In general, I struggle with reading and enjoying dystopia and end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stories, even when the story is about someone (or someones) fighting their way free of the shackles. It might be an overdose of YA from my days at the chain bookstore, where it felt like every other successful YA title (and thus every other YA title I needed to read to answer questions for buyers) was dystopian. I got tired of hopeless worlds, and said to a former co-worker at one point, “I’m done with dystopias and apocalypses.”
After that, the wonderful Jennifer Lavoie wrote her YA novel, The First Twenty, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Mostly, I think, because it didn’t focus on the broken world of woe and it wasn’t devoid of hope—it was an apocalyptic world, yes, but it was one where people were trying to fix things.
I stopped avoiding the settings of dark worlds easily imagined coming from our own, and though I still find some are just too dark for me (and I step away), I’m glad I came back to them—specifically for stories like this one.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked folks for suggestions for short fiction I should know, and one of said pieces was “To Die Dancing,” by Sam J. Miller.
So, I’ll just wait while you go read it.
Back? All done? Need a chair and a hot chocolate and a blanket for the shivers? Me, too.
I don’t think I’ve ever read something that manages to dance between hope and hopelessness so well. The shifting of anger and betrayal and bravery and cowardice? Yow.
More than that, at least for me, there was such a “call” here. A reminder of how easy it is to stay comfortable and quiet when the smaller moments happen. I made a vow about that a few years ago, after the death of Jamie Hubley, that—barring my immediate safety—I was done dodging social awkwardness over my queerness. It was time to redouble my efforts at showing people (but especially queer youth) of a future they could have. This story reminded me of all the feelings leading to that moment, even as I cringed and winced and hoped it wasn’t heading where it was starting to head…
One thing’s for sure, though. It’s time to go find more Sam J. Miller.