Friday, October 29, 2010

A Dystopian - In Case You Ever Wondered


I have noticed that, when talking to others and mentioning the genre "dystopia," I tend to receive confused looks and scratched heads.  Sad to say, many people have no idea what a dystopia is.  Now, this is a shock to me, since dystopian books are pretty much my favorite genre out there.  So now I feel the obligation to inform all of you readers (and non-readers) out there just what a dystopian be.

Handy-dandy Wikipedia says: "in literature, an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Dystopian literature has underlying cautionary tones, warning society that if we continue to live how we do, this will be the consequence. A dystopia, thus, is regarded as a sort of negative utopia and is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. Dystopias usually feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions and constant states of warfare or violence. Dystopias often explore the concept of technology going "too far" and how humans individually and en masse use technology. A dystopian society is also often characterized by mass poverty for most of its inhabitants and a large military-like police force."

That's a lot of my words I like to simply say this: Dystopia is society gone wrong.  The proof that, because of mankind and who we are, utopias can never truly be achieved.   Dystopian books take an idea, let mankind try to make it better...then completely shatter it.  Sometimes the shattering is obvious, other times the citizens don't even realize that what they think is real is actually far far off.

Examples you ask?  Well, one of the most classic ones, and one that we all read in school (I hope they still read this book!  I would cry if they don't...) is The Giver by Lois Lowry.  Tell me you have read it.  In it, the small town sees everything, literally, in black and white and is secretly performing a horrid population control.  The trick for this book one fully knows how it ends.  The way Lowry wraps it up leaves so much up for speculation that people still debate on what the actual end is.  And I love it.  One of the great things of a dystopian book is that it plays with your mind.  It leaves you wondering what is real, what may happen, and fearing for the future.

Other notable dystopians, in my point of view, are: 
Slow River by Nicola Griffith (Read this back in college.  I think I was one of the only students to actually love it...but I still think every one should read it.  Some of what the writer decides to have happen in the is frighteningly to familiar...)
Jennifer Government by Max Barry (I am in the process of reading this one actually.  The idea that your job owns you...oh my!)
1984 by George Orwell (Big
Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld (oh what could be better than being pretty?  wait...what...brain surgery?)
Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (ok this is just blasphemy!)
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Hey kids, time to go kill each other so we can keep some order here!  Wanna see a much more intense version of this idea?  Go watch the movie Battle Royale...oh my)
(And some movies, to name a few: Ultraviolet, Aeon Flux, Equilibrium, The Matrix...)

In all actuality, there are hundreds.  But it is nine in the morning and my brain is still waking up, so recalling all my books is proving to be a more difficult task that I thought it would be!

Why do I love dystopians...They question the path we are on in this life.  They show the possibilities of what may happen if we stay glued on that certain trail.  They are mankind destroying itself in the hope that it is some how fixing itself...I love it!

To note, many dystopians are intermixed with post-apocalyptic.  As awesome as this genre is too, you have to know the difference.  Dystopia is a society gone wrong.  Post-Apocalyptic is society, in one way or another, blew up and now is trying to gather the pieces (or not...)  Books such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Great and Terrible series by Chris Stewart, The Children of Men by P.D. James, to name a few, are fine examples of it.  Again, amazing reads.  But in my personal taste...there are only a handful of ways you can keep blowing up the world.  Now, slowly destroying it with propoganda, genetic altering, controlled society...the possibilities are endless!

The reason I am doing this post is because my NaNovel, Prison Nation, is a dystopian.  The government realizes that the one way to keep total control over its people is to keep the large majority of them incarcerated with harsh laws and no sympathy.  Sucks don't it?  As if we don't already fear the threat of the slammer now...

Here is my question to end the post.  Let me dive into your head a teensy bit.

As far as a dystopian goes:  What is it about that genre of story telling you LOVE.  The things that make you keep coming back for more.  And more so...what items do you wish the authors would just stop retelling or using?  There has to be some of both...let me in!


Keary Taylor said...

It's so true. I've noticed that when I talk about anything dystopian people have no idea what that is. I think one of the great things about that genre is that people in a strange way can relate to it because most of the time it is based around something that could become real. I tend to lean more toward post-apocolyptic stuff, like when I read Life as we knew it, I was so paranoid about food storage and water, and such. It's the possibility that these things might happen one day.

nicola said...

Slow River a dystopia? Interesting. I'm glad you loved it--but I'd also love to hear your reasoning. Yep, hopefully it asks readers to question the path we're on. But, hmmn, not sure if it's a society gone wrong. More like an extrapolation of business as usual. (That's what I'd intended, anyway.)

But as I say, I'd love to hear your reasoning!

Jenni Merritt said...

First off...Nicola...HI! I read Slow River way back in my freshman year and totally devoured it. I think it was the only assigned book in that class I actually read all the way through. And now seem to read it at least once a year. :)

I guess it always struck me to on the dystopian side mainly because of all the happenings that at this moment in time are still breath-taking, but in the novel almost seem too much of the norm. Kidnappings that are broadcast on net for all to see, sexual enchancing drugs and pornography being spliced and produced even at the risk of your own friendships... Seems to me like some things went wrong somewhere! And I love it...

Brad Jaeger said...

How did you make an entire post about dystopian literature without mentioning 1984 or Brave New World? :o

Nonetheless, loved this post! Spread the word!

Jenni Merritt said...

Brad - Thanks for the comment! I totally meant 1984, but started reading about 1985 and accidently linked that. That's what I get for blogging when half awake...

And like I said, I didnt mention MANY many many great dystopian books. Feel free to comment about more of them... :)

I was just trying to get out the idea that, well, WHAT dystopians are. Did it work?

Brad Jaeger said...

I'd say so, yes :)


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