Dystopian Fiction: A View on This Popular Genre

It is written that utopia is boring to readers, that we are not wired to read about no conflict (how about goals?), and that a perfect world is so unachievable there is no point in writing about it.

True, but are you one of those people who is so fatalistic to dismiss a course because you can’t get 100%? Or say to yourself, “Why strive for 100% when it’s impossible?”

In actual fact, if we aim high, we often lift ourselves higher than we thought we were capable of. I like to aim for 100% but realistically understand I’ll fall short–just not as short as if I aimed low.

Here is another concept: repetition becomes our truth. If we believe in a dystopian future, we’ll likely create it. Conversely, if we believe things can be better, such as in Star Trek: The Next Generation, then we may improve upon ourselves.

And finally, how do you explain the vast market for positive thought messages and visualization techniques for any goal you aim to achieve, whether it’s an Olympic win, a business venture, losing weight, or quitting smoking? The thoughts and images we entertain, positive or negative, have a direct impact on our results in real life–or so we are told, but I have found it to be generally true. We get more of what we expect. We see what we are looking for. We create what is in our thoughts. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, as far as dystopian writing goes, I like it too. I use it to satisfy myself that my life is still better than the one depicted in the book’s society, better than the situation of the characters in the novel. In fact, sci-fi and dystopian writers of old used their stories specifically to warn us of what we do not want our future to become. These stories can serve the same purpose as remembering the details of our brutal history (gladiators, world wars, civil wars, corrupt governments, forms of prejudice, religious extremes, oppression and slavery, unethical science experiments without consent, unbridled power in the hands of one or a few). More recently, however, many readers have adopted an attitude that a future of doom for mankind is inevitable.

By never writing about a better future, we are simply convincing ourselves and our society (through readers) that we can never be better than we are, and history is meant to repeat and become worse, made more extreme through our access to advanced technology. My fear is we will “make it so” (to quote Jean-Luc Picard). I think at least some writing should include an overall theme of hope for mankind, something to aspire to, as the old Star Treks or The Next Generation did–a mindset of writing that has all but disappeared, just as The Next Generation has fallen out of favour, to be replaced by darker themes in Star Trek and other shows, as well as in books. Even in Mockingjay, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, [spoiler alert!] Suzanne Collins leaves it open-ended, giving both options–a repeat of the same, or a possibility that this time humanity will get it right–but, although Katniss and others see all the things that can be changed and wish for them, the better world is never given tangible form.

I believe we still need a balance: dystopian writing to remind us of what we don’t want (that is, to not resign ourselves to that idea that humanity is doomed), and hopeful writing that depicts a better future that is workable. If utopian writing is “too boring,” we can combine the two concepts into the same novel, as award-winning author Lois Lowry did in Messenger. Why not channel that sought-after conflict or challenge we seem to crave into forms of improvement?
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Article inspired by guest post Writing Distopian Fiction: 7 Tips by Roderick Vincent on Writer’s Digest/The Writer’s Dig by Brian Klems
and Why is dystopian fiction still so popular? by Alex Campbell on The Guardian

About Eva Blaskovic

I am a multi-genre author of literary fiction and fantasy, and writer of non-fiction articles on parenting, writing, education, health, and travel. My background encompasses both the sciences and the arts. I teach at a specialized clinic for learning difficulties and mentor young authors. In addition to writing and teaching, my passions are weather, Indian food, gardening, and music. I have played eight musical instruments and spent many years immersed in taekwondo and karate. In my youth, I was an avid canoeist. I was born in Prague, Czech Republic, grew up in Ontario, Canada, and moved to Alberta in 1988, where I raised four children.
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