Monday, December 31, 2012

Dystopia- What is and Isn't

This week, we're reading Starters by Lissa Price, a definite dystopia.  So what really makes a book fall into the category of dystopia? 

This is one of those times I get to apply real life experiences to this blog.  Just over a year ago, I was working on a NaNo novel with zombies.  At the time, I worked with a bunch of engineers (they were all ridiculous smart and so I felt really dumb on a daily basis, despite my bachelors degree and being well read.) So I was telling some of the engineers about my novel and described it as a dystopia.  

To which the response was, "What's a dystopia?"  The fastest way to explain was, "The opposite of a Utopia."  That's the day I was Smarter Than an Engineer.

However, dystopia is so much MORE than that.  For instance, especially in literature, there's no such thing as a true utopia.  Usually, we see a utopia at first, but then we discover "at least one fatal flaw" as Wikipedia explains it.  The Giver is a great example of this.  We know that everyone is equal and everything is the same and there are no colors or really, anything exciting.  We soon learn that no one gets old because they're killed before they can get too old and no one has any choice.  Fatal Flaw.

Dystopias also can include governments that control everything.  They're governments that control every last aspect and make their subjects fear death on a daily basis, and that's how they keep control.  The most widely known example of this is 1984, and all where the reference "big brother is watching" comes from.

Sometimes, dystopias just involve a lot of bad luck, or some major event happening, putting a huge economic gap in the world.  Whether it be disease or nuclear holocausts.  Octavia Butler's Parables series has this set up.  The world has fallen into economic and natural ruin, and so they are constantly on the run, constantly worried about being attacked.

We have even see examples of dystopias in real life.  If you think about it, the Holocaust, in its most early years had many characteristics.  It seemed as if Germany was improving vastly economically and that Hitler was doing a lot of good for the country... until of course everyone found out that he was murdering Jews, African-Americans and the disabled, trying to create a "perfect" world.

This is part of what makes dystopian novels so very scary: we can easily see them coming true.  That was the entire premise of 1984; Orwell believed that just thirty years after it was published, the world would be controlled by the government, like it was in his novel.  In fact, the most prevalent discussion of the book is if our society has become the one Orwell painted in his novel.

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