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Book and Film Discussions > Dystopian fiction these days

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message 1: by Matthew (last edited Oct 01, 2016 07:40PM) (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) I've always been fascinated by dystopian fiction, which is often treated as a sub-genre of science fiction. And it's resurgence in recent years does make you wonder, what exactly does the popularity of this kind of literature say about the state of the world?

For instance, there is the debate that began in the 1980s which came true - 1984 or Brave New World, which is something Neal Postman started with his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. Then there's been the transition between cyberpunk, post-cyberpunk and the popularity of YA dystopian fiction in the 2000s-2010s.


Tara Woods Turner | 2063 comments 9/11


message 3: by Matthew (last edited Oct 01, 2016 08:41PM) (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) Tara, coming in hot! She's absolutely correct people. After 9/11, there were many who felt that the whole "1984 vs. Brave New World" debate had entered a new chapter. Before that, the general consensus was that we were living in a BNW-type future. But somehow, the war on terror, domestic surveillance, and the Patriot Act made people think 1984 was still possible - and maybe we were even living in it!


message 4: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan The BNW is just the soft, velvet glove over the iron fist of 1984.

Persuasion, Distraction and Coercion are all weapons in the arsenal of the genuine power operator.


Tara Woods Turner | 2063 comments Bread and circuses run amuck. Somewhere the Dixie Chicks are mopping the floors at Denny's and shaking their heads.


message 6: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) That's just it Graeme. BNW was all about the things we love killing us, about a society where people were "amused to death" and distraction, leisure and irrelevance buried all attempts at social change and resistance.

Do you think we live in a combination of the two?


Tara Woods Turner | 2063 comments I don't think the world today is a reflection of the BNW mentality. I believe that description best fits the Reagonomics 80s and Madoff 90s. Think of those years as the wealthy having cigars on the deck of the Titanic as they yawned, impatient for the inconvenient drill to be over. Now think of society today as those same people 1/2 hour later pushing peasants out of the way to commandeer the lifeboats.


message 8: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) Ah, a Titanic analogy, huh? Interesting :)

Funny too, because if there was one thing popular during the 1980s in sci-fi, it was cyberpunk lit. It envisioned a dystopian future where the division of wealth was a more extreme version of what we saw in the 1980s, multinational corporations had all the power, and the gap between the haves and have nots was visible in terms of technology.

The outlaws of this era in literature were the "cyberjockey's", the hackers and freelance thieves who surfed cyberspace looking to crack databases and pirate information.

By the 90s, sci-fi writers thought this was too maudlin and started trying to look at the ambiguous effects technology would have, and how instead of a polarized rich-poor world, we might go to a world where things like national identities, money, and even government would be effectively obsolete.


Tara Woods Turner | 2063 comments Matthew wrote: "Ah, a Titanic analogy, huh? Interesting :)

Funny too, because if there was one thing popular during the 1980s in sci-fi, it was cyberpunk lit. It envisioned a dystopian future where the division o..."


Correct! It's also interesting to note the differences between sanctioned i.e. Hollywood dystopia and popular or literary dystopia. The 80s/90s forced focus on extranational threats gave way to the more multinational, conglomerized dystopian fiction we see today.


message 10: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) So like... "I'm frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map. They're not nations, they're individuals. And look around you. Who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No! Our world is not more transparent now, it's more opaque! It's in the shadows. "


Tara Woods Turner | 2063 comments Matthew wrote: "So like... "I'm frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map. They're not nations, they're individuals. And look around you. Who do you fear? Can you see a f..."

I'd applause if weren't shivering lol. Well done, sir!


message 12: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) Nah, that's from Skyfall. You made me think of it :)


Tara Woods Turner | 2063 comments Matthew wrote: "Nah, that's from Skyfall. You made me think of it :)"

*feels a little better. sort of*
:)


message 14: by Nik (last edited Oct 02, 2016 12:41AM) (new)

Nik Krasno | 13755 comments Haven't figured whether u r optimistic or pessimistic in approach, Matt -:)

The well-being of masses seems to be eroded, on the other hand ppl r glued to tv, smart-phones, reality shows, so maybe inertia's balance is preserved. At that the equilibrium may be fragile...

Anyhow, dystopian genre should be thriving...


message 15: by Mehreen (new)

Mehreen Ahmed (mehreen2) | 1911 comments Nik wrote: "Haven't figured whether u r optimistic or pessimistic in approach, Matt -:)

The well-being of masses seems to be eroded, on the other hand ppl r glued to tv, smart-phones, reality shows, so maybe ..."


It always did. We live it everyday. 1984 or not.


message 16: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Matthew wrote: "That's just it Graeme. BNW was all about the things we love killing us, about a society where people were "amused to death" and distraction, leisure and irrelevance buried all attempts at social ch..."

Yes. Indeed.


message 17: by Graeme (last edited Oct 02, 2016 02:52AM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Tara wrote: "I don't think the world today is a reflection of the BNW mentality. I believe that description best fits the Reagonomics 80s and Madoff 90s. Think of those years as the wealthy having cigars on the..."

The essence of BNW was distracting people into psychological acceptance of the roles that they had been physically conditioned to do.

SOMA, The Feelies, Abundant Meaningless Sex are all available today.

We are on average a highly medicated society distracted by the latest antics of people who are famous for being famous, while a pervasive world wide surveilance system has been put into place and police forces have been militarised for use against the public.

Is not the war on drugs/war on terror/war on the next big thing just examples of the forever war of 1984?

Apparently 30% of all internet traffic is porn.

The parallels between BNW/1984 and our modern world while not perfect are similar enough, to be striking for me.

The systems that are in play are designed to foster willing obedience to authority, conformity and disempowerment. I think that they have been quite successful at achieving their deplorable aims.


message 18: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2151 comments Tara wrote: "Bread and circuses run amuck. Somewhere the Dixie Chicks are mopping the floors at Denny's and shaking their heads."

Say what you want about the Dixie Chicks, but I have more respect for them than many of the more liberal music groups that were out there. Maybe they were foolish for speaking out against an issue their fan base agreed with, but at least they did so at the beginning when it was extremely unpopular. I didn't hear anything out of say R.E.M. or Melissa Etheridge until about midway through Bush's presidency when it almost became cool to criticize Bush and the Iraq War, and suddenly both of them were putting out multiple songs, and REM jumps on the Vote For Change Tour with Bruce Springsteen. But where their fans are largely liberal to begin with, they still kept silent when the view was unpopular, but the Dixie Chicks with the conservative fan base pretty much threw their careers away to express an opinion they believed in.

I might disagree with it from the business standpoint, because it certainly was a lesson in knowing your customer, but personally, I can respect someone's opinion a lot more when they expressed it before it was "hip" to do so.


message 19: by M.L. (new)

M.L. Matthew wrote: "I've always been fascinated by dystopian fiction, which is often treated as a sub-genre of science fiction. And it's resurgence in recent years does make you wonder, what exactly does the popularit..."

It stems from fear of both the known and the unknown, the real and the imagined.

One thing I found interesting about BNW was the fringe society. Everyone did not live in the highly structured artificial environment. There were marginalized, outcast groups.


message 20: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) Nik wrote: "Haven't figured whether u r optimistic or pessimistic in approach, Matt -:)

The well-being of masses seems to be eroded, on the other hand ppl r glued to tv, smart-phones, reality shows, so maybe ..."


Another quote occurs: "For my part...I am a realist but, somehow, optimism always keeps breaking out." - Pierre Eliot Trudeau.


message 21: by Matthew (last edited Oct 02, 2016 10:27AM) (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) M.L. wrote: "Matthew wrote: "I've always been fascinated by dystopian fiction, which is often treated as a sub-genre of science fiction. And it's resurgence in recent years does make you wonder, what exactly do..."

Thank you for pointing that out too. Acknowledging the exiles and the reservations was always a good way to counter people in debates who would say "oh, but they were happy!" Some people just didn't grasp that this was a dystopian scenario, not a blueprint for making the world better.


message 22: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Matthew wrote: "Thank you for pointing that out too. Acknowledging the exiles and the reservations was always a good way to counter people in debates who would say "oh, but they were happy!" Some people just didn't grasp that this was a dystopian scenario, not a blueprint for making the world better. ..."

That's the scary part.


message 23: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 9725 comments I suppose a lot of what I write could be regarded as dystopian, but that is largely because the plots tend to focus on how the dystopian part came about, and the idea is to get people thinking about what to avoid doing in the future.


message 24: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) Well that is a big part of dystopian novels. As cautionary tales, they are all about how we got from where we are now to where the author puts us, which are always just extreme versions of where we are now.

In BNW, it was total war and an economic collapse. In 1984, it was World War III, the shattering of societies, and then global revolutions by brutalized people. How it happens always changes because the books themselves - like all speculative fiction - are always about the time period in which they are written.


message 25: by Vance (new)

Vance Huxley | 63 comments I write some dystopian, and yes, I do look at today and think 'what if that nutter, doomsayer or pedagogue gets their way?' The answers are sometimes not fit for publication, by me anyway. After all, the book should have a glimmer of hope in it? That durned optimism again.
These days coming up with a new idea isn't easy because there are (at least) a million people out there on social media already predicting most things. :-(
Though that does get more people thinking of dystopian, and doesn't stop us trying to write about it. :-)
Maybe that's why the genre has this recent boost?


message 26: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) I definitely think someone should write about the current nutter, or someone like him, getting into power. I think America is due for another dystopian tale, a la It Can't Happen Here or Swastika Night that makes people take a hard look at the state of politics and society.

But that's easy to say. Who's going to actually write it?


message 27: by Kevin (last edited Oct 06, 2016 07:50AM) (new)

Kevin Kuhn (kevinkuhn) | 45 comments I think a big part of what makes books interesting is conflict. And dystopian environments build in major conflict. When the author is able to layer character conflict on top of that it can be a very rich story. It's also a great way to explore issues by exaggerating the social issues. Dystopian maybe a little over done right now, but I still love it because it can create interesting, important stories. The best ones raise and explore the issues without attempting to wrap them up with a tidy bow.


message 28: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Hi Kevin, a good point.


message 29: by Steven (new)

Steven Moore Everyone,
I wrote a post on dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction yesterday on my blog. A summary: it can be the good, the bad, or the ugly (generally speaking, the "ors" are exclusive). We start by the world going to hell. The good = some brave souls make sure someone survives. The bad = there are some brave souls who want to make sure someone survives, but you don't know whether they succeed. The ugly = there are no brave souls left, and we're pretty sure no one survives.
Because these are generally considered sci-fi subgenres, the world that goes to hell doesn't even have to be this one! ;-)
r/Steve


message 30: by Matthew (last edited Oct 07, 2016 12:29PM) (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) Steven wrote: "Everyone,
I wrote a post on dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction yesterday on my blog. A summary: it can be the good, the bad, or the ugly (generally speaking, the "ors" are exclusive). We start ..."


Coincidence! I did the same a few years back, and it ended up spawning a whole series of posts. It seems like every few years, there's new material to comment on. And the timeless examples still bear commenting on since there's always the question of whether or not they came true.

It's also interesting to note how dystopian and utopian fiction are related. Utopian literature predates dystopian, and the latter was in many ways a commentary on the former, not to mention a criticism of attempts to make it come true.

Orwell famously commented on this in 1984, specifically in the Goldstein Manifesto. The way he saw it, utopian thinking was the product of a society where it was understood that such a thing was never possible - a sort of "opiate for the masses" in the same way that religion was. But at the very moment when human societies began to approach true equality, revolutionary movements mobilized to create anti-utopias.

Here are his exact words on that:

"In more primitive ages, when a just and peaceful society was in fact not possible, it had been fairly easy to believe it. The idea of an earthly paradise in which men should live together in a state of brotherhood, without laws and without brute labour, had haunted the human imagination for thousands of years... But by the fourth decade of the twentieth century all the main currents of political thought were authoritarian. The earthly paradise had been discredited at exactly the moment when it became realizable.”


message 31: by Steven (new)

Steven Moore Matthew,
Utopia is in the eyes of the beholder. It's said in the Declaration that "...all men are created equal...," which, besides being a sexist statement, is never true but carried to extremes in Brave New World's utopia. The pigs probably put it better, acknowledging that all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others, but the whole communist movement painted all their solutions as utopian to sway their followers.
Utopia is too often dystopia in sheep's clothing. I don't want all persons to be equal--how boring would that be, especially if it takes soma to achieve it? I want all persons to have equal opportunity to achieve their full potential and care about those who "fall through the cracks," because any human society will have flaws.
Unlike Orwell in the quote above, I don't think an "earthly paradise" has ever been realizable, and the chances that it will happen, however defined, is becoming less likely as the decades go by.
And that creates another question: is reaching a dystopian or post-apocalyptic situation a slow or speedy process? I claim it can be slow, but that doesn't fit well into one slim novel of fiction. ;-)
r/Steve


message 32: by Vance (new)

Vance Huxley | 63 comments Steven wrote: "Everyone,
I wrote a post on dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction yesterday on my blog. A summary: it can be the good, the bad, or the ugly (generally speaking, the "ors" are exclusive). We start ..."


True about the good, bad or ugly, but even then we have ugly (earth destroyed) with good (some few dragged off to durance vile, or as slaves, or escape as pirates....) Maybe some bad - are these survivors, warped over time, or new tenants, aliens?
Maybe that is part of the appeal, think of the worst that can happen, then try to find a glimmer of light?

Steven, that slow process works for post-apocalyptic as long as the apocalypse isn't documented straight off. I've got a couple simmering which are a long, long way after the apocalypse, long enough to forget it happened but there are hints in the story (make it a more or less complete story then if they work, more books and the slow reveal )

The trouble with utopian is that there are always barbarians - and sometimes they are the ones who think they are bringing utopia. Barbarians can be outside the walls, within the citadel (intelligentsia or disaffected) or manning the walls.
Utopian is pre-apocalypse, so should be part of dystopian in my humble opinion. (To help my head because there are too many genres :)


message 33: by Joanne (new)

Joanne I like Dystopian books but I like books that take place in a world where we survive though we struggle with the environmental disasters that happened. I really enjoyed Walking Dead graphic novels until they got too gross for me. I like them because the human race survives against odds and learns to work together.


message 34: by Matthew (last edited Nov 25, 2016 12:50PM) (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) Steven wrote: "Matthew,
Utopia is in the eyes of the beholder. It's said in the Declaration that "...all men are created equal...," which, besides being a sexist statement, is never true but carried to extremes i..."


Of course it is. And what seems utopian, or dedicated to that end, can turn on a dime. And the promise of utopianism is often just a ruse by those who are looking to recreate society in their own image. Hence why I said they are interrelated.

But Orwell wasn't saying an earthly paradise was possible, he was saying that true human equality was becoming a reality by the early 20th century. And this, he claims, was what motivated the rise of totalitarian philosophies in the 20th century. They emerged as movements designed to discredit equality when humanity was on the very edge of realizing it.

Also, I disagree that we are getting farther away from such a possibility. If anything, humanity as a whole is moving closer to equality than at any time in the past 300 years. Despite the recent election results and the set-backs of movements like Brexit - not to mention the enduring threat of Climate Change - things like extreme poverty, illiteracy, and totalitarian dictatorships are all in decline.


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