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What Makes Dystopias Interesting?

Dystopias are one of my favourite genres. I thought I’d explore some aspects I enjoy.

 

First, let’s define dystopia. Here’s Google’s definition:

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To me, a utopia is a perfect society. A dystopia is a society that, in an attempt to create perfection, has become hopelessly skewed from the societal ideal. Dystopian books are usually set in the future (because society today, utopia or not, isn’t designed to fit an author’s particular take on how a perfectly designed society can be so messed up). Because of that, they often overlap with sci-fi as well.

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But why are they interesting to read about?

I’m going to list three reasons, then explain how this applies to a dystopia you might have read (or watched)—The Hunger Games. Even if I haven’t read these books for a while, they’re relatively well known, so I’m hoping I remember the details. (also, I’m trying to avoid big spoilers, but there are some, especially for later books, so be warned)

 

#1-They’re based on current events.

Authors of dystopias look at current events—disease epidemics! Political relations (that may cause war)! Nuclear weaponry! Technological advancements! —and use these to imagine how future societies would try to adapt to them. This is partly because dystopias tend to be set in the future, and partly because by looking at current world problems, authors can imagine potential solutions that could lead to a dystopian society.

The Hunger Games’ dystopia-ness draws on the age-old problem of inequality. Today, there’s an incredible gap between the wealth, access to health care, etc. of first world and third world countries. Suzanne Collins imagines a society divided into regions for maximum production efficiency. But the Capitol is incredibly wealthy. It fears the underdeveloped and oppressed rural districts, and the Hunger Games are really to oppress the minorities there, rather than to remember the war that created Panem. Exaggerating current (and unequal) wealth and living quality distribution, which favours the first world and the urban (aka the Capitol) and exploits the third world and the rural (aka the districts, especially the poorer ones) is what makes The Hunger Games successful as a dystopia in this context.

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#2- They challenge the system

Dystopias are dys for a reason. They present a problem, one that is relevant to our world (because it’s based on current events) and use language, plot points (such as a rebellion against it), and characters (such as ones that suffer under the system being presented) to show how wrong it is. It’s easy to sea the wrongness of inequality when we see Katniss fighting it. By using characters that challenge the system being presented, it challenges the readers to rethink systems and problems that are easy to take for granted ‘because they’re the way things are’. Building on this, dystopias are interesting because they involve readers politically, often with governmental systems that aren’t democracies. A lot of YA books don’t get entangled in politics or political systems, but dystopian ones do.

Katniss Everdeen joins the Hunger Games to protect her sister from an unfair system. (spoilers alert!)She challenges it by refusing to kill Peeta. She joins the rebels to fight the Capitol’s unfair system. But she isn’t afraid to challenge them, their methods of fighting back, their techniques of manipulation, the fact that they are letting Peeta suffer because he’s not a vital part of her plan. Her boldness in challenging this system, rather than letting it oppress her (like most people in District 12, who were too exhausted to fight it) helps readers to question the political situation in the here and now.

 

#3- They hurt their babies

Dystopias aren’t fun places to be, unlike, say, American high schools. There are oppressive governments, rebellions, harsh conditions, perhaps food or water crises, or mass (human or animal) extinctions. Disease epidemics may rampage, or people may have no choices. This gives dystopias plenty of opportunities for exciting plots and difficult characterization. More exciting (and drastic) things can happen in dystopias than could happen in 1950s America (such as sudden MC deaths).

In The Hunger Games, pretty much all the characterization (character change over time) and plot points are because of dystopian system. Katniss becomes a tribute, meets Peeta, (spoilers!) wins, becomes the Mockingjay, etc, etc. because of the Capitol’s games. She goes through incredible trauma, as do the ones she loves (see:mockingjay) because of the dystopian system. Dystopias are exciting and transport readers in a way they can’t be transported when reading about people who live somewhere like where they live.

 

I’m sure I could think of more reasons, but this post is long enough already, so here are some dystopian recommendations.

 

When We Wake- Basically about a girl who wakes up 100 years in the future, to find her society entirely different. This was written by a New Zealander (yay!), and is set in Australia. It explores treatment of refugees and the morality of technologies such a cryogenics and questions the military.

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1984- this was written when 1984 was the future. I actually haven’t read it (because it’s an English text and I don’t want to know everything before studying it), but I have watched V for Vendetta, which is based on it. It explores surveillance and a dictatorial government, I think. It’s one of the earliest dystopias (she says although she has no clue whether this is true.

Divergent- This is a society which sorts people into ‘factions’ which represent the opposite of why the world fell into ruin—truth, courage, intelligence, self-sacrifice, etc. It challenges the idea that people can be just one thing, and also ideas of governmental control.

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The Maze Runner- Is about a group of amnesiac boys stuck in the middle of a cannibal maze. It has plagues, human experimentation, and curious technologies.22642971

The Body Electric- I read this recently and loved it (read Shanti’s review). It’s about Ella, who’s beginning to realise that all the things she believed about her world aren’t as true as she thought. It explores the morality of artificial intelligence technology, and the safety of using nanobots, challenges a very un-transparent government.

 

 

Which dystopias do you like? Why do you enjoy them? Do you appreciate books which challenge your beliefs? What have you read recently?

 

 

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13 thoughts on “What Makes Dystopias Interesting?

  1. Nice post! I especially love what you said at the end that dystopians “transport readers in a way they can’t be transported when reading about people who live somewhere like where they live.” I think that’s my favorite thing–or at least one of my favorite things–about them. 🙂

    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbosityreviews.com

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  2. Interesting post, I haven’t read a dystopian book in so long that really had a dystopian feel to me (I read Shatter Me recently but I felt the world building wasn’t that great), and your list totally makes me what to go on a dystopian book binge. I have too many other books though.

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    1. I started Shatter Me, but I got bored or something? I was mainly just really confused. Dystopian books rock. You should add some to your (huge, I’m sure) tbr!

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  3. The Unwind Dystology and The Uglies Quadrilogy are both my favorite dystopias… I think it’s exactly for the reasons you say. It’s a way to address the concerns of our present by challenging them in our future. And I think that’s really meaningful and important, mostly because we do have a lot to fear in our behavior now, and that’s in stark contrast to what people used to think. If you go back a while, you don’t see how easily people went for the dystopias. I think one of the easiest ones is in Back to the Future II when he goes to the future and there are hoverboards and such. Admittedly, the movie deals with a corrupt dystopia near the end, but that’s only because someone abused the system—not because the system was in shambles in the first place. And here, we see that we do have problems with the system, and that’s what we’re really writing about and trying to find meaning in. And maybe trying to fix, at the end of the day.

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    1. I haven’t read/watched back to the future (or it’s sequel) but I was very creeped out by unwind, and the Uglies quartet was SOOO good and just asked really good questions about society today. I guess it showed me the dangers of being too shallow or focusing on appearance. Books are such a good forum for important discussions, and I love when dystopias challenge society. (though the hover boards are fun too )

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  4. Dystopia… I don’t even know. I used to praise The Hunger Games until I found that some bits were copied from Battle Royale (which is my favourite Dystopia ❤ though it isn't a bit lovely). I also like The Giver.

    Divergent? I liked the 1st and 2nd books but the third one? :/….

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    1. ALLEGIANT BROKE MY HEART. I was so so annoyed .Why!!!?????? I should look up Battle Royale because if you recommend it probably is good 🙂 *googles it* this sounds like a dystopian Lord of the Flies, kinda? The Giver is so good! I remember reading through every single class when I fist started it (well, mainly RE. My nice teacher let me off though)

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  5. Ohh that is a big reason I like dystopians: the way they sort of take a current event and explode it?!? It’s kind of excitingly terrifying…and sometimes not that unrealistic. But like I HOPE we don’t get to the point of having a Hunger Games. Because no thankyou. Ahem.
    But I actually am a little turned off dystopian as a whole though! Just because I feel like I over-read it a few years back and now nothing impresses me! BLEH. I do love The Maze Runner, Divergent, The Hunger Games (!!!) though. ❤

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    1. I like the way you describe dystopias: excitingly terrifying. That is so on point 🙂 Maybe your dystopia standards are just too high? I liked the Maze Runner, although *shhhhhh* I never read The Kill Order. The last book though (newt!!!!) Divergent was so interesting. I like all it’s twists. Maybe the other point of dystopias is to warn people, so therefore no hunger games will happen (because people would be like ‘dude, you’re just being like the hunger games. STOP) dystopias=yes 😀

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  6. Even though I like dark books, I don’t like dystopia (sorry). I didn’t finish The Hunger Games trilogy, or even start the Divergent series. I did like Starters though. Don’t ask me why. I can’t explain it. 😉

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    1. I’ve never heard of starters! WELL YOU ARE CLEARLY UNENLIGHTENED (and I say this in a friendly, polite way, y’know 🙂 ) *shakes head* How can you not like dystopia? To be fair, I haven’t read all of them, and I haven’t reread the Hunger games for quite some time. *nods*

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