A major part of the community aspect of Dystopian August is finding out what fellow dystopian readers - whether they be newbies, junkies or somewhere in between - think about the genre. When I sent out a call for help with the project, I got such a great response, I realized that Dystopian Reader Views could be a series. Today I want to talk about why we read dystopian and post-apocalyptic lit.
Personally, I love the genre because I love high concept premises. The more a novel makes me ask the question "How the heck is the author going to pull THIS off?", the more excited about it I am. And the best ones in the genre, in my opinion, are the ones that did pull off a high concept premise because they backed it up with not only what every good novel needs - logical world building, great storytelling and characters I can connect with - but also because they explore hot-button issues and/or universal themes within a constructed context that is far enough away from us that we feel comfortable discussing it but still close enough that we feel like taking some sort of action.
Here's what other readers (and writers, who are also readers) had to say:
It's about the "what if?" - Diana Peterfreund, Author
I've written about this on my blog. I think it's the chance to recast the world. You can explore "what if" to the nth degree, without the framework of our society -- oh, they have cell phones, they have vaccines, they have jet planes. It's like a little biodome for you to experiment with the human condition. What would we be like if we existed in this condition? When creating the post-apocalyptic world for my 2011 novel, I had to answer questions like "what happened after they realized what was coming next?" and "how would society go about protecting themselves?" and "how far-reaching is this society? Is there anything 'outside?'
A new perspective - Julie @jflamingo2
To be completely honest, I didn’t think I liked dystopian literature at first. I am new to this genre and I had tried to read several books and I felt that I just couldn’t relate or “get into it.” I realize now that I was most likely giving up a few pages too early. I had a friend at the time who really loved dystopian lit and I loved hearing her talk about it. Soon, it peaked my interest and I found myself researching different dystopian books and wondering where to start. A young adult book club that I started attending at the library actually introduced several dystopian books to me and that is where my fascination with dystopian lit started. I am fascinated with how these authors create these worlds that feel and seem like I’ve known them already. It causes me to question and ponder what I know in my world. I gives me a new perspective through the character’s eyes facing challenges that feel as real as my own. All of this, combines for a unique reading experience with dystopian lit that I really love!
The little things we take for granted - Jen Arnold @littlejennywren
I’m pretty adverse to change and bad news, so it is a little odd that I love dystopian lit as much as I do...I think it is because in most dystopian lit, no matter how much the world as we know it has changed, no matter how depressing things have become, there are always still a few bright spots to hold onto... love, friendship, hope. Dystopian lit seems to hold onto these things even when everything else has been changed or wiped away - I love that. I’m fascinated by the way that characters in dystopian lit can be comforted by little things that we take for granted. Drinking can of Coca-Cola is nothing out of the ordinary for us, but in a post-apocalyptic world, it is a luxury that might help you get through the day, week, year. Dystopian lit helps me appreciate the little things.
Strength of character - Serena @SavvyVerseWit
I've always been interested in the tough situations people find themselves in and how they deal with it. You can tell the strength of a person or in this case character by how well they adapt to the dystopian world. It is also interesting to see how people who have known nothing else by a dystopian world have visions of a better place and what they try to do to achieve that ideal.
A cracked mirror of our world - Lorin
I really like reading about a world that is like ours but different. In some ways, it's the same reason I like science fiction and fantasy (of which there is much overlap with dystopian fiction), I think. There's nothing like holding a cracked mirror up to our world to see what is true in the reflection. My husband gave a great answer to a similar question in his review of THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin - he talked about how dystopian fiction is a reminder of how fragile society is, and how it raises the question of what would you do if things got really bad.
A peek at what's to come - Sya @splendibird
I think that I have a bit of a morbid fascination with how things might turn out in the future. The human race seem to be doing so many terrible things to each other and the planet that I can't see it all being a bed of roses 50 years down the line. I guess I just want a heads up!
A warning for humanity - Amy H. Sturgis, Author
I appreciate the warnings inherent in dystopian literature. They may be as specific as warning about allowing a governmental policy or practice to continue unchecked, or as general as warning about ignoring the potential destructiveness of a natural disaster. At the heart of all of these warnings, I think, are critiques of human nature, from the human tendency to be corrupted by power to the human tendency to assume someone else will fix the world's problems. Although these literary worlds may appear dark and frightening and bleak, I find the dystopian tradition ultimately to be a hopeful one. After all, we don't give warnings unless there is time to avoid what lies ahead. A warning implies there is still time to act.
Embracing what it means to be human - Carrie Kitzmiller
First of all, I've always been fascinated by the future - and the way technology and scientific advances will change the way that we live. The conflict between science and the value of human life and quality of living. Also, I love the way dystopian lit embraces the part of humankind that keeps us going even in the midst of the darkest of times.
The social commentary - Jennifer
What I’ve always found fascinating about dystopian lit, especially dystopian lit of the mid-20th century, is how intuitive so many of the authors are about society and humanity. For example, whenever I read Fahrenheit 451 (and I reread it every year when I teach it to my freshmen), I am continually amazed at how much closer our world has moved to Montag’s world. Dystopian lit can provide social commentary that is sharper and more affecting than contemporary-set lit, because it’s easy to say That’s not what we are but far less so to say That’s what we could be.
World building - Steph Su @stephxsu
You have to do so much world-building in such a small amount of space and time--like, right at the beginning, and it has to be a world that is a plausible future for us. Dystopian doesn't merely mean a future world with systemic things gone wrong: it's an incredibly detailed genre in which every word and detail literally counts
The range of reactions - Celia
I think dystopian lit tries to answer the question of what humans ultimately do when their back is against the wall. We want to see them act nobly. We want them to find the best system for society (if we believe that is possible). But we know in the back of our heads that that is not necessarily reality. It's also interesting to see a range of reactions. Some people love structure - we all know one or two people who would fit in a dystopian authority hierarchy really well. It's imagining the possible outcomes and reactions that make me come back over and over to the genre.
So what about you? Agree? Disagree? Tell us what fascinates you about dystopian/post-apocalytpic fiction - 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! Alternatively, you can also tell us why you DON'T read it, if that's the case.