“What validates fiction is plausibility, which it creates for itself, most notably through accurate, honest observation of the world it creates. This created world is of course more or less directly related to and dependent on the actual, factual world outside the book.” Ursula K. LeGuin
For me to really get lost in a story, I have to believe in the plausibility of the world the author presents. That doesn't mean, of course, that everything has to work according to the rules of our actual, non-fictional world. But if the story is set in our world, then I need the author to convince me that the implausible things happening in the story are happening for a reason.
Dystopian works often take a modern issue and magnify it through the lense of fiction, and this is always most satisfying when I can actually imagine such a scenario occuring. But a plausible scenario can quickly turn implausible if all the details don't compute.
In Z FOR ZACHARIAH, Robert O'Brien presents a world where automic bombs have destroyed (at least) the Eastern US. That's a plausible scenario. Into this devastation however, he places a girl living in an untouched valley that appears to have it's own contained ecosystem, with clouds untouched by radiation, and no explanation for its existence. Is that plausible? No.
In CARBON DIARIES 2015, Saci Lloyd imagines that the UK decides to move to strict carbon rationing for all of its citizens. I can see that. What I can't see though, is the UK government being efficient enough to actually install all of those machines that count people's carbon usage. And even if they could, the effort would be so expensive, I couldn't see them justifying the cost.
Of course, even when a scenario is implausible, the author can still tell a good, satisfying story if they stick to the rules they create and have characters reacting in ways that feel authentic.
I asked readers of dystopian lit what dystopian/ post apocalyptic scenarios they found most plausible and least plausible in their reading. Here are some of their responses.
Of the dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels I've read I'd say that Marsden's Tomorrow series is most plausible. The story of teenagers hiding away from and rebelling against the military forces that have begun to occupy their country is absolutely something I could see happening in real life. There's nothing fantastical (ie: mystical or supernatural) about it it's just flat out real. - Michelle Franz @galleysmith
I think LUCIFER'S HAMMER by Larry Niven is incredibly plausible. Niven presents the world pre-, during-, and post-comet realistically, where some people rise to the occasion, some turn frightening bad, and the majority have no idea what to do. - Jennifer
RESTORING HARMONY by Joelle Anthony - running out of oil seems VERY plausible. - Swapna Krishna
The most plausible to me, I think would have to be a world stripped of resources, where people have to forage and fend for themselves against each other in order to survive. I think there are a lot of ways this could happen. - Heather Figearo
I find the ones where some disease has wiped out people or created a form of zombie or killer to be the most plausible - diseases seem to be mutating and cropping up more regularly than ever these days. Another plausible scenario is natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes killing off large numbers of people. - Amy McKie
I think the ones where governments seize too much power are most plausible, such as AMONG THE HIDDEN. Beth Revis, Author @bethrevis
A little of both
I just read LIFE AS WE KNEW IT, and I think it can fit both categories. I think what happens to the moon is the least plausible. However, it was amazing to see how quickly societal structures broke down. I think that the effects from natural disasters, if a lot of them happened at once on a global scale could realistically cause such break down if they were numerous and extreme enough (the volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and weather changes along with lack of electricity and fuel). - Alyce @athomewithbooks
CITY OF EMBER'S underground city is not plausible at all, but one can dream. - Lija
Much as I love reading zombie novels, I don't think the physics of it works. Ditto for the magically induced apocalypses in books like PEEPS and THE LAST DAYS (though again, I love those!) - Diana Peterfreund, Author
One of the ones that's the least plausible is actually THE HUNGER GAMES. I love, love, love the series, but I don't think I can possibly imagine a government ever forcing children into battle like that, or a society that accepts it for as long as they do in HG. But I think there are a lot of other true things in the book, like how the Capitol district has power and money and none of the others do, or how the Capitol rewards and favors the Districts that give them their favorite goods. Maybe I just don't want to imagine a world where something like that could ever happen. - Heather Trese @HeatherTrese
The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld is least plausible. I don’t think humans would be content experiencing pleasure 24/7 and living in a city. There are too many free spirits that love hard work and the mountains. -Emily Ellsworth @emsreadingroom
FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH is one that is least plausible because there hasn't been any explanation as to why people have turned into zombies. Is it spontaneous? In the books, it's spread if bitten - but who was patient zero? How did (s)he become infected? If I had that info then I could maybe see some reality to the story - but until then its just a fun piece of fiction. - Gail @Irisheyz77
What about you? Which scenarios do you find particularly plausible or implausible? Was a plausible scenario ruined for you by implausible details in the story? Was an implausible scenario made more real for you by the author's attention to detail in the world building? Tell me either in the comments OR you are welcome to write a post about it on your own blog and link to it in the comments for us all to read!