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message 1: by Sandra (new)

Sandra  (Sleo) | 1944 comments I've often speculated about the popularity of dystopian novels. I'm not at all sure what has caused their surge in popularity in recent years, but they certainly appear to be popular.

There are some that I have enjoyed very much and others that I just find depressing or uninteresting or appalling. The Road is one that I liked a whole lot. The new one about vampires, The Passage, I didn't like so much - mostly because I thought it was in need of some major editing. The story was kind of interesting though.

I hope some of you will share your feelings about dystopian fiction and speculate about why it's so popular.

Do you think it's because there are so many threats to the world that we've become negative? Or is it just because sometimes it's fun to imagine the worst things that can happen and then imagine ourselves surviving anyway? I'm sure there are many complicated reasons and some of you have very definite ideas about it.


message 2: by Miss Asima (new)

Miss Asima (MissAsima) I have recently fell in love with dystopian/pa. For me I think it's just because I enjoy reading about the different versions of what our world could be like that people come up with. It does seem to have become an extremely popular genre.


message 3: by Traci (new)

Traci I think it's the desire of adventure and fantasy. So little of the world is left undiscovered that the old pulp adventure stories are too dated. And our discoveries outside of our planet has been a disappointment to imaginative minds. I think dystopian fiction can be a device to explore something new out of the old, familiar but not, a return to basics.


message 4: by Joseph (new)

Joseph | 1003 comments Sorry to hear about The Passage -- I kind of had my eye on that. Any word on The Strain? And of course I can't let this go by without at least name-dropping The Stand and Lucifer's Hammer.

I'm thinking but I'm having trouble coming up with much in the way of real dystopian imaginary-world fantasy -- the main example that springs to mind is Tim Lebbon's Noreela books (Dusk et al.). Am I just forgetting a bunch?

As to why it's popular, some of it might be comfort -- no matter how bad things are, at least we're not pushing a shopping cart through the ash-covered ruins of civilization. And other times it's just a convenient excuse for pyrotechnics and set-pieces. Mmmm . . . pyrotechnics . . .


message 5: by Sandra (last edited May 13, 2011 07:55PM) (new)

Sandra  (Sleo) | 1944 comments Joseph wrote: "Sorry to hear about The Passage -- I kind of had my eye on that. Any word on The Strain? And of course I can't let this go by without at least name-dropping [book:Th..."

I read The Strain a couple of years ago and thought it was pretty good. Tight, suspenseful, etc. Fairly developed characters. The Passage had characters, it just wandered all over the place before it finally got to a story in dribs and drabs.

It's been years since I read The Stand, but I liked it at the time. The endings of most of these things kind of fizzle, though, which I thought happened in that one, IIRC.

I was perhaps not being precise in my terminology with 'dystopian' but I would include things like The Windup Girl, The Book of the New Sun, and to an extent, Malazan. Grim, gory worlds with little hope, lots of depressing stuff, etc. I Am Legend, Fahrenheit 451, etc.


message 6: by Michele (new)

Michele | 85 comments I think the popularity of dystopian fiction might be a subconscious reactionary thing. Perhaps we are afraid because we have lost control--we do not completely understand the technology in which we live. I don't think people are negative about the world because it is dangerous. At times our world seems disturbingly superficial. Perhaps our minds want to remind us that the world could become something like these dystopian worlds. Anti-terrorist laws that limit personal freedoms protect us, but also threaten us. The internet infrastructure which hoards and then reveals all kinds of personal information about us could be something right out 1984. The dangerous trend in journalism where snippets and twitter rule the news and lengthy articles in newspapers and news magazines which don't get enough advertising $ are dwindling. An odd world in which it is swearing to say the word "stupid" in school, but kindergarteners inform me (I'm a school librarian) that they play Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty video games. Our world seems to be primarily one in which we like things to "look" like we are doing the right thing, without necessarily applying the full effort to actually do the right thing. Perhaps our subconscious minds recognize the bull and are trying to sort it out in dystopian fiction! :)


message 7: by Sandra (new)

Sandra  (Sleo) | 1944 comments Michele wrote: "I think the popularity of dystopian fiction might be a subconscious reactionary thing. Perhaps we are afraid because we have lost control--we do not completely understand the technology in which w..."

I like the way you think, woman.

I also wonder if we all like to imagine ourselves (like I did when I was 8 or 10) being a hero/heroine and creatively surviving against the odds. Communism and Stalin were the boogey men in those days and I had fantasies of sneaking over the Berlin wall and assassinating him. (No doubt some kind of unconscious hostility toward my parents, grin)

And I agree with you about our world being 'disturbingly superficial'. We are inundated with images and words of horror and brutality in 144 word snippets until we become numb to it and require more and larger doses of such things in order to feel anything at all.


message 8: by Bill (new)

Bill (kernos) | 314 comments Sandra aka Sleo wrote: "I've often speculated about the popularity of dystopian novels. I'm not at all sure what has caused their surge in popularity in recent years, but they certainly appear to be popular..."

Global warming, no doubt and a response to the Heinlein quote, "The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in."


message 9: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Cotterill (rachelcotterill) | 31 comments I think dystopian settings often make for interesting stories because the setting automatically creates obstacles for the characters. In a dystopian world, it's quite possible for everyone to lose - the Windup Girl (already mentioned) is one example of a novel where the whole fabric of society makes it pretty much impossible for the characters to get what they want.


message 10: by Sandra (new)

Sandra  (Sleo) | 1944 comments Rachel wrote: "I think dystopian settings often make for interesting stories because the setting automatically creates obstacles for the characters. In a dystopian world, it's quite possible for everyone to lose ..."

Exactly why I disliked that book. I don't mind obstacles, even overwhelming and impossible, as long as someone survives/makes it somehow.


message 11: by Joseph (new)

Joseph | 1003 comments Maybe because we all agree that the world is broken (even if we disagree about how it's broken), we take comfort in reading about characters managing to survive in a world that's even more broken?


message 12: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Cotterill (rachelcotterill) | 31 comments Sandra aka Sleo wrote: "Exactly why I disliked that book. I don't mind obstacles, even overwhelming and impossible, as long as someone survives/makes it somehow."

I know what you mean. I really enjoyed the setting but I found the ending a bit of a let-down. I would have liked a bit more hope!


message 13: by Michele (new)

Michele | 85 comments
Sandra aka Sleo wrote: "I also wonder if we all like to imagine ourselves (like I did when I was 8 or 10) being a hero/heroine and creatively surviving against the odds."

Yes. Or it at least seems probable to me. My daughter is almost 16 now, but she has had a liking for these dark novels since she was in 4th or 5th grade. It started out with Harry Potter, which isn't exactly what I'd define as dystopian, but she shortly moved into books like Life as we knew it (actually a disaster book) and all things holocaust. She wrote a disaster story about the world breaking into pieces. She was recently enthralled with Never Let Me Go. While these aren't strictly dystopian, they do all have that theme of surviving against the odds. My daughter is NOT a risk-taker and on the surface it might be surprising that she loves these books. I have always thought that this was her way of facing her fears and imagining herself surviving as a hero.


message 14: by Bill (new)

Bill (kernos) | 314 comments The dystopian sub-genre is rather new and there are a bunch of novels that I suppose if written today would be dystopian, but I don't really think of them that way, probably because I read them before I ever heard the word dystopia.

I'm thinking of books such as When World's Collide, Day of the Triffids, Soylent Green, I Am Legend etc. These are all great SF, BTW.

Do you go back and re-categorise such books or others when a new sub-genre arises?


message 15: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Cotterill (rachelcotterill) | 31 comments Kernos wrote: "The dystopian sub-genre is rather new and there are a bunch of novels that I suppose if written today would be dystopian, but I don't really think of them that way, probably because I read them bef..."

I would count all of those as dystopian settings... I've never thought of dystopia as a *genre*, personally, it's just a category of setting. In which sense, it's not a new term, is it...?


message 16: by Sandra (new)

Sandra  (Sleo) | 1944 comments Rachel wrote: "Kernos wrote: "The dystopian sub-genre is rather new and there are a bunch of novels that I suppose if written today would be dystopian, but I don't really think of them that way, probably because ..."

It's not new, at least according to Wikipedia, being coined in 1516 by Thomas More, and first used by John Stuart Mill in 1868 in the British House of Commons.


message 17: by Bill (last edited May 19, 2011 08:41AM) (new)

Bill (kernos) | 314 comments Sandra aka Sleo wrote: "It's not new, at least according to Wikipedia, being coined in 1516 by Thomas More, and first used by John Stuart Mill in 1868 in the British House of Commons..."

I was using the OED website as a source:
An imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible; opp. Utopia n. (cf. Cacotopia n.).

1952 G. Negley & J. N. Patrick Quest for Utopia xvii. 298 The Mundus Alter et Idem [of Joseph Hall] is‥the opposite of eutopia, the ideal society: it is a dystopia, if it is permissible to coin a word.
...

Derivatives

dysˈtopian n. one who advocates or describes a dystopia.

1868 J. S. Mill in Hansard Commons 12 Mar. 1517/1 It is, perhaps, too complimentary to call them Utopians, they ought rather to be called dys-topians, or caco-topians. What is commonly called Utopian is something too good to be practicable; but what they appear to favour is too bad to be practicable.

dysˈtopian adj. of or pertaining to a dystopia.

1962 C. Walsh From Utopia to Nightmare 12 Stories‥that seemed in their dystopian way to be saying something important.
1968 New Scientist 11 July 96/3 It is a pleasant change to read some hope for our future.‥ I fear that our real future is more likely to be dystopian.

dysˈtopianism n. dystopian quality or characteristics.

1962 C. Walsh From Utopia to Nightmare ii. 27 A strand of utopianism or dystopianism.


More to the point, I've only really seen dystopian as applied to SFF genre fiction during the last decade or 2, which is what I meant by recent. In retrospect lots of fiction could be called dystopian. Utopian fiction, OTOH is much older


message 18: by Sandra (new)

Sandra  (Sleo) | 1944 comments Kernos wrote: "Sandra aka Sleo wrote: "It's not new, at least according to Wikipedia, being coined in 1516 by Thomas More, and first used by John Stuart Mill in 1868 in the British House of Commons..."

I was usi..."


Thanks Kernos. I was only speaking to the word's origin and the definition is helpful


message 19: by Michele (new)

Michele | 85 comments Oddly, I think some "utopian" fiction winds up being rather dystopian. I read a novel in college...not a very exciting one I might add...called....Walden Two. It has been 20 years so I don't remember it all that well, but the "utopia" was disturbing.


message 20: by Joseph (new)

Joseph | 1003 comments Michele wrote: "Oddly, I think some "utopian" fiction winds up being rather dystopian. I read a novel in college...not a very exciting one I might add...called....Walden Two. It has been 20 years so..."

One person's Utopia . . . (For the record, I never did like Plato's Utopia -- it was essentially an ant colony ruled by someone surprisingly similar to Plato.)


message 21: by Sandra (new)

Sandra  (Sleo) | 1944 comments Perhaps that's the trouble with utopia. It's one person's idea of what is heavenly or perfect. And we are very diverse.


message 22: by Joseph (new)

Joseph | 1003 comments Joseph wrote: "[...]For the record, I never did like Plato's Utopia[...]"

And of course when I said, "Plato's Utopia" I meant "Plato's Republic", which described his idea of a utopian society.

But if nothing else, I should probably give credit to Plato for popularizing the Atlantis myth, which has given birth to a whole lot of fine fantasy fiction over the years.


message 23: by Sandra (new)

Sandra  (Sleo) | 1944 comments Joseph wrote: "Joseph wrote: "[...]For the record, I never did like Plato's Utopia[...]"

And of course when I said, "Plato's Utopia" I meant "Plato's Republic", which described his idea of a utopian society.

Bu..."


We probably owe Plato for a lot more than the Atlantis myth.


message 24: by Joy (new)

Joy (Crowgirl) I haven't followed all the threads in this discussion but I recently started a second book by Felix Gliman, The Half-Made World and the back cover blub is: "A much needed breath of fresh air in dystopian fiction," they go on to compare it to The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia and The Road. The Ursula K. Le Guin novel is one of my old favorites but I must confess I had not heard of this descriptive word for it until now. My spell check certainly didn't recognize it.


message 25: by Marc (new)

Marc (AuthorGuy) | 364 comments Michele wrote: "My daughter is almost 16 now, but she has had a liking for these dark novels since she was in 4th or 5th grade."

I was in South Carolina for the Book Festival last week, and found that my fellow Echelon Author Kieryn Nicolas has a new novel out, a YA Dystopian called Flawless Ruins.


message 26: by Michele (new)

Michele | 85 comments That book sounds interesting. I'll pass it along to my daughter.

If utopia is one person's idea of perfection...but we are all diverse...then utopia cannot really exist. It seems like the quest for utopia leads to dystopia. Since we are not perfect, the only way to have a flawless society is to curtail those who don't fit into the utopia.


message 27: by Sandra (new)

Sandra  (Sleo) | 1944 comments Very good, Michele.


message 28: by Marc (new)

Marc (AuthorGuy) | 364 comments Michele wrote: "Since we are not perfect, the only way to have a flawless society is to curtail those who don't fit into the utopia. "

Or alternatively, dissolve society, since it would no longer be necessary. A utopia would provide for each person's individual needs, I imagine.


message 29: by Michele (new)

Michele | 85 comments Marc wrote: "...dissolve society, since it would no longer be necessary. A utopia would provide for each person's individual needs..."

So, utopia of dissolved society would have us each completely isolated from each other?

I have a question, probably slightly off-base since this is not a children's group. But since all of us have theoretically read at least some dystopian fiction...did you read it young? I've only been a school librarian for 6 years but in these 6 years dystopian fiction children's books have definitely blossomed. Can you think of yourself at age 10? Would you have understood dystopia? I don't have The Hunger Games in the school library 'cause I'm K-5, but it is still hugely popular among my 4th & 5th graders. I wonder if they are thinking of it as a social statement, or more like a video game.


message 30: by Joseph (new)

Joseph | 1003 comments Michele wrote: "Marc wrote: "...But since all of us have theoretically read at least some dystopian fiction...did you read it young?..."

I remember obsessively reading the Tripods books (The White Mountains et al. by John Christopher) when I was in elementary school -- they'd definitely qualify under the current discussion, although they ended relatively happily. Also Christopher's The Lotus Caves, which seems like it should fit in somewhere. I wasn't thinking about them in those terms, of course. (Nor as a videogame -- no such thing existed yet . . . :) ) To me they were just more adventure stories.


message 31: by Sandra (new)

Sandra  (Sleo) | 1944 comments Michele wrote: "Marc wrote: "...dissolve society, since it would no longer be necessary. A utopia would provide for each person's individual needs..."

So, utopia of dissolved society would have us each completely..."


I find this a little disturbing. When I was a kid back in the 40's I'm not sure my local library had any fantasy in the children's section. But I read things like Joseph A. Altsheler who wrote a series about a scout named Henry Ware who could track anything through the forest and it occurs to me that perhaps it's being a hero that appeals to young people. And Katniss is definitely a hero figure, so I understand the broad appeal. And these days a situation like The Hunger Games is more appealing than the forest primeval of colonial America.


message 32: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Cotterill (rachelcotterill) | 31 comments I think most of what I read when I was young was pretty bleak - if it wasn't dystopian sci-fi it was murder mysteries. But I didn't think about it that way at the time!


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Books mentioned in this topic

The Passage (other topics)
The Road (other topics)
The Strain (other topics)
Dusk (other topics)
Lucifer's Hammer (other topics)
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Authors mentioned in this topic

Tim Lebbon (other topics)
Ursula K. Le Guin (other topics)
John Christopher (other topics)