Waterless Worlds The New Hot Dystopia Following years worth of news stories about climate change and drought, books and movies are starting to capture those stories, too. Worlds without water are the settings for quite a few new projects.

Waterless Worlds The New Hot Dystopia

Waterless Worlds The New Hot Dystopia

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Following years worth of news stories about climate change and drought, books and movies are starting to capture those stories, too. Worlds without water are the settings for quite a few new projects.

ARUN RATH: News about drought only seems to get scarier and we're seeing that reflected in a bunch of new movies and books pairing droughts with dystopias. Unsurprisingly, says NPR's Neda Ulaby, many of these seem to be aimed towards young adults.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: A futuristic Western opening this weekend takes place in a sun bleached, dried-out desert that used to be worked by farmers.


NICHOLAS HOULT: (As Flem Lever) I never saw this land when it was green. My father did. He worked it before the drought came. He used to talk about it all the time, even as the fights over water first divided states, then towns and then neighbors.

ULABY: The movie, "Young Ones," was directed and written by Jake Paltrow, Gwyneth's little brother. Paltrow was inspired in part by the semi-rural working class aesthetic of S.E. Hinton’s young adult novels, but also from dystopian stories that aren’t fictional at all, like how lack of water’s intensified conflict in Somalia, Israel, Palestine and America’s own dust bowl history.

JAKE PALTROW: You know, in our film, they're washing dishes with sand. They're getting into shootouts over, you know, wells that have almost no water left in them.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: No, no, no, no, no, no, no.


ULABY: We might be running low on water, but not stories about a frightening future without it, especially with young adult titles like "The Water Wars" and "Drought."


ULABY: In a drought dystopia called "Not A Drop To Drink," a teenaged girl and her mother live in a crumbling farmhouse with a pond after climate change has ruined the world's water supply.

Stephanie Myers, who wrote the "Twilight" series, optioned it for her Hollywood production company. "Not A Drop To Drink" was inspired by a documentary about a terrifying future of spreading deserts, depleted wells, corporatization of water and death through dehydration.


MALCOLM MCDOWELL: The tongue swells so large that it squeezes past the jaws. The eyelids crack and the eyeballs begin to weep tears of blood.

ULABY: The documentary "Blue Gold" made author Mindy McGinnis grateful to live in a rural farmhouse with a pond.

MINDY MCGINNIS: The night after I watched the documentary, I actually dreamt that I was having to defend my pond violently in order to survive.

ULABY: In a reading from the book, the heroine has to fend off strangers trying to steal her water, and the threat of cholera.

MCGINNIS: With dead bodies dropping all around the countryside and the water tables rising from spring rains, mother had decided the pond water could kill them as easily a save them.

ULABY: They purify it with a real process using the sun as disinfectant.

MCGINNIS: Sheets of tin roofing from the old red barn were laid out in the yard, the ends weighed with rocks to prevent them from blowing away. They could only purify on clear days when a full eight hours of UV rays would kill any bacteria in the water.

ULABY: Author Mindy McGinnis jokes that her research was - sorry - pretty dry. But she did plenty, as did Emmi Itaranta. She wrote another drought-themed dystopian novel called "Memory Of Water" that came out last spring.

EMMI ITARANTA: I tried to think of what places in the world would still have fresh water available if there was a serious shortage of it.

ULABY: Her answer, Finland, where she's from. Itaranta researched all kinds of questions while writing her book.

ITARANTA: Where would food come from if there was very little water available? What kind of crops would we be able to grow? What kind of animals would survive? There are actually no animals in the book.

ULABY: Itaranta says she hopes the popularity of dystopian young adult fiction could be a way to interest readers more in environmental issues. Heather Houser, a University of Texas professor who studies literature and the environment, says these stories tend to share DNA with American frontier literature.

HEATHER HOUSER: There is so much focus on the home and the homestead. It makes it a question of survival, protecting private property.

ULABY: And not displacing our anxieties onto metaphors. Houser says we like to do that, with zombies, or vampires. With droughts and climate change, we seem OK with being literal.

HOUSER: Thinking about the monsters as being meteorological or climatological maybe, you know, maybe that makes a lot of sense.

ULABY: And maybe with droughts, Houser says, we understand that our real worst enemies are ourselves. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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