‘There’s no way I could sell a dystopian project … as a debut.’
These were the cataclysmic words of my first agent when I submitted Stone Rider. ‘What’s the story about?’ they asked. ‘Well it’s like Mad Max,’ I told them. ‘No, no, no,’ they said. ‘No one is looking for Mad Max. Dystopia is dead. The Hunger Games, Blood Red Road, Divergent, The Maze Runner. The market is saturated.’
Well, thank you Mad Max: Fury Road for putting that argument to bed.
Heart-stopping, pulse-racing, flat-out crazy dystopian madness. That’s the pure joy of Mad Max. The first was a cult classic. It was raw and pounding. I can still hear the sound and fury of those machines ripping across the desert wasteland. A blasted landscape. A world in crisis. A world where water, oil and ammunition are currency. Where people live hand-to-mouth, and in fear of berserk motorcycle gangs.
What’s not to love?
Mel Gibson – back when he was still credible and more-or-less sane – exploded onto the screen as the eponymous ‘mad’ Max Rockatanski. When his wife and young son are killed, Max takes up his iconic – and vaguely Village People – black leathers and his Pursuit Bike and he lays into the bad guys with a furious vengeance.
Fast-forward thirty odd years and we have an adrenalin-filled reboot to the brutal series. This time, monosyllabic Tom Hardy fits into the role of Max, chased and imprisoned by the vampiric War Boys of Immortan Joe. But this is Furiosa’s story. Renegade War Rig trucker Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron with Alien-style cropped hair) carries you through the mind-blowing onslaught of a film. And it’s a film that’s a worthy, kick-ass successor to the Mad Max franchise. Introducing a new feminist approach that delivers a fresh angle to a tried-and-tested genre.
This robust feminist angle of the story is one of the biggest reasons for the success of Mad Max: Fury Road. What better publicity than to have misogynists the world over outraged, calling men to avoid the film? But what I love about Fury Road is that it doesn’t just depict women as warriors, physically equal to men in every way, but it succeeds in portraying them as unbroken, full of hope and courage. This evolution of dystopia into an exploration of courageous and intelligent female leads has rejuvenated and re-inspired the genre, both in books and in film.
As writers we’re informed and inspired by so many things. For me, it was the films I consumed as a teenage boy. The Dollars Trilogy, Star Wars, Alien and Mad Max. They all had a massive impact on me. And the books. Stephen King, especially The Bachman Books. Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. The Road. Blood Meridian. I’d like to say it was McCarthy who inspired me to write Stone Rider. His Old Testament biblical style – the way he cuts you to the bone with his prose. His wide landscapes – blazing-harsh and vivid. Or maybe it was S.E. Hinton. Outsiders and loners, trying to find a place for themselves. But it’s the nerve-shredding world of Mad Max that perhaps has a more obvious association with my story.
Stone Rider – my debut novel – is a gritty coming-of-age story in which a boy who has lost everything joins a brutal race to win the chance to escape his dying world. Stone Rider is set in the dustbowl town of Blackwater, where rival Tribes of teenagers ride semi-sentient mechanical bykes. There are nods to Mad Max all over the place. And like Fury Road my lead character is male, but there is a strong female character that carries much of the action. Both stories offer a cornucopia of dust, blood and adrenalin. And both revel in the tropes of dystopia. And why not?
Bring on the cataclysm, I say. It’s entertaining. Dystopia isn’t dead. It will never die. It will just evolve. A peak. Then a trough. Or, like Mad Max: Fury Road, maybe dystopia will just carry on peaking until we all explode. Suits me just fine.
DAVID HOFMEYR is the author of Stone Rider, published by Penguin, July 2015.