Abandoned buildings, tough
urban landscapes…dystopian paradise.
Young adult and teen lit tends to follow trends, and now that vampire-mania has died down just a tad, I think we’re in the midst of a dystopian craze. It seems like every cool book for young readers coming out these days is all about some dark and frightening vision of the future, when kids are forced to hunt each other (Hunger Games) or get plastic surgery to look good (Uglies and Pretties), or something equally disturbing. It’s gotten me wondering what readers, and teen readers in particular, love about dystopian fiction. I know I was always fascinated with it myself; I re-read the personal favorite Z for Zachariah, about a post-nuclear world, probably ten times. Let’s not forget greats like Ender’s Game or classics like 1984. So what’s the deal? Why does dystopian fiction push our buttons?
A world where our ethics are pushed to the limit
I think the big appeal has something to do with experiencing a world of extremes, a world where our moral convictions and lofty ideas are actually put to the test. In an extreme dystopian world, our theoretical ideas about the military or the government, about sexual freedom or religious issues, are actually being tested. They’re worlds in which our worst-case scenarios, our visions of an absolute nightmare, are reality. In reality, politicians might pass a law that only negatively impacts a tiny group in the population. But what if everyone was affected by the law? It would be so much clearer if the law were just or unjust.
Dystopian worlds carry messages in them.
That’s the inevitable side-effect of a dystopian world: it tells us things about our own reality. It can critique the worst parts of our society, or draw attention to an issue that you didn’t even know was an issue. I think that’s why I’ll continue to love dystopian fiction; unlike some genres of fantasy I won’t name (think sharp teeth and immortality), it is connected to and critical of our world. It’s not wish fulfillment; it’s the promise of our worst nightmares. And we’re all the better for reading it.