Monday, February 28, 2011
Dystopian, the New Reality
I'll admit that I'm a little late to the dystopian bandwagon (although I just bought Delirium and I'm about to start The Hunger Games!) It's not for lack of trying though; my 2nd novel (as in, the one I'm writing...well, that I was writing...long story...irrelevant) is a mash-up of dystopian and science fiction, nothing groundbreaking but it's been incredibly satisfying to write.
So what is it about dystopian that makes it so fascinating to read and write? I've been tossing this question around in my free time the last few weeks, and the best conclusion I've come to is this: it's not an escape.
What? you might be thinking. Reading is all about escape! I would agree to the extent that reading takes us out of the real world and lets us experience something completely different. Paranormal is certainly an escape, with its tales of fantastic and eerily evil creatures. It's scary, it's fun, it's romantic. Contemporary provides a sort of vicarious experience for those of us who didn't ever spend a summer at the beach or have to decide who's heart to break at prom. Historical takes us back to the past, allowing us to live in a simpler time...I could go on and on about all the genres in between. But I maintain that dystopian isn't so much an escape but a manageable way for us to deal with our own realities.
We may not live in societies as extreme as those in books such as Divergent, Matched or Bumped, but there are still a lot of scary things going on in the world today, from war and famine to corruption and disease. It's hard to focus on those things without being overwhelmed, and dystopian provides just enough distance between the reader and the subject so that the topic can be explored without completely crushing any ability to rationally process thoughts and information. Of course, we're not being forced to procreate as teens or fight to survive or choose the course of the rest of our lives at 16, but the themes that support those plots exist today, enacted in lesser forms
Fiction is a safe medium to explore hard topics, not just because of distance, but because there are many opportunities to present different sides and shades, if you will, of an issue. Sometimes the point of a novel isn't to persuade the reader of a certain opinion but to allow them to acknowledge an issue. Dystopian fiction is gaining ground because teens and young adults and not-so-young adults are hungry to explore the political landscape, gather the facts and form an opinion in a medium that is comfortable, where we're not being told what to think but rather being encouraged to think.
Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Maybe it's just that paranormal has had its day, and it's time for a new villain. Maybe avaricious corporations and ruthless governments are the new vampires and werewolves...but I don't think so.
What do you think? Why is dystopian fiction becoming so popular?
And just for fun, what are your favorite dystopian novels? (I need suggestions!)