Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's Not Freaking Dystopian!

Those of you who follow the young adult market will know that there are a gaggle of books coming out this year and next that are either dystopian or post-apocalyptic. Thing is... a lot of people are calling them all dystopian and it's making me a tad crazy. Something I clearly need to get past.

These are two genres of fiction (not exactly genres) that have been around for a while (and I'm too lazy to look up how long). But for dystopian, think books like 1984 and for post-apocalyptic, um, The Road.

Okay, I have resorted to some "research" now and here's how Wikipedia, the most reliable source on the planet, defines dystopia:

A dystopia (from Ancient Greek: δυσ-, "bad, ill", and Ancient Greek: τόπος, "place, landscape"; alternatively cacotopia,[1] or anti-utopia) is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian, as characterized in books like Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Dystopian societies feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, various forms of active and passive coercion. Ideas and works about dystopian societies often explore the concept of humans abusing technology and humans individually and collectively coping, or not being able to properly cope with technology that has progressed far more rapidly than humanity's spiritual evolution. Dystopian societies are often imagined as police states, with unlimited power over the citizens.
And look! They even cited 1984 like I did. (I feel so smart. I went to high school. :)

My point is... For a book to be truly dystopian in nature, I think there needs to be some sense of the society considering itself utopian... And many of the books being called dystopian (like The Hunger Games) aren't exactly dystopian in my mind. Sure, the people in The Capital might think they're living in a utopian society, but, um, most of the people in that world would not agree. And I got the distinct feeling that even people in the capital knew that everyone in the districts was being mistreated and punished for past digressions. That is, that they didn't believe that isolating people into districts like that was "perfect". Okay. Debatable. But to me, the world in The Hunger Games is more like a post-war society than a dystopian one.

I agree that the lines can get blurry, but having written a post-apocalyptic set YA thriller of sorts, (that I hope to announce good news about soon), I rankle a bit when all these books get labelled dystopian. Yes, my world does include some strict rules and repression, but it's not freaking dystopian! Everyone in my world knows life is hell. It's just that some are abusing power to have a slightly better version of hell.

And some other recent bestsellers:

Matched? Dystopian. In that world someone has decided that society would function better if people were mated (and all decisions were made) based on the statistical analysis of data. Someone's idea of a utopia.

Forest of Hands and Teeth? Post-apocalyptic. Zombies.  Most of the world dead or destroyed or crawling with zombies. Characters desperate to survive. Rules that have been set up (that some might claim seem a lot like dystopian rules) were put in place, not out of some vision of an ideal world, but for survival. To keep the zombies out and to avoid inbreeding in a closed-off society.

Divergent? Dystopian. We're not certain at the end of the first book why the part of society we've seen has been isolated from others by a wall, (maybe there are post-apocalyptic elements too...), but certainly whomever decided that society should be divided up according to factions representing positive human traits believed it was to create a better society.

Delirium? Dystopian. Haven't actually read it, yet, but it's set in a world where love is considered a disease to be cured and that sounds pretty darned dystopian to me.

And I would argue that The Hunger Games trilogy is largely post-apocalyptic, not dystopian. And that my trilogy in progress is also way more post-apocalyptic than dystopian.

I saw a great (and funny) flowchart this week done by YA author E.M. Bowman. I'm very sorry I missed the twitter discussion she talks about (guess I could search the #isitdystopia hashtag) but I LOVE this flowchart. :)

If it's too small to read... try over on her blog. :)

And my upcoming book is not a freaking dystopian! (Although I realize that when it comes out, (and I hope it will), I'll have to get past having it called that by some...)


Kristen Painter said...

I think this means my new vampire series is slightly post-apocalyptic. Perhaps I'll refer to it as PAL. Pos Apocalyptic Light. lol

Maureen McGowan said...

Maybe we need a new branch of the flowchart, Kristen. :)

I'm reading Libba Bray's Beauty Queens right now and it's a hilarious post-disaster (if not apocalyptic, at this point in the book, anyway) story. Definitely a send up of post-apocalyptic books.

Eileen said...

Funny post-apocalyptic? I might have to give that a try.

And don't get over the distinctions. They matter.

Sinead M said...

Ah, so if I really want to get a rise out of you, I need to call Deviant dystopic... awesome!

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