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What is it about dystopian setting people love?

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message 1: by Ronald (new)

Ronald Carson | 135 comments I'm guilty. I love the barren wasteland. I wonder why I like the trek through Mordor more than any description of Rivendell (which bored me, frankly). Is it that basic man against the odds and elements like Old Man and the Sea? I really don't get it. I don't think it was always like this, right? People of the 20's like The Gatsby settings, or at least that's my impression.


message 2: by Eric (new)

Eric Mrozek (eric_mrozek) | 13 comments I think that the dystopia is not necessarily about man against the odds, but more about how much we value a particular trait about ourselves that would cause horrible consequences when the rug is pulled.

For instance, Children of Men is about sex and fertility. 1984 is about the desire for freedom. The Walking Dead is about just how dependent we are on industry and mass consumerism.


message 3: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Tassie Dave | 3489 comments Mod
With a fantasy fulfilment setting, once you stop reading, you're back in your own mundane life :-( Life seems a bit more boring.

With a dystopian setting, once you stop reading, you're back in your own mundane life :-) Life seems a bit more safe.


message 4: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay | 593 comments There's a definitional issue here as well. Some people conflate dystopia with post-apocalyptic settings. They're not the same.

Some post-apocalyptic settings can be dystopias, but they don't need to be. Station Eleven for instance, is not a dystopia. And dystopias don't need to be post-apocalyptic either. 1984 for instance is your classic dystopia.


message 5: by Darren (new)

Darren Was Gatsby not a dystopia?


message 6: by Joanna Chaplin (new)

Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments I've never been super crazy about apocalyptic stories, especially the worst strong versus the weak ones. I don't see myself rising to the occasion. But especially now when I need regular medical intervention to keep living, I don't want to go there. I'd die there.


message 7: by Ronald (new)

Ronald Carson | 135 comments Joanna wrote: "I've never been super crazy about apocalyptic stories, especially the worst strong versus the weak ones. I don't see myself rising to the occasion. But especially now when I need regular medical ..."

Yeah, they never seem to need a dentist in those books, do they?

I think a lot of it is the solitude. I love characters who have solitude. The other appeal has to do with the destruction of the norm. It's kinda primal anarchism or something. Not that I want to watch the world burn, but...there's a lot of rules I wouldn't mind ignoring.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments For post-apocalyptic stories, I think it's often a different kind of wish-fulfillment. People living in a modern, post-industrial civilization governed by rules and bureaucracies and etiquette and politics (whether office, schoolyard, social club, city, or nation) can feel constrained, limited, restricted. Earlier generations could fantasize about adventures on the frontier, in unexplored regions, embarking on colonialist or imperialist enterprises, and maybe even pursue these in real life. But those opportunities either no longer exist, or are completely out of reach for most people. So post-apocalyptic fiction lets those same kind of people escape to a world where all the constraints and restrictions of civilization are suddenly torn away, and maybe all those people who annoy you are dead, and now it's a bunch of individuals--maybe even some kind of reader-identification character--living by their wits.

Dystopian fiction, I used to always assume meant a) fiction about a society that presents itself as utopian, but is actually built on some great Lie or Evil, b) an allegorical warning or polemic about a real-world political system or ideology the author opposes, usually through hyperbole, or c) both. But since the YA-dystopia boom, "dystopian" increasingly seems to mean, "things are significantly worse for middle-class Westerners than they are now".*

*I read an interview with William Gibson where he was asked if the Sprawl Trilogy (Neuromancer, etc.) was dystopian. He responded there were probably people living in the worst slums of the developing world who'd live in the Sprawl tomorrow if they could.


message 9: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2775 comments Post-apoc stories always put the reader in the position of a survivor, ignoring the fact that the odds are the reader would be dead. So there's that subtle, "I'm special" feeling that some genres give. There's also a real remove from the actual hell that most of those world would be. You get to be a tourist but you don't have to live there or even really experience it.

You get to experience the trek through Mordor (to use OP's example), without the fatigue, the heat, the dust, the hunger and the thirst. Not to mention the orcs. Most people would hate the actual experience, especially if it was their reality and they couldn't get back to a nice, Western life by closing the book.


message 10: by Tommy (new)

Tommy Hancock (tommyhancock) | 97 comments Almost every dystopian I've read, and I'm assuming most written, have a factor of us vs. them that seems more real than it does in most other genres. It presents someone, usually just some nobody individual(like us) in the beginning of the story who rises up and trumps something/someone who seemed untouchable in the beginning. There's something to that that I think nearly all people can relate to. Who hasn't, at some point, wished they could topple some figure that they felt(if not knew) was wrong, but just couldn't do it. And it doesn't necessarily have to boil down to government(though, why not), it could be a teacher, an A-hole cop who pulled you over when you know you did nothing to deserve it, a parent who knows best, etc., etc., etc.

We've all been the little guy with a hopeless battle, and so seeing those dramas turned up to 11 and the little guy triumphing is kind of nice.

Not the entire answer, I'm sure, but I imagine that this lies somewhere in the heads of many dystopian readers while they enjoy their readings.


message 11: by Ronald (new)

Ronald Carson | 135 comments *I read an interview with William Gibson where he was asked if the Sprawl Trilogy (Neuromancer, etc.) was dystopian. He responded there were probably people living in the worst slums of the developing world who'd live in the Sprawl tomorrow if they could.

That's a great quote. I'm betting dystopian isn't quite as popular in the slums of Calcutta.


message 12: by Joanna Chaplin (last edited Aug 21, 2015 11:34AM) (new)

Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments N.K. Jemisin actually discussed the "revolution" aspect of post-apocalyptic stories in this interview, starting somewhere around minute 20.

http://www.tor.com/2015/08/20/midnigh...


message 13: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Darren wrote: "Was Gatsby not a dystopia?"

No,

It was about dysfunctional people, not a society.


message 14: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments The best of dystopia is a look at the society of the times it was written and it can go decade by decade. Dystopia is a look at how a society went wrong from what we see as normal. there is something "off" by the society. The society may be perfectly functional, but not desirable. Never Let Me Go, 1984, and Brave New World are all functioning and doing well, but would you want to live there? Dystopia hold up a mirror and says look how much uglier it can be or be careful because we can end up here if we are not careful.

In many ways it is a way to exercise our demons.


message 15: by Ronald (new)

Ronald Carson | 135 comments Papaphilly wrote: "The best of dystopia is a look at the society of the times it was written and it can go decade by decade. Dystopia is a look at how a society went wrong from what we see as normal. there is somet..."

It's interesting that part of the dystopian landscape should be some form of squalor. Well, can you have a society that has gone wrong without squalor? And would that qualify as dystopian? Let's say it's a messed up society of rich people. They're not in squalor. They think they're not miserable. Has anyone seen a novel depict them as dystopian? I wonder how you'd do that.


message 16: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Tassie Dave | 3489 comments Mod
A Brave New World & Logan's Run are a depiction of dystopian stories without squalor. The future of The Time Machine is the same.
The dystopia is with how the societies operate, not in the settings.


message 17: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Ronald wrote: "Well, can you have a society that has gone wrong without squalor? And would that qualify as dystopian? Let's say it's a messed up society of rich people. They're not in squalor. They think they're not miserable. ..."

I understand your press for The Great Gatsby, but that was a small group of rich people and not the whole society that was still functioning very well. That was a study of emptiness of soul even when you had all of the material possessions.

Tassie Dave wrote: "A Brave New World & Logan's Run are a depiction of dystopian stories without squalor. The future of The Time Machine is the same.
The dystopia is with how the societies operate, not in the settings."


I could not have answered better myself.


message 18: by Ronald (new)

Ronald Carson | 135 comments Tassie Dave wrote: "A Brave New World & Logan's Run are a depiction of dystopian stories without squalor. The future of The Time Machine is the same.
The dystopia is with how the societies operate, not in the settings."


Ah, some good examples. It's funny. I didn't know Logan's Run started out as a book. I'll have to check it out and size it up against the movie.


message 19: by Eric (new)

Eric Mesa (djotaku) | 617 comments What I like about dystopias are when they're used to explore ideas of how society could be structured.

Oh, you think it'd be great if only the smart got to rule?

Well here are 5 different books with five different reasons that leads to a horrible society. And it could be horrible for everyone - super high pressure to get good grades or you end up in the dregs. Or it could be horrible for some - dehuminzation of those who aren't considered "smart". Or maybe all the smart people end up in a world without telephone sanitizers and all die of a plague.

And if well written they often show how they often start off with the best of intentions. Or how the government workers are just doing their jobs not realizing that their work is hurting others.


message 20: by Darren (new)

Darren Papaphilly wrote: "Darren wrote: "Was Gatsby not a dystopia?"

No,

It was about dysfunctional people, not a society."


You sure about that?


message 21: by Robert (new)

Robert Defendi | 54 comments I didn't see this in the comments above, but I read most of them a while ago. :) Robert Sawyer did a class at Mythgard a few weeks back and he talks about either dystopian or post-apocalypse (I can't remember which, but it applies to both) as an easy button for writing. A cheat of sorts.

This leads me to two observations that would help explain its popularity in YA.

1) The younger readers are probably not as tired of it and are less likely to be annoyed by the conventions (look at Divergent...not only can I not see that society being stable, you have to radically alter human nature just to have it exist briefly).

2) If it's easier there are probably a lot more people trying it, and the more people try something, simple numbers say it's more likely for one of them to get it right and hit that sweet spot of transporting the reader to a new place.


message 22: by Joanna Chaplin (new)

Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments Robert wrote: "I didn't see this in the comments above, but I read most of them a while ago. :) Robert Sawyer did a class at Mythgard a few weeks back and he talks about either dystopian or post-apocalypse (I can..."

In regards to Divergent, there actually is a plausible explanation for why it works, it just didn't get revealed until book 3, which is after most folks have quit.


message 23: by Robert (new)

Robert Defendi | 54 comments Feels like a retcon. :) I don't actually mind retcons.


message 24: by Ronald (new)

Ronald Carson | 135 comments Joanna wrote: "Robert wrote: "I didn't see this in the comments above, but I read most of them a while ago. :) Robert Sawyer did a class at Mythgard a few weeks back and he talks about either dystopian or post-ap..."

I quit halfway through book 2. I might pick it up later. Book 2 just gets a little monotonous or something.


message 25: by Ronald (new)

Ronald Carson | 135 comments Robert wrote: "Feels like a retcon. :) I don't actually mind retcons."

For some reason, midichlorians bug the hell out of me. I don't know why exactly. But, yeah, usually, I don't mind.


message 26: by Tom (new)

Tom Wright (tomdwright) | 84 comments Joanna wrote: "Robert wrote: "I didn't see this in the comments above, but I read most of them a while ago. :) Robert Sawyer did a class at Mythgard a few weeks back and he talks about either dystopian or post-ap..."

You know, I read all three Divergent books, and aside from hating the ending even more than the third Hunger Games book, I *still* could not make sense of the reasoning for the dystopia. It just didn't seem plausible to me.


message 27: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Darren wrote: "Papaphilly wrote: "Darren wrote: "Was Gatsby not a dystopia?"

No,

It was about dysfunctional people, not a society."

You sure about that?"



Yes, I am sure.


message 28: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Tom wrote: "Joanna wrote: "Robert wrote: "I didn't see this in the comments above, but I read most of them a while ago. :) Robert Sawyer did a class at Mythgard a few weeks back and he talks about either dysto..."

In all fairness to the Divergent Books, they are YA and will not have the richness of adult books. This can be said of any YA novel.


message 29: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Ronald wrote: "Papaphilly wrote: "The best of dystopia is a look at the society of the times it was written and it can go decade by decade. Dystopia is a look at how a society went wrong from what we see as norm..."

I can give you a great example. Never Let Me Go is truly a masterwork of both literature and dystopia. The beauty of this novel is that it is very mundane and talks around the issue until you figure it out for yourself. At that point, you are horrified because everything is so normal. The society is flourishing and is not on the edge of collapse. Yet it is certainly dystopia.


message 30: by Ronald (new)

Ronald Carson | 135 comments Papaphilly wrote: "Ronald wrote: "Papaphilly wrote: "The best of dystopia is a look at the society of the times it was written and it can go decade by decade. Dystopia is a look at how a society went wrong from what..."

Thanks. I'll check it out.


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