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:-
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?