I’ve always read dystopian novels, although I simply thought of them as “science fiction.” Stories like I, Robot and Foundation filled my spongy adolescent brain with concepts like the Three Laws of Robotics and how utopias couldn’t happen as long as the flawed nature of humanity still existed. This is where I first understood the term dystopia as what happened when humans tried to monkey with society to make it “better.” Not only did I enjoy the mental gymnastics that went with these (usually cautionary) tales, they seemed to be “equipment for living.” They influenced my young adult thoughts about the future—what it should be, and what it should not.
My novel Open Minds is a mild dystopia, although, as I wrote it, I thought of it more as a classic SF story. I sought to change one thing—what if everyone really could read minds?—and play it out. That turned into an exploration of how, as much as the world may change, human beings fundamentally remain the same.
I think this is the understructure of the current dystopian trend—classical science fiction retooled for our modern era and sensibilities. Dystopias are more than a simple reflection of our post-911 world, a mirror held up to our fears of environmental disasters, terrorism, and pandemic. Our modern world isn’t solely a bleak place—it also shines with aid flowing to natural disasters, soldiers building schools, and the rejection of hatred as an ideology. Most modern dystopias search through their dark fictional world for those threads of hope. They find someone who will rebel against the wrongness of the world and attempt to set it right, or a third way through two dire world-changing choices.
The ever-more complicated world we live in needs more of the thought experiments found in dystopian stories, rather than less. Hope is a fundamental part of being human, and stories that forge hope out of the most difficult situations are always the most compelling.
I write those stories, the ones with that persistent thread of hope, because those are the kind I want to read.
And the future I want to live in.
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Trilogy, which is young adult science fiction (and dystopian!). Her latest release is Third Daughter (The Dharian Affairs #1) which is her excuse to dress up in corsets and fight with swords. She also has a dark-and-gritty SF serial called The Debt Collector which has been optioned for Virtual Reality. That turns all her geeky gears! She always has more speculative fiction fun in the works. You can find out what she's up to by subscribing to her newsletter (hint: new subscribers get a free short story!). See all her books here.