Dystopian Fever

I, like many others of you, have been hooked on dystopian lit lately.  Even my husband, who reads fiction very sparingly, told me yesterday that he needs to finally get through Brave New World.  I told him I’d been thinking the exact same thing.  (I foresee a trip to the bookstore in our future!)  My friends who haven’t heard the term “dystopia” loved The Hunger Games and gush about it on facebook (the only reason I picked up the books in the first place, I am not a trendsetter).  Apparently dystopia is such a trend that even NPR is reporting on the explosion in dystopian lit being published.

So, the historian/cultural studies person in me asks… what is going on in this cultural moment* that makes post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories so appealing?

In the NPR article I linked to, Lauren Oliver, author of Delirium, is quoted saying that in dystopia lit, “The young protagonists are inheriting this kind of dark and broken world, and with a little bit of pluck and courage, try to navigate it and try to salvage some kind of a happy ending. And I do think there’s a lot of parallels to how young people kind of feel nowadays as they’re confronting this future that’s very uncertain in this country economically and they’re inheriting what they see as kind of a broken world.”

I agree with Oliver’s assertion that dystopian lit is appealing because of the economic uncertainty of our times. In addition, I would add to the list of reasons why dystopian lit fits right now our increasing dependence on technology and our increasing awareness of environmental issues, social inequality, and political nonsense.  It doesn’t seem that far-fetched right now to imagine our world being destroyed as a result of greed, social or political upheaval, environmental ruin, or technological disaster.  There are a multitude of contemporary issues– unemployment, political polarization, women’s reproductive rights, energy supplies, fracking, the higher education bubble, social inequality, big government, religious freedom– that could, if taken to their extremes, drastically change the way we live now.  What would happen if we let these things get the worst of us?  Dystopian lit offers some cringe-worthy answers, for sure. I like to think, though, that most dystopian tales are also empowering and hopeful.

Dystopian protagonists have their work cut out for them.  People they love die.  People they love are lost to them.  They have to grow up too quickly.  They face life-threatening situations.  They have to make choices that no one envies. But often there is a glimmer of hope in seeing these young heroes fight the establishment, fight for right, and fight to heal their broken world.  These are young people standing up for what they believe in!  These are young people fighting to make a difference no matter the personal cost!  Those are some pretty awesome heroes and role models, if you ask me.  Who doesn’t want to imagine that the human spirit and love can persist even in the most daunting circumstances?

So while we may relate to dystopian lit because it portrays a world similar to our own, I think we love it because it presents us with some really worthy heroes and gives us all a little hope that we can mend the problems we face today.

What do you think?  Why are we so fond of dystopian lit right now?  Is this a trend you are in on or are you hoping for it to pass quickly?  What are your favorite dystopian novels?

And if you are looking for even more books to satisfy your dystopian fever, here is a list of Hunger Games Readalikes that I found helpful!

*I just want to be up front and say that I write my opinions as an American, so some of my conclusions may not ring true for other parts of the world.

7 thoughts on “Dystopian Fever

  1. I think the fever is because we live in a dystopian world. And isn’t literature really a reflection of society? I don’t mean to sound negative, but I think it’s time for us to question. Aren’t most of the characters in such novel unaware of the injustice of the system and sort of given up on looking at the world in a free-thinking manner?
    The media today is the weapon the government uses, just like in The Hunger Games. I like the trilogy, although I realize just like many people that most of it is “inspired” by greater dystopian novels.
    I would say, without a shadow doubt, that my favorite dystopian novel, thus far, would be The Giver by Lois Lowry. I haven’t read 1984 yet, but I have it on my shelf and will be reading it soon. It might become my favorite after all…

    • I definitely agree that we are seeing more dystopia these days because there is SO much disillusionment with the way the world is working today, especially among young people. I hope you enjoy 1984… I am also hoping to get to it soon!

  2. I agree with most any logical conclusion for why its suddenly so popular now. But, personally, dystopic genre asks me to look at who I am on an almost anamilistic level. Am I a survivor or am I the type to lie down and say it’s too hard and painful and I don’t want to fight it? And if I am a survivor, what kind am I? Will I go off on my own, with just my family and a few people I trust, will I search for a large, established population that might give me sense of normalcy (government, economy, etc.)? Will I plunder and steal and kill, do anything to survive? It’s a great platform for personal review. Hopefully, I’ll never be forced to answer those questions in reality. But its fun to speculate.

    Recommended dystopic reading: You must start with 1984 by Orwell, of course. Also: Dies the Fire by S.M.Stirling, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, World War Z by Max Brooks, The Stand by Stephen King….I’ll stop now.

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