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Thursday, October 18, 2012


I saw a question raised recently that I thought was interesting. It was: Why are there so many dystopian stories about the future?

The easy answer is because fiction requires some kind of conflict to be interesting and utopian worlds tend not to have that. If someone does write about utopia then there'll be some dark part of it that's evil or something. At least generally speaking. Which, I guess, means it's not Utopia.

But maybe there's a deeper question here. Why is dystopian fiction resonating with readers? And it must be selling well to have so many stories set in these types of worlds.

This isn't quite as easy to answer. I think one of the reasons might be because people (in general) feel disconnected and that they lack control. Let's say you have a state senator and you disagree with his stance on an issue. You can send an email, call or write a letter telling him why you feel the way you do and why his position is wrong, but what good does that do? The reply will merely be thank you for contacting me and a reiteration of his position.

Another reason that comes to mind is because I think a lot of people see all the problems in the world and feel powerless to correct them. This echoes back to the previous paragraph, but it a bit different. Problems like the environment. How does one person or even one nation address this? Sure everyone in the US could start walking everywhere they go, but if everyone in China is still driving a car, then what good is this sacrifice?

Once, people could put their faith in technology or science coming up with some kind of answer, but can we do that now? What's the incentive? When the company you work for owns any intellectual property that can be patented, why would a scientist or researcher spend the time and energy to puzzle through the problems and create solutions? It's easier to put the hours in and go home.

Culture seems to reinforce the pessimism people feel. How many times have we heard about the Mayans and their calendar ending in December 2012? The news focuses on the negative stories: The bullies who drive a child to suicide. The hole in the Ozone layer getting larger. Polar ice caps melting at increasing rates. All the media seems to promote is doom and gloom (which I could go into a bit farther, the whys and whatnots, but won't since it's off topic).

Anyway, people are feeling fearful. Negative things are happening all around them and we're so disconnected that we feel one voice can't or won't be heard. That one person can't make a difference. Dystopian fiction lets people play out what they fear the future might be. The protagonist in the story will continue fighting on, maybe simply winning in that character's little corner of the world.

I think readers want to see characters winning despite the worst-case scenario of dystopia. Maybe it inspires hope or helps quell the fear of what might lie in the future for planet Earth.

As a writer, my interest in dystopia, even in post-apocalyptic scenarios, is creating the world. It's seeing potential issues that might come to pass and spinning out the society that's struggling to survive. Most of all, though, it's seeing how these brave new worlds (see Aldous Huxley and his dystopian book) have shaped the hero and heroine. If you're living in a post-apocalyptic world, what kind of person survives? This is actually much more interesting to me than anyone living in some perfect, utopian world who's never faced hardship or struggle.

Although, let's face it, everyone faces some kind of hardship or struggle in their lives. The dystopian worlds just make it more extreme.

I'm sure there are more reasons why dystopia is prevalent right now, but these were the things that occurred to me.