Dystopian fiction has become one of the most popular genres of storytelling, in both film and literature, for the young adult demographic. Contemporary mega-sellers such as the Hunger Games and Divergent series are examples of the genre’s success commercially in all forms, including books, blockbuster films, and video game adaptations.
Dystopian fiction is not a new genre, Sir Thomas More’s novel Utopia, written in 1595, and available here, began the development of dystopian fiction. Dystopia tends to be a subjective variation evolving from More’s concept of Utopia with one person’s dystopia being another’s Utopia. The book was written just before the outbreak of the Reformation, during the time when the stresses and corruption that led to the Reformation were swelling toward conflict. It depicts what its narrator, Raphael Hythloday, claimed to be an ideal human society, the island of Utopia. The book was a huge success, vaulting More into renown, and not only founding a literary tradition but lending that tradition its name, the utopian novel. Though in the book, the author attempts to describe a perfect, ideal human society, the tradition founded by Utopia is so powerful that it seems to have obscured Utopia itself.
In the context of contemporary YA literature, still political in nature, Dystopian fiction tends to describe a world in which people are dehumanized and live in a state of constant fear and oppression. Typically occurring in the near-future as a result of a cataclysmic destruction of society by war, political revolution or environmental catastrophe, these universes are often emblematic of the worst kinds of organized society occurring in the real world. Fascist governments engaging in censorship, torture and propaganda usually stand as an ever-present danger to the protagonist(s) as they fight for freedom from their oppressors. George Orwell’s 1984 is an example of dystopian literature and considered one of the greatest books of all time being referred to routinely in political opinions, coining the word “Orwellian” in describing measures that are considered antithetical to the welfare of free society.
Dystopian literature is popular because it allows authors to express realistic concepts in a fictional setting. Instead of directly expressing caution about the societal conditions that inspire dystopias, authors establish their protagonists as victims of extreme versions of oppressive systems. The struggle that the protagonist tends to go through adds the human element to the broader socio-political commentary the author is making, and by doing so encourages readers to think about concepts they may not have ordinarily considered, think Katniss Everdeen’s struggle to survive motivated by the desire to protect her sister. Young adult incarnations of dystopian fiction are valuable not only as entertainment but as a means of communicating important ideas to a highly receptive audience.
If you find the genre of dystopia intriguing, keep your eye out for Region A by Sarah St George. Region A is a dystopian young adult fiction published by Typology and set for release early 2017.
Written with assistance from Typology Publishing Intern, James Russell.