Dystopian books in both YA and adult literature have been riding a wave of popularity for a long time now. There was a bit of a downturn during the Obama administration, but as Christian Holub says, Thanks to President Trump, dystopian novels are popular again.
I predict this summer’s wildfires will lead to a surge of new books like The Water Knife and New York 2140. Stephen Quinn wrote a dystopian short story about living in Vancouver, B.C., only it wasn’t set in the future: “Behind him another blood-red sun was rising through the haze of smoke.” With skies like the ones many of us have seen this summer, who isn’t thinking post-apocalyptically?
Holub states, “Most of the famous dystopian novels are critiquing a specific utopian ideal.” In other words, the utopian ideas (like communism) came first, and the dystopian counter-arguments (like 1984) came next. I don’t think that’s true anymore.
Now the dystopian visions are inspired by the news. “Dystopia used to be a fiction of resistance; it’s become a fiction of submission, the fiction of an untrusting, lonely, and sullen twenty-first century,” says Jill Lepore in A Golden Age for Dystopian Fiction.
I don’t agree with Lepore. How is The Hunger Games not a fiction of resistance? And New York 2140 has an essentially positive post-apocalyptic viewpoint: Yes, New York is inundated, but hey! It’s New York — they adapt and keep on keepin’ on.
It only recently occurred to me that my SF mystery, Matriarchs: Eliza’s Revenge could also be considered dystopian/ utopian. It involves a female-led resistance group who abandoned Earth for a new planet. They make some horrendous decisions along the way and their new utopia needs major revisions, which my protagonist has to acknowledge and initiate.
So, why are these stories, from The Hunger Games to Ready Player One so popular?
I think it’s because we are scared
I think it’s because we are hopeful.
Jason Heller says they are “cathartic,” but I think it’s more than that. It’s not just a release of pressure — it’s a belief, a claim, a fist shaken at the heavens, saying, “We can still do this!”
If even half of what the scientists claim is true, we are headed for “epic” trouble. Anyone watching the news in August and September saw millions displaced by floods while nearly as many fled flames. Anyone would be bound to wonder whether we can get through this.
Speculative fiction writers create doomsday scenarios and show how they can be changed. Where there is an apocalypse, there is also a savior, and whether your savior is called Superman or Katniss, the story is still one of hope. Whether through revolution or sheer persistence, we shall overcome.
Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash