Fiction Focus Week 8- Dystopia

This week I decided to do something a little different and talk about the word that’s on everybody’s lips at the moment: ‘dystopia.’

Its counterpart Utopia is a concept that goes back all the way to Thomas More in 1516. Utopia was a play on words, meaning both a good place and no place. Dystopia however was a much later concept, first used in the British House of Commons to describe Irish (yup, Irish) land laws. Dystopia is the opposite of utopia, it is a bad place, a place that is far from perfect.

So what is it that has us so fixated on dystopia? The concept is old enough, and a lot of the most famous dystopian fiction, such as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell are still the most famous of all dystopian novels. The year 1984 may be well gone and most of the people reading this were not alive in it, but the book still remains with us in its concepts- from reality TV to the YWS moderators, Big Brother is Always Watching.

This is one of the running themes through so much of dystopian fiction. From The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the government is often portrayed as omniscient and omnipotent. What’s funny is that technology often seems stunted. When George Orwell wrote 1984, the technology may have seemed madly powerful for the 1940s. But to us, a lot of dystopia displays a lack of the instant communication we are so used to. People are separated, people are divided, they cannot contact each other or speak freely. While dystopia is often a dark imagining of the future, technology takes steps backwards or perhaps sideways from what we have today, rather than forwards.

Not all dystopian fiction is to do with this idea of a totalitarian government, the nightmares that the West had had all through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Some deal with the complete collapse of society. Today’s culture has its own obsession with zombies, from Pride, Prejudice and Zombies to The Passage by Justin Cronin to The Walking Dead, the TV show and video game that is showing us that books and films are not the only good way to tell a really good story. Zombies or not, the picking up of the reins of society after an apocalypse of sorts is another recurring theme in dystopian fiction. Often even a lot of the more civilised stories are after some unknown or unexplained event has killed off society as we know it, and it has reformed into something strange and ugly.

What is it that has us so fixated on dystopia? Is it something to do with our culture, or is it just that it’s fascinating, or is it nothing to do with dystopia but rather about the individual stories? It’s not really something I can do justice to in one blog post. So, instead, I’m going to ask your opinions! Do you like dystopia? Have you ever written any dystopian fiction?

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2 Responses

  1. 100xstupid says:

    I love dystopia, I think it’s a useful way of reminding us of our collective mortality. Society isn’t invincible or inevitable, and sometimes imagining where we’d be without it can be scary as well as entertaining.

  2. Heather says:

    What I love about Dystopian fiction is that search for the beauty in all the chaos and hardship. I think that’s what interests me and the exploration of different character types: those who give up and those who fight on.

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