Saturday, August 7, 2010

Dystopian Reader Views - What fascinates you about the genre?

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.


bermudaonion said...

I love this post and think everyone brought out great points! I don't read a lot of dystopia but found that I agreed with each comment!

Heather said...

It's definitely the "what if" factor for me, too. Since we won't really be around to see the world in 100 or 500 years, it's fascinating to see how different people guess it will turn out - and there are endless possibilities. I think this goes hand-in-hand with world-building, too. Every little thing has to be laid out perfectly and explained, it's so difficult but when done well it sucks you in. I also think the warning element plays a factor - to me, the most compelling dystopian books are the ones that take some element of our current society and blow them to the most extreme, letting us see what things could be like if we do nothing.

Amanda said...

Well you know how much I love dystopia! Even if I got burned out on it for awhile, it's still one of my favorite genres. I'm not sure I can adequately explain in a paragraph why, though. And part of it has to do with writing and what I love to write. So it's all just big and mixed up. Anyway. Love it. :)

christina said...

have a sorta love/hate relationship with dystopians. For awhile there every dyslit book I was reading sucked the big one. So I stopped. And I told myself "same story, different author". Eventually I pulled myself out of the rut and found some really enjoyable ones. (For instance, I would love to teach Hunger Games!)

Overall what I enjoy is the prospect that this might happen as well as good discussion on what it means to be human, how far can humanity go, and what is evil.

Mrs. DeRaps said...

For me, it's the social commentary aspect. I think that there are so many problems in our world, but we're so defensive about these problems that we can't work together to fix them. When you read about an alternate reality that has a bit of the same problem (poverty, disease, corrupt governments) it is easier think about solutions.

I like to make parallels between the issues presented in dystopian novels and our current world. For instance, in The Hunger Games series, I thought a lot about the impact of reality television on our psyche. Are we desensitized to the suffering of others because we see it all the time on TV? Or, are we more aware of reality for people that we don't come into contact with on a regular basis? (I think that it's a mixture of both.)

I think that I could go on and on here, and I probably should've just written a post on my blog. But, I love reading dystopias and love thinking about the commentary that these authors are making about our society.

Mrs. DeRaps said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alessandra said...

I agree with everyone. Great opinions. For me, it's a bit of everything, but especially the social commentary and discovering what it really means to be human.

Carla said...

Can I just say....I LOVE this post.

Dystopia is one of my favourite genres because I think it takes a lot for an author to decide to write about a world they made up in their head, and to see how that world is built on a page just fascinates me. I love how some of them are deeply rooted in reality, whereas others can be so far feteched and seem a little daunting and strange, but still manage to work amazingly well.

My favourite thing?? Getting insight into the authors own mind on what they think the future may very well be like, and the fact that most dystopian novels I read still have some sense of society.

One book that comes to mind is Uglies, because this book really made me think about myself and how I see future generations being affected by cosmetic surgery and the need to be aesthetically beautiful. And thats what I love, that it made me think so much about how far people are willing to go for vanity. And that a world where everyone is beautiful in a certain way, is definitely something that *could* happen. It certainly shed some light on what I think Mr Westerfeld thinks of cosmetic surgery.

Sorry for the babbling!!!

Emily said...

My favorite dystopian novels are ones that emphasize the use of skills and problem solving to overcome troubles- I remember reading a book awhile ago (I wish I could remember which one) and thinking to myself that a common element of dystopian fiction, at least in YA dystopian fiction, seems to be the ability to ply a trade or do manual labor. I think it's hard for many folks to imagine having to hunt or grow all their own food out of necessity, barter for trade, deliver a baby, set a broken leg, or whatever- our societies are set up so that most people don't do these things for themselves. Oftentimes characters have to work on just meeting basic needs before they can work on addressing the bigger issues in the society they live in, and I find that journey to be a fascinating one to read about.

Autumn said...

Things that interest me are what are ultimately important. What skills and abilities would the average person need to survive? Do my family and I have the skills needed to survive a major catastrophe? I'm not a fatalist or anything but I do like to be prepared.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Heather - It does fascinate me to find out how an author of dystopia approached the topic. Is it something they think might happen? Or are they really just experimenting with the form and writing pure speculation?

Amanda - I know! Sometimes I can't really express it either, especially when people say they can't believe I could ENJOY such dark topics.

Lenore Appelhans said...

christina - Now I really want to know which books you were reading that sucked the big one! I find myself usually finding at least something worthwhile even in the mediocre books in the genre. Of course I prefer the great ones!

Mrs DeRaps - Totally agree. It's so much easier to talk about certain issues when they are framed in a fictional way.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Carla - thanks :) The creativity that goes into dystopian lit is another part of it I love, for sure.

Emily - It does seem that characters who have practical skills tend to survive the longest!

Lenore Appelhans said...

Autumn - I hear you! Even though the Moon Triology books weren't my favorite, they did make me want to stock up on water bottles and canned food. I know a lot of people had the same reaction.

TexasRed said...

Great post. I've definitely gotten more into gardening and knowing where my food is coming from after reading some S.M. Sterling books.

Also, I think dystopian fiction gives us a chance to strip away the red tape and thousands of little stresses and worries that we deal with every day and experience a world where the day's biggest threat/ stress is much bigger.

Zibilee said...

I loved the answers you got to this question! I can agree with a lot of these, and some gave me pause and made me think. It's interesting that so many people came up with such different aspects of why they love dystopian lit. I admit I am a newbie to the genre, but it's kind of exciting to think there are so many great things to read and think about in my future!

Emily said...

A lot of it is strength of character like Serena said. Are you the type of person that would hide in a corner while the oppressive government raged on? Or would you stand up and fight?

I can't wait to see more of these answers.

Serena said...

I really liked reading everyone's perspective on this question...this is such a great idea.

Cecelia said...

Great post! I know I'm late to the party, but I loved reading everyone's reactions to this question. So many reasons why people like dystopian lit! And all of them valid and interesting. Awesome discussion, Lenore!