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Dystopia is not a disease

Is it just me or has there been an increase in the number of books set “in a dystopian world”? I've been browsing the YA offerings for my older son, and the dystopian setting seems ubiquitous.

To be honest, I wasn't 100% sure I knew what dystopian meant, so I looked it up. It was pretty much what I imagined based on the prefix dys/dis and Utopia, but in case you're curious, according to the Mac Dictionary:

dystopia |disˈtōpēə| noun an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. The opposite of Utopia.

Movies like Mad Max, Total Recall, Minority Report, and Terminator (the future depicted in it) are examples of dystopian settings. I think the new genre called Steampunk (think Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) is feeding the trend, so we'll probably be seeing more dystopian books as the genre grows in popularity.

I've enjoyed some of the aforementioned movies, and my son is reading Leviathan right now, but the bleak, hopeless world really isn't my thing. It's just not the type of setting I want to write about. The required world-building would be similar to that of a sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal, I think. Again, not really my thing, but I do find the trends interesting.

What about you? Is a dystopian future (or past) in your future?

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    Gwen, I think your on to something here.

    For a really rank dystopian read try Cormac McCarthy’s ” The Road” This one is not for the faint of heart. In fact, I’ve been told there is a word of Grace at the end. I will probably never know. This is the one book and only book I ever quit on because I couldn’t deal with any more of it’s grief.

    So, include me out when it comes to a dystopian world. I’m more intrigued by the adventure of living rather than watching and waiting for the apocalypse.

    But, then again, I wouldn’t mind a short stories worth of scaring the daylights out of those hung up on the worry of what happens when the seventh seal is broken. 🙂

    My sweet wife just text me and told me to come to bed. LOL

    • Reply

      Okay, so now I have another book to avoid. 😉 I like how you put it, Curtis: “I’m more intrigued by the adventure of living rather than watching and waiting for the apocalypse.”

      I think that’s why I’m not a big fan of urban fantasy, or many of the paranormals out there right now.

  2. Reply

    I enjoy reading it, but I don’t see myself writing it any time soon. Some of the best YA books I’ve read in the past year have had dytopian settings — Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games books, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. But what pulled me in to all these novels was the way the characters reacted to their situations. It’s not all about the setting.

    • Reply

      Good point, Kathleen. Watching the characters overcome their circumstances can be uplifting. It probably depends on how it’s done. At least in a dystopian romance novel I’ll get the happy ending. =)

  3. Dunx


    I don’t like depressing novels either. I hated the Thomas Covenant books and regret reading them, and I would probably dislike The Road too based on Curtis’ description.

    However, to see any dystopian trend as wholly depressing is daft: there are lots of positive stories in the cyberpunk and steampunk genres (“Girl Genius”, for an example of the latter – I love that comic) and indeed I wonder if the term dystopian is too broadly applied. It almost seems that anything that isn’t pastoral is labelled dystopian.

    Could it be a simple science fiction vs fantasy dichotomy? I read recently (via Charles Stross, but I don’t think it was original to him) that science fiction is about change and disruption whereas fantasy is often about comforting return to an ideal past (he put it better here). Fond as I am of Tolkien, I would probably rather read near future SF.

    I’d rather write it too.

    • Reply

      Dunx, good point about the widespread–and possible–overuse of the term. I brought it up because I’m not sure how many readers even understand what it means. If it’s being universally applied, that may add to the confusion.

      Interesting post by Charles Stross, both for his point that you made above, and about his writing process. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Reply

    Interesting: Dystopian…I LIke it…
    For me, as you know, I like writing dark urban fantasy, because I love dangerous dark characters. I don’t want to write about real life, bleh. But in my worlds, good has to win…no matter what.

    Now, just because I said that, I sort of agree with you about the dystopian worlds that are being written…For example, f it is a bleak and hopeless world–is there a point of light? If there is none, I won’t read it. There has to be something there. Because even in the darkest of stories hope is what keeps me cheering for the main characters.

    What do you think?

    • Reply

      I definitely need the points of light. Really, regardless of setting, I want good to win. I want the happy (or at least satisfying) ending. I agree that having hope for the characters is a necessary element.

  5. Reply

    Yep, the HEA…a true necessity.
    I read a book recently where good won, but it was depressing. That made me sad. When good wins, I want fanfare! (hmm. I hope I can write what I preach)

  6. Reply

    I think I have to agree with MV. I can read dark urban fantasy or the like, but for me, there has to be a happy ending. The happy ending is my entire reason for reading romance and writing it.

  7. Christine


    Nope: don’t want to write it or read it. Who needs this kind of depression? And why put that negativity into the minds of our teens? Why feed that at all? But that’s just this girl’s opinion. I don’t mind a bit of “dystopian” elements as part of the big picture, but I need to see the protagonist WIN.

    I hope this is NOT the wave of the future.


    • Reply

      I hear you. Though, even in dystopian fiction, the protagonist may win. There are some post-apocalyptic romances out there, so they have to have some sort of HEA, right? But, yeah. Over all, not my favorite setting either.

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