The Draw of Dystopian Fiction

The world of literature is currently experiencing a wonderful resurgence of dystopian fiction. Many classic novels are set against futuristic new world orders, such as 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale and A Wrinkle in Time, but given our current awareness of developing technologies, social media and government investigation, writers are finding themselves with endless new scope for gripping dystopian fiction that could one day become our reality.

Many feel we are getting closer and closer to a world not dissimilar to that of 1984. The media is filled with tales of surveillance and spies –  a total lack of privacy, and crossed with the instability of politics, the economy and society in general, our future is living up to be a bit of a scary place. Where will it go? The possibility of that is perfect for writers, and those with social awareness and a vivid imagination are coming up absolutely gripping novels that engage the reader and leave them dwelling on the future for days afterwards.

Two of the most obvious examples of modern dystopian fiction would be the Hunger Games and the Divergent trilogies. Both have been adapted into films and are set in the remains of what used to be North America. Divergent sees its society divided into five factions, depending on the personality type of each individual. It is organised and overly structured, terrifying and bound to implode. Dystopian novels usually see some sort of uprising from rebellious protagonists who don’t want to be controlled. The plots play highly on fear, a lack of freedom and the forbidding of unique thought. It is in human nature to fight back against the controlling acts of others, and this makes for some fantastic fiction!

I’m not sure about others, but for me, dystopia is like the big red button we know we shouldn’t push, but can’t help ourselves. It’s a potential glimpse at the future, much like the wonderful retro futurist fiction and comic books of the fifties and sixties. We’re fascinated by the possibility of what Earth will be like when we are long gone. It is a potential end to the problems we are facing and trying to deal with now. We are relating to and empathising with what we read. We live with the constant threat of war and bombs – many of these novels are post-apocalyptic, set long after society has crumbled and been rebuilt. The stories absorb our imaginations, totally captivating that one thought – ‘what if?’

In spite of all this though, it’s amazing to read and write about! In our modern age, we have a lot knowledge of the technology that exists, and what will likely be invented in the years to come. This enables us to be creative with our story telling. I love the genre myself – my second novel will be set in a dystopian England, and as I imagine the world I have created, I can’t help but notice the slight fear I have inside because this could happen. Our planet is always changing and evolving, and with the rise of technology and all the different forms of new media, increased surveillance and a growing lack of privacy, what our world evolves into may come pretty close to the dystopian worlds we read about.

I think this is the main reason the genre has once again grown to become so popular – it feels like we are getting closer to what we are reading about. As booklovers we look for stories that grip us, but while we may never find ourselves at odds or in love with vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures, the threat of the future is extremely real, and this is what adds to draw of it all. Those worlds could be ours one day, and that’s a frightening thought. Our 21st century themes are rife with those featured in dystopian novels – media saturation, control, consumerism, the importance of status, and the fact that people are noticing and writing about these parallels is leading a whole new generation of awake and aware readers to really start thinking about the world we live in and how we could develop a better future for those to come.

Christina Crook
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