Monday, March 14, 2011

Why all the Dystopias?

I have been thinking about dystopias a lot lately. It seems that so many are being written these days. And they seem to be showing a future that is so awful and hopeless. I began by looking for a definition of dystopia and liked this one from Wikipedia:
A dystopia is, in literature, an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Dystopian literature has underlying cautionary tones, warning society that if we continue to live how we do, this will be the consequence. A dystopia, thus, is regarded as a sort of negative utopia and is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. Dystopias usually feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions and constant states of warfare or violence. Dystopias often explore the concept of humans abusing technology and how humans individually and collectively cope with technology that has evolved too quickly. A dystopian society is also often characterized by widespread poverty and brutal political controls such as a large military-like police.
When and why did dystopias become so popular? There have always been a few around. Brave New World which was written in 1934 is a classic in the genre. Lord of the Flies, written in 1954 by William Golding, is one that shows up frequently in school English classes. But the genre seems to have just exploded in the last few years. Check here for a list of some dystopian novels.

If literature is a reflection of our times, what does all this dystopian literature say? Now, I freely admit that I am old, but this emphasis on dystopias is a bit disturbing for me. I was a teenager in the 1960s. I have always loved science fiction. I grew up with the books of Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov (among many others) whose visions of the future were mostly optimistic. The original Star Trek was one of my favorite television shows. You couldn't really find a more hopeful version of the future than that. Man would visit the stars and meet new people who would add to the richness of human experience. Boldly going where no man had gone before! The future was bright and filled with wonderful possibilities.

But now the future seems so dark and grim. Humankind has destroyed the world. Humans have so little choice and no hope. I read a lot of young adult books but I haven’t read all the current dystopias. I was even avoiding them for a while. Off the top of my head and without going back to look at my list of books read, here are the ones I have read recently:

  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  • Matched by Allie Condie
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  • Wither by Lauren DeStefano
These are waiting on my TBR stack:

  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky
I am curious to know what you think about the current trend of dystopias in YA literature. What does it say about us? What does it say about growing up in the current decade?

If you are a big fan of dystopias or just curious about them, I recommend joining
Danya from A Tapestry of Words and Casey from The Bookish Type from March 21 - April 18 as they host A Cornucopia of Dystopia. I know I will be following along to see if I can understand this current craze.


  1. I think the dystopia mania kind of goes hand in hand with the concerns that people have about the future with the economy, war, climate, etc. Strangely enough, things weren't so peachy in the world in the 60s when Star Trek became a hit. Sometimes people want to think of better times ahead but I guess right now that isn't the case when it comes to the fiction a lot of people read.

    I like dystopian fiction but hope that what happened with the paranormal genre does not happen with this one or we'll see many more dystopian novels some of which will be of lesser quality being published to meet demand. Then the market will be oversaturated.

  2. Matched wasn't as dire as some of the others. Any future without jet packs is bound to be depressing. Of course, looking at all of the technology we have, the future is now! (Imagine showing your 1978 self a Nook or Kindle. Or cell phone. Or CD. Sigh. At least there's no spandex uniforms!)

  3. I think generally people find "the future" very interesting - predicting what's to come, guessing what's going to happen, the possibilities, the technological advances, etc. The Dystopian genre has always been there, but I think people are more interested in it nowadays because of how the world (and society) has indeed changed over the years. So much has changed, and some are things that we never thought would be possible. So we always wonder, what will happen when we're 100 years old or what will be the changes when our grand grandkids are here? It's sort of intriguing to think about it :)

  4. Huh, I always learn something from you. I've seen the dystopia genre and steered clear because they always seen so odd but BNW was one of those books that I've read and still think about (though I detested LOF) so I have to wonder if maybe I shouldn't add a few more and give it a chance.

  5. I watched Never Let Me Go over the weekend. It's based on a novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro. It was good, but very dystopian and depressing. I hope our world never resorts to what it does in that story. I'm still going to read the book because I know Ishiguro is a beautiful writer and I know I'll probably like it better than the movie. Personally, I like dystopian novels. I picked up Brave New World at a library sale awhile back and can't wait to read it.

  6. I was sad to see that my favorite distopian was not on the list - X Isle by Steve Augarde. It was released last year, but I have not seen much press on it. Wonderfully written distopian that is basically Lord of the Flies for a new generation - and much more relatable to today's youth.

  7. Thanks for mentioning our event! I think you're right in that our planet's future is looking grimmer and that is part of why the genre has exploded over the past couple years. Also, I think the "fight against the system" concept definitely appeals to the YA audience in particular.


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