While the world seems to be doing its best to hurtle humanity over the brink, most of us are probably not looking for anything extra penitential this Lent. It might be useful to remember, though, that Christian abnegation, whatever else it is, is also a preparation to enjoy.

From this perspective, there is a perhaps surprising convergence between Lenten renunciations and the literary aims of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. These stories immerse their readers into dark and undesirable circumstances precisely with an eye to escorting them back out into a freshly lit and, by comparison, astonishingly beautiful world.

In other words, while these stories might seem really pessimistic and focused on all the ways we might collectively destroy our lives, the best of them (like the best penances) are not motivated by self-flagellation, schadenfreude, or any other perversity, but by the aim of renewing gratitude.

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