Discussions: Dystopia vs Post-Apocalyptic

ttvday thg VS jeynrob di

It’s been over 5 months since my last discussion post- if you click this link, it will take you to my list of discussion posts, which so far include one about Epigraphs in books, and one not so eloquently discussing John Green’s writing.

Anyway, I decided to attempt to write a discussion post about the trend of dystopian novels , specifically in young adult literature, and how people seem to keep stamping novels as “dystopian” when they actually aren’t…

Disclaimer: I am rubbish at debates. I get carried away with my thoughts and often forget to slow down enough to explain my points thoroughly, which is why I rarely do these discussions haha- I apologise if there are any spelling errors or unexplained points, but I think it reads okay…

Ahhh the description of Young Adult books left, right and centre at the moment. It feels like publishers and authors feel like their book will only sell if it includes two things: the word “Dystopian” and the word “Love-triangle”. This has become quite an irritation to me. Firstly, just because you brand it something does not make it so- if you don’t actually write it to be a “dystopian”, the magic key word just looks plain weird. Secondly, not every book needs a love triangle, or even a love interest- but that is a discussion for another day.

I’ve noticed though, a lot of people on the internet also are getting the term confused. I feel like a lot of people don’t actually know what “dystopian” means. It seems to have become a rule of  “if it isn’t in our real modern day society, it’s dystopian”.

This is not true. This does not mean, for example, that The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer is “dystopian”. It isn’t. Futuristic? yes. Fantasy? yes. Sci-fi? yes. But not dystopian.  It does not mean that Jeyn Robert’s “Dark Inside” duology, is a “Dystopian”, Again- it isn’t. Post apocalyptic- yes, but not “dystopian” There is a difference between the two. In this post, I intend to fully separate these categories and explain them both. Now I do acknowledge that “post-apocalyptic” and “dystopian” is an understandable blurring of the lines because they can, after all, be quite similar- except for one minor detail:

“Dystopian” means that the Society has failed. Often this tends to be portrayed in a way which shows the Society in the novel believes itself to be perfect and flawless, when it’s actually controlling, oppressing, on the verge of a breaking every day if only the people who live within it were to realise how they really are living. So for example, a real world example which is perfect here, would probably be North Korea. Illusions of grandure and wealth are spread by the few fat cats in power, who manipulate media in order to make their people and the world- or try to, anyway- believe that they are one of the up and coming powerful nations yada yada…when actually most of the population are starving to death, millions “missing” in concentration camps, and some brave souls are trying to flee the country as refugees

“Post-Apocalyptic”, however, actually tends to mean more natural elements, for example, the aftermath of a natural disaster, which is not controlled by Society or Mankind- for example, tsunamis, earthquakes, viruses, solar flares etc. Post-Apocalyptic can also simply mean the end of the world “as we recognise it”, which can also mean the downfall of society, but it tends to be represented more in massive outbreaks of fatal illnesses, even to go as far as zombies etc.

Let’s look at the Oxford dictionary definition of what “Dystopian” is:-

-society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.

Drawing on my examples from before, The Lunar Chronicles is not dystopian as it is not set in a world which is meant to be ours. Yes, it is fantasy, set years and years in the future, with sci-fi elements. So I would categorise that as “Fantasy/Sci-Fi”.

Dark Inside, is set in a world which is meant to be our own, but it is the before and after story of when a virus breaks out on earth and everything goes to hell, literally- that is post apocalyptic. Not dystopian.

The Hunger Games, however, IS a dystopian, it is mainly about a corrupt society who try to preach absolute power and control whilst it’s population suffers.

You have to think back to the granddaddy of dystopia: 1984. The “Orwellian” society, where our every move is watched, claiming it is for our protection when actually it is the government spying on the civilians, and people are hauled away in the night for having their own opinions and beliefs which contradict that of the Society.

If a “Utopia” is where everyone is happy and everything is perfect, then a “dystopia” is the exact opposite.

So while there are similarities between the two genres, the main point is that Dystopian is the failure of human society, and it is because of the humans themselves- it’s our fault. But Post-Apocalyptic, tends to be more out of our control and more a fault of nature in some way- and about how we as humans would deal with that situation.


What do you guys think about this blurring of the genres?

Have you got any books specifically which are constantly mislabelled and it annoys you?

What do you think the appeal of Dystopian novels are, is it because we like to see imperfect societies to make our own look better in comparison?

Do you prefer dystopian fiction, or post-apocalyptic fiction? Or, are you just sick to your teeth of the whole thing?


9 thoughts on “Discussions: Dystopia vs Post-Apocalyptic

  1. I admit, I blurred the two genres together at first as well, but if you take a moment to really maul over the words, it’s not that difficult. Like you said, The Hunger Games is a dystopian — the government controls people, what they do, what they eat, and they assume that whatever they’ve decided in that control benefits everyone and they just basically refuse to see anything otherwise (unless someone like Katniss breaks everything down).

    The only way THG could be post-apocalyptic is if the world of THG would suddenly be hit by a plague that spreads through the districts through pipes or something and even THEN, THG would still primarily be a dystopia — you would maybe be able to classify it as both, but even so, we are not familiar with a world like the one in THG.

    I don’t really know why people enjoy reading dystopian books so much, I don’t even know why I enjoy them really (or why I’m writing a book that is a dystopia (!)). My best guess is that the general appeal does come from the idea that human beings will always end up fighting the system if they’re being cornered. You assume there’s always going to be at least one person who says, “NOPE TO ALL OF THIS!” and it’s even cooler if it’s a ‘random average girl with average hair and average eyes who also has time to be a totally normal girl and fall in love totes normal’. I guess it’s trying to mix what our usual day to day lives are like with this kickass mutant x-men type of situation.

    I’m completely fine with that type of thinking, I love reading books where some random person kicks ass for no other reason than being able to and wanting to fight for themselves — the problem is that all stories are starting to sound the same. That in itself doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem, it becomes a problem when annoyances from one book (e.g. an ever present love triangle, AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT) start to cross over to the others.

    I do actually prefer dystopian over post-apocalyptic. Maybe it’s because I keep trying to find dystopia’s that are somewhat different from the others, or maybe it’s because I am just very picky about which zombies and plague infected characters I like (cough).

    So yeah. That.
    I have no idea what I just said.

    • thebookheap says:

      ” the problem is that all stories are starting to sound the same.”- that is deifnitely my main problem with the amount of dystopians in YA lit lately. I prefer dystopians to PA’s as well but yeah it is getting very repetitive. Especially, like you said, with how people try to constant ram home how “average” the main lead is and then suddenly everyone thinks they are a saviour and they are skilled in some way. One thing I liked about Katniss is that she basically did survive the early days of the arena, before the whole peeta thing, thanks to sheer dumb luck! *cue McGonagall gif*

      I honestly think the only truly original dystopian I’ve read in the last 2 years was Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy

  2. Great idea for a discussion! I know I get annoyed with mislabeling of books. I also know how hard it is to draw the line.

    I can’t think of any specific examples off the top of my head but there are a lot of more recent science fiction books that people want to keep labeling dystopia or post apocalyptic. It probably comes from the fact that there are tons of straight science fiction book in YA so people want to put the books in those sub-genres because that’s what they’re familiar with.

    • thebookheap says:

      thank you 🙂 I’ve got a couple of these lined up but I always feel I’m not eloquent enough to actually get my thoughts across! haha
      I agree, a lot of sci fi novels do have dystopian elements or post-apocalyptic elements, but are never 100% of that actual genre…

  3. Nice discussion post! Yeah, dystopian is a confusing term.

    I recently read Young Elites and automatically thought futuristic when it was called dystopian, then I was surprised when it was medieval. I’m not sure if it’s dystopian, because there’ve been plenty of failed kings, but I don’t think of that as dystopian.

    In my Cinder series post I said it felt like a dystopian, I actually meant the Lunars, but yeah I can see where people would mistakenly think the whole thing is a dystopian.

    I don’t really mind the blurring of the genres as long as I’m entertained. I’m a little over this whole dystopian thing, there’s just too many of them right now. I think it’s just a case of Hunger Games sold lots of books so let’s all write a dystopian and chances are plenty of them are going to be good, so they sell more and so they write more. It will pass, like the vampires. (I miss vampires being monsters)

    • thebookheap says:

      thanks Molly 🙂 it’s become such a vague term despite the popularity- you’d think because it were so popular, the term would become more defined with time!

      ooh how was the young elites, good? bad? I wasn’t a huge fan of Legend so I’m on the fence to reading it…I don’t think failed kings would mean dystopian, but if the setting is more medieval than modern day, it probably falls under fantasy more than dystopian.

    • thebookheap says:

      haha thanks! It’s nice it’s gotten such a good reaction from people! I think it’s pretty important to be able to tell the difference between the two- I’ve been posting reviews where I’ve had to sit there and actually consider it for like 10 minutes straight because I couldn’t decide!

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