There’s Something About Dystopian

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The popularity of dystopian novels has grown astronomically over the last couple of years, and you can’t help but wonder why when you consider the subject matter. Why would anyone want to read about flawed societies or government oppression? Don’t we get enough of that in real life?

Some people worry about the effect these stories are having on the Young Adult crowd, and I won’t deny there are a lot of negatives in dystopian stories—deceit, oppression, violence. But there’s also an incredibly powerful and positive story element they have in common: self-sacrifice. More often than not, one person is the key to saving humanity (usually from itself). One person chooses to do the right thing even if it means losing his or her life.

We all want to believe there’s a hero lurking inside of us and that, if it came down to it, we would be able to do the right thing, the hard thing. One person can make a difference. It’s the possibility offered in the middle of dark circumstances that’s so attractive in dystopian stories. Those flawed societies look a lot like the one we live in, and we want to believe that as individuals and a society we can change.

There’s something about dystopian that makes us take a closer look at ourselves and the world around us. So yeah, it’s going to be a little dark and uncomfortable at times, but self-examination is a good place for change to start, and maybe that’s why dystopian is so popular. We know the world isn’t perfect, and we’re looking for the hero inside of us who will step up and make a difference.

©2012 Kim Vandel

7 thoughts on “There’s Something About Dystopian

  1. Good thoughts. Personally, before I ever heard of the word “dystopian” I prefered large scale stories where big stakes are in the balance. Just reading a romance doesn’t do it for me. Big stakes are not unique to dystopian, but books like The Hunger Games certainly do it well.

  2. I think there’s a strong desire in young adults these days to figure out how to live when everything they’ve been used to (electricity, infrastructure, etc.) disappears. Dystopian novels cause us to question our own hearts. How would I react in that situation? What would I do to provide for my family if life changed drastically? These sorts of thought are on the rise in kids these days. They sense that the way we’re living right now can’t go on forever. Are they right?

    1. I think they might be right. I also think they’re at the age where they’re naturally questioning everything they’ve been told, and they want to figure it out for themselves. That could be a very good thing. We need all the help we can get.

  3. There’s a new TV series, Revolution, starting in the fall. Focus is after the whole world loses electric power. Personally, I don’t care for dystopian stories. Too often the plot is about the societal failures (govt corruption, bands of marauders, people imprisoned on some island or underground). Have to say, though, I’m enjoying listening to the Hunger Games audio books, and I think it’s because the characters are so vivid. It becomes THEIR story, rather than characters reacting to the external situation.

    1. I completely agree. It’s making the story personal that really pulls you in. I’ve seen the advertisements for Revolution, and I think it’s another sign of how popular the dystopian genre is right now. We’ll see whether or not the writers go for the smaller, personal stories.

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