coming of age drama and part musing on the relationship between love and bereavement, it is perhaps more comparable – in parts – to the works of Margaret Atwood and Kate Atkinson than to Suzanne Collins’s trilogy.
The book paints a bleak picture of the 23rd-Century where gross urban development has consigned the antiquated concept of “countryside” to the history books. The disparity between the impoverished majority and the privileged few has created violent political tensions. At the heart of the action is 22-year-old Lyndall Huxley, an e-book worm - physical books being relics of the past - who manages to find paid work in a library where she can indulge her literary passion. Living with her over-protective parents and happily coupled-up with smitten boyfriend Sean, Huxley’s life is heading in exactly the direction she would like it to. That is until a politically-motivated terror attack wipes out her parents and twin sister in one impossibly cruel blow.
Unable to cope with her grief, Huxley volunteers to take part in a privately-funded programme to send a handful of people thousands of years forward in time.
But the future into which she is transported is a dangerous one. Huxley is caught amid tensions between futuristic tribes – part alien, part human in appearance – and soon discovers that the real purpose of the programme is far more sinister.
The book is a thinking person’s sci-fi novel with plot twists a-plenty (Spoiler alert: Sean is not content to let the love of his life slip away into the far-future). In Huxley, De Giorgis has created a strong and memorable female protagonist with emotional depth: “I learned personally that grief can feel like physical pain,” Huxley says. “The heaviness is not metaphorical, but real and substantial. If I had to use a metaphor, grief would be a sack of rocks that drags the bereaved down to the bottom of a pool: cut off from the world, unable to breathe.”
This sense of complete isolation from the rest of the world and the desire to ‘belong’ is a running theme and one that is likely to strike a chord with its primary YA audience. In one of a series of flashbacks, Huxley recalls feeling “like an outsider” at a party where, as an 18-year-old, she first meets boyfriend Sean. Transported into the far-off future, she contemplates her isolated state: “I was stranded alone, like Crusoe. Except, this castaway island was figurative, not physical; it was an island in time. As far as I knew, I could’ve been the only person in the world at that moment.”
Threads in Time is, to coin an oft-overused cliché, a fast-paced and gripping read. But it’s also thoughtful, clever, poignant and thought-provoking in equal measure. And, unlike other YA novels of the same ilk, De Giorgis variously addresses – with courage and care – more ‘adult’ themes like mental health, climate change and the division of wealth.
Given its cinematic potential, it is possible – perhaps likely – that Threads in Time, the first in a planned trilogy, will follow its literary forefathers to the Big Screen.
Threads in Time by Hannah De Giorgis is available from today on Amazon priced £3.49 in Kindle edition and £7.99 in paperback.
Meet the Author: Hannah De Giorgis
Hannah De Giorgis, pictured, is 26. In the space of just two short years, she has achieved what many writers will fail to do in a lifetime.
Hannah De Giorgis was born and raised in the Cotswolds. As a youngster growing up in a sleepy English village, it is perhaps unsurprising that she was drawn towards science-fiction and fantasy – genres which, she says, represent the purest forms of adventure and escapism. “From the time I could use a pencil, I loved to write,” she explains. “That passion only ever grew. I knew from quite a young age that I wanted to be a professional writer.”
That she achieved her goal is no small feat: in her teens, Hannah battled chronic depression and was hospitalised twice. There was a time, she admits, when nothing felt possible. “It felt as if the world was against me, like everything I did was destined to fail.” She would draw on those experiences in Threads in Time, her debut YA novel (reviewed above).
After teaching English as a Foreign Language in Florence, Italy, Hannah enrolled on an undergraduate degree in English Literature at Birkbeck, University of London. It was here where her remarkable literary journey really began. Hannah graduated with first-class honours and, in 2017, won the prestigious John Hay Loban prize – an award for the student who shows the most promise in literature. “Graduating from Birkbeck was one of my proudest achievements,” she explains. “I was older than the average national undergraduate and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete the course. I not only managed to complete it but graduated with first-class honours and won the John Hay Loban prize.”
Last year, Hannah completed a master’s at University College London. Her dissertation examined how T.S Eliot’s depiction of time was influenced by Einstein’s theories of relativity. Her understanding of the physical sciences became a central theme of Threads in Time, which hit the shelves this week.
Today, Hannah spends “every waking minute” at her central London home blogging and writing poetry, short stories and academic essays (all of which can be found on her website). The sequels to Threads in Time – she is planning a trilogy – are set for release in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
For more information about Hannah De Giorgis’ work, visit www.hannahdegiorgis.com.
Exclusive Q&A with author Hannah De Giorgis
We sit down with the Threads in Time author, Hannah De Giorgis, to find out more about the science underpinning her novel and the ongoing – and unfair - snobbery against sci-fi.
Q: Threads in Time is quite unusual in being a very ‘literary’ sci-fi novel – was this a conscious decision, and who would you say have been your greatest influences as a writer?
A: I wouldn’t say it was a conscious decision; it was perhaps more to do with the fact that I wrote the novel in between my undergraduate and postgraduate in literature so “literariness” was very much on my mind. I think you can’t help but be influenced by what you’re studying, whether it is conscious or subconscious, and so the literary streak of the novel was a natural consequence of having been constantly preoccupied with it for the past few years! Hopefully it will continue into my future ones too.
It’s difficult to pinpoint specific writers as my main influencers because there are so many. One I have to mention, though – and he does fall under the category of dystopian novels – is George Orwell. I remember I first read Nineteen Eighty-Four at sixteen and it completely bowled me over. He writes with such a crisp and searing clarity; it’s consequently a very powerful novel, and so it is a style I often try to emulate.
When it comes to my novel, however, perhaps the most obvious influence would be The Time Machine. H.G. Wells isn’t one of my favourite writers, but his time-travelling novel was innovative, gripping, and very much at the back of my mind when I was writing Threads in Time.
Finally, although they are nothing to do with Sci-Fi, another two great influences are poets. I have to include them because both writers are champions of rhythm and metre: T.S. Eliot and Marianne Moore. It is often overlooked, perhaps, but rhythm is so important when it comes to writing, even prose over verse. The rhythm determines how words flow and can maximise their power. Writers who understand and capture that, even with prose, are a joy to read. Eliot and Moore are both geniuses at this, and so I try to have such an insight underlining my poetry (obviously) but also my prose.
Q: Both as an author and reader, what interests you most about science fiction as a genre?
A: I think there are two elements that really appeal to me. The first is the unlimited scope for the imagination. Whether it’s a space adventure, speculating about the future of our planet, or depicting the worlds of other planets, the creative options are limitless. Unlike many other genres, such as historical fiction, or any set in the modern day, there are no real constraints; the only constraints are those of the author’s imagination.
The second reason Sci-Fi appeals so much to me as an author and reader is the allure of what it can offer when pondering the powerful what if? It’s a genre that allows speculating about futures which aren’t always probable but can often be plausible –or, if not, merely thought-provoking. As humans, our curiosity draws us to the unknown entity that is the future; Sci-Fi whets that curiosity providing intriguing potential scenarios, while simultaneously entertaining us.
Q: Threads in Time is your debut novel, but you have written short stories and poetry in the past. What, would you say, were the biggest challenges you faced in writing a full novel, and how did you overcome them?
A: I do enjoy writing in many different forms. Funnily enough, Threads in Time is my debut novel for the consumption of others but it isn’t my first attempt; it’s my fourth. With the others, I either wasn’t happy with them, or the difficulty was that the inspiration behind them would die half way through the writing of them. With Threads in Time, however, it was different. The story just came and as I kept writing, it just put itself together. And it was wonderful; the sort of escapism granted from reading an amazing book but much more acute, because it was a world that I was actually creating. What was challenging was the editing and re-writing. The first draft took three months to write, but the re-writing and perfecting of it took over a year. That’s partly just to do with me, though - I’m a compulsive editor! So I would say that overcoming this was the greatest challenge.
Q: The book’s conclusion leaves the way open for a sequel. Can readers expect a follow up, and without giving any major spoilers, where will things go from here?
A: Absolutely! In fact, I intend Threads in Time to be the first in a trilogy. Without spoiling too much, the ending leaves multiple paths open, and the chance to draw out different adventures, and further flesh out some wonderful characters. There’s so much opportunity to explore the world, or time, my protagonist finds herself in, so I’d advise readers to keep an eye out for the sequel, which will be due to come out in early 2020.
Q: There is a rich heritage of time-travel in science-fiction. What makes your novel different from other stories that deal with this subject?
A: There’s definitely a rich heritage and arguably time travel was integral to the birth of the Sci-Fi genre. There are a few things that set mine apart: firstly, as the first question highlights, it’s still quite a “literary” novel, although that doesn’t take away from the “thriller” element of it, so it manages to be both compelling and literary. It’s also interesting because it’s split across two potential futures, one not too far in the future, and the other much further down the line, which offers lots of room for speculation. Furthermore, the novel is initially rooted in theoretical physics (Einstein’s theories of relativity); however, it then unfolds that it is not just a simple time-travel narrative, but rather questions the very nature of our reality. And, finally, there’s a strong female protagonist in a very male-dominated subgenre! So there’s lots that makes it stand out from its predecessors.
Q: The novel is unusual in featuring not one, but two speculative futures – one in the 23rd century and the second in the far-off future. What inspired you to envision these two possible, and heavily contrasting, futures?
A: Well, both were very interesting to conceive. What inspired the first, nearer, future was that it could really be a plausible future for our world: a twenty-third century in which the world has become over-populated, over-urbanised and yet globalisation has regressed following the “Resource Depletion Crisis”. Nobody travels anymore and there are no true wildernesses left in the world. I could explore so many conceivable scenarios: for example, now the world of print is increasingly threatened; so, what if, in future, there were no books left at all and everything were electronic? That is the world that the protagonist Lyndall is born into. It was interesting to depict everything – from the larger issues, such as a huge wealth divide, with the class system overturned and society divided between the mega-wealthy and everyone else – down to the little details, like keys being rendered obsolete because home security is now controlled by finger-print recognition. Mapping out this whole future world was inspired by the prevalent issues in our current one: the effects of, or rebound from, an increasingly globalised world; population growth; climate change; over-reliance on technology, and many others. And one of the most captivating parts of depicting such a world is that it is an imaginable future for our current one.
And then this is starkly contrasted against the far-off future, where Lyndall wakes in what initially appears to be Earth circa 5000 AD. Here, it’s so far off I could be even more imaginative. The world has completely regressed technologically; instead of man having eclipsed nature, like Lyndall’s birthplace, nature has eclipsed man. The world is overrun by greenery and great former cities left as haunting ruins. For this world, the two main inspirations were the poem Ozymandias by Percy Shelley, which is the novel’s epigraph, and the infamous moment at the end of Planet of the Apes when Colonel Taylor sees the half-sunken Statue of Liberty and realises how far his species have fallen.
Yet, the twist is, that it isn’t always clear which of these two greatly contrasting futures is the utopic one, and which is the dystopic one. Perhaps for some readers, the far-off future with its future species of humans but apparent lack of technology is far more of a utopia than the urbanised “civilised” time of Lyndall’s birth…
Q: Sci-fi as a genre has traditionally been very male-centric. How important was it to you to create a strong, realistic female protagonist, and do you think the genre is now becoming more open to female perspectives?
A: It’s true, it has been quite male-centric since its inception. It was important to me to create a strong, realistic character certainly, but it also wasn’t a choice in terms of gender: I wanted to write in first person and we write from what we know so a female protagonist was the most natural. It was a bonus that they’re rarer in this subgenre. It was wonderful to be able to develop her as a character. It’s very much a coming of age story but I also hope I’ve created an interesting, compelling protagonist who will appeal to both genders. Whether or not the genre is becoming more open to female perspectives, we will have to wait and see but I hope so.
Q: Some people are put off by genre novels because of unfair associations. Do you think there is still a certain snobbery against sci-fi and what would you say in answer to this?
A: I think there is a snobbery against genres such as Sci-Fi, yes, especially in the literary world. It’s often dismissed as a lesser genre that’s not as “academic”. For example, it will rarely be offered as a module in literature degrees. I think Sci-Fi is popular for a reason, though, and popularity then leads to it being regarded as less esoteric and more “mainstream”. Despite its popularity I think that is unfair that Sci-Fi has this reputation because it is such a rich genre offering so much material for the imagination. It also allows authors to really delve into the potential repercussions of technological advancement in modern society, as well as other prevalent concerns. I hope these unfair associations will dissipate as time goes on. Some of the real classics have been Science Fiction.
Q: As an author, what do you think are the essential ingredients of a good page-turner and how have you incorporated them into your novel?
A: I think there are three elements that make a fantastic novel, and it’s quite rare to find a novel that manages to achieve all three: the first is a gripping plot; the second is strong characterisation; and the third is an effortless writing style that is fresh, unaffected and compelling to read. In Threads in Time, I’ve done my best to incorporate all three – although whether or not this is true is up to the readers! Threads in Time offers a carefully-constructed plot: a coming-of-age/time-travel narrative incorporating many intriguing twists and turns. The protagonist and supporting characters are three-dimensional, engaging, and draw the readers in so that they can’t help but become emotionally invested in them until the end. And, finally, the novel is fast-paced and crafted so that readers will be hooked until the very last page.
Q: The science underpinning your novel is very well done. Did it require a lot of research to put in place? Some aspiring authors might be daunted by the ‘science’ part of sci-fi. What is your advice to them?
A: I was fortunate enough – or unfortunate enough(!) – to grow up in a very scientific family, which meant that growing up I was exposed to ideas surrounding such theories as quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theories of general and special relativity. I also wrote my master’s dissertation on how the ideas in the physical world influenced T.S. Eliot’s representation of time so the research was done already from that perspective.
Yet, my advice to other potential Sci-Fi authors would be to not find it daunting at all. If Sci-fi is the genre which attracts you, there are so many resources which provide good scientific explanations – one of the positives of this age of the internet! But the other piece of advice is that your Sci-Fi novel doesn’t even need to be based on “real” science any way: that’s one of the beauties of the Sci-Fi genre – its limitless scope for one’s imagination!