dys·to·pia (dis tō′pē ə)
1. a hypothetical place, society, or situation in which conditions and the quality of life are dreadful
2. a novel or other work depicting a dystopian society or place
This afternoon at work, a co-worker and I found ourselves engaging in a lively discussion about books. Somehow, our conversation came ’round to books described and/or marketed as dystopian fiction. Probably because I’m a sucker for a good dystopia. Also, the end of the world (thus, the post-apocalyptic portion of this post). Our discussion turned onto the definition of a dystopia, and if half the books being described as such, actually are.
The above definition is not quite how I see it. Yes, the conditions and quality of life are dreadful. But for me, in a dystopian work that fact is shrouded in the idea that the society/place/situation is actually a utopia. It’s only through the telling of the story that the reader realizes this ideal setting is, in fact, not ideal at all. I’d say that rather than agree with the proper definition, I agree with that wonderful site, wikipedia: “… in literature, an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, though under the guise of being utopian.” Source: wikipedia:dystopia
Hand in hand with this is the post-apocalyptic society. I think many people view this as dystopia, but it’s really just a crappy situation brought about by a horrific act – much like the apocalypse would be. Go figure. Yes, the apocalypse can lead to a dystopian society, especially those defined as dreadful living conditions. Of course it can. In this case, I get two favourite things for the price of one. The end of the world, and creepy perfect societies that are inherently flawed.
But all this might be confusing. So let me break it down for you in the way I see things, with some handy book titles (all labeled dystopia at one time or another).
Dystopia: shrouded as utopia
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Genesis by Bernard Beckett
Dystopia: dreadful living conditions
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Gone by Michael Grant
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
I guess what I’m getting at is that I view the dystopia genre as very large and convoluted. What I see as being merely post-apocalyptic another may see as dystopian. So what say you, readers and lovers of dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic fiction. Do you agree with my breakdown of the genre? Do you think a book needs certain criteria before it can be labeled as a dystopia? Should post-apocalyptic even have it’s own label (I think so)? And is anyone else as fascinated by the end of the world as I am?