What's Up with the Dystopian Genre?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

If you've been reading books released in the past five years - particularly in the Young Adult demographic - you have been able to pick up on the fact that the Dystopian genre is alive and well. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; books in this genre have become classics (see 1984 and Fahrenheit 451). However, theres just so many of them that it can be hard to pick out the best ones.

I've read quite a few of these books. Some great, some not so great. However, I think I've found one thing that seems to make this genre really, really work: there's a focus on one hot-button issue, and it's amplified tenfold.

Let me explain.

Sure, Dystopian stories involve some kind of corrupt government, but what is it that they're enforcing? What's causing riots? What's causing the plot to happen?

Usually, it's a hot-button issue, whether it's something as absurd as gladiator-style games or as common as pollution. Or, it's the elimination of something society holds dear, whether material or emotional.

Dystopian stories seem to be the most successful when they focus on just one or two issues. Those issues are then amplified to a point of near-absurdity, and it's up to the protagonist to find a solution to the problem presented.

It's often that the protagonist has accepted the corrupt government or issue until their eyes are opened by catastrophe. It's also often that society has already tried to "fix" the problem, but they make it worse instead.

Here are some novels I've found that do just that:

  • The Hunger Games trilogy - focus on gladiator-style games among children and teens for the sake of "tradition"
  • Divergent - focus on eliminating freedom of thought and expression
  • The Selection series - focus on a corrupt caste system
  • Delirium - focus on the elimination of love from society (I haven't read this one, but I've heard great things about it)
I think that many novels in this genre cram in too many controversial issues into one story, and they try too hard to shock readers. I'm all for drawing emotions from readers, but there definitely comes a point where enough is enough. 

To clarify, I think it's okay to have issues spring up as a result of the primary problem, but I think that having too much controversy in a reader's face all at once can be overwhelming and can drown out the plot that the author is trying to put on paper.

Does this mean that all Dystopian novels that stick to one issue are the best ever? Not necessarily. Other factors come into play as well, like characterization, world-building, and - of course - the story itself.

I hope you enjoyed this rambling of mine about Dystopian fiction. Want to talk some more about it? Leave a comment! :)

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