Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. ISBN 9781421527727.
I loves me some dystopian future novels (favorites include such classics as Lord of the Flies, The Hand Maid's Tale, 1984, Brave New World, and a slew of short stories). I’m sure if I researched enough I could find out where it all started…was it only after the real-life horrors of the World Wars? Or is that only when it began in earnest in the United States? Because of course, given the imperialist nature of all ruling countries, such real-life human atrocities (genocides, slavery, eugenics, labor camps, public executions, wars, etc.) have been going on for hundreds of years all over the world. People read these novels today and they’re like, “oh, it’s sci-fi,” but it’s only written that way because otherwise you wouldn’t read it. Why would you want to read about awful things that really happened? That would complicate your life. By "your," I mean mine.
Right now I’m writing a novel that has a lot of the same themes I’m finding in Battle Royale, themes that I’m sure are wholly unsurprising for the genre. When chipped away, it all comes down to the sharp counterpoint of humanity’s depths of depravity versus its saving graces. What are these and how do they balance each other? What are the things we’re willing to sacrifice our lives, or our souls for? What is integrity, what is humanity, what makes us good or bad or cruel or kind? And who are we, really? That’s the essential question, one seemingly only answerable by tossing someone into an extreme situation (I.e. forced to kill your friends on an island as part of a government-sanctioned game that has no discernible purpose) and observing their reaction. How can we judge these people? It’s tough stuff, best saved for fiction, so keep your history books and television news screens out of my face!
I don’t really know what I’m talking about. What day is today? Why am I only wearing one sock? Did I take too much cough medicine? I need to lie down. I think I’m allergic to my dog.
What was I saying? Yes, so something that interests me about this book is how absolutely certain death is for this group of 42 students; yet each of them, in their own way, takes that death into their own hands, or at least tries to. I mean, they only have 24 hours and then they know, one way or another, they’re gonna bite it. It’s so profound to me that they press on. It’s so much like life, because we all have expiration dates; theirs are simply condensed. We all find ways to escape thinking about death, burying our heads in the sand of religion or some faith in something outside ourselves and our world, or in material distractions or hedonistic luxuries, or in humanitarian or activist efforts. I’m not saying these things aren’t worthwhile, but they’re all essentially the same thing because life is all essentially the same thing: trying to keep living. One o’ them big timey philosophers talked about Being-toward-Death and living an authentic life, and how you had to acknowledge death before you could be authentic.* (Maybe, I don’t know, I only took one class.) There’s a fine line between acknowledging something and dwelling on it, and somewhere in between there, we have to keep on kickin’.
That’s why we have fiction. That’s why we have fantasy, superheroes, immortality, Heaven, Hell, toothpaste and spaghetti. Oh crap I got mucus on the keyboard. I’m sorry let me just get that uhetroihweotioqe;totnewe;g there we go, all wiped off.
Dayna Ingram is a writer and student living in the Bay Area. She received her BA in Creative Writing from Antioch College in 2008, and is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. She works at Half Price Books, where she buys more books than she can reasonably hope to read in a lifetime. She occasionally writes blog posts while deathly ill and kind of loopy.
*It's Heidegger, for those of you who are interested.
**This is a reserve blog so that the author can do other things, like have a life. It originally written May 19, 2010