Warning: this will most likely end up being a lengthy blog entry.
I have come to the realization that I take infinite joy in reading dystopian novel(la)s.
[Or should that be ‘novel(la)s that explore a dystopian society/ state/ world’?]
NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR by George Orwell; THE LONG WALK and THE RUNNING MAN by Richard Bachman (actually Stephen King); the HUNGER GAMES trilogy by Suzanne Collins; the CHAOS WALKING trilogy by Patrick Ness; THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner… the list goes on and on.
‘Joy’ in the opening sentence of this blog entry – quick, go read it again, since I’ve probably distracted you with the list of book titles! – seems to be an ironic word to choose, since people who live in said societies rarely know joy, living in the awful future times and circumstances as they do…
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So, what is this Dystopia I speak of, you ask?
You probably all know the word ‘Utopia’, which refers to an ideal world or kind of paradise. Greek: eu (good) + topos (place). Compare this to the Greek dys, meaning “bad”/ “ill”, and you’ll see that Dystopia is the complete opposite of Utopia. In fact, I’ve read that it is regarded as “the evil twin” of Utopia.
In a dystopian setting, you usually deal with a society that lives within a social control system – a system under which they are oppressed, controlled, and living in fear of saying a word of protest against the corrupt ruling government. There is great suffering, pessimism and uniformity – the people of those times being manipulated to serve the purposes of those in power, often becoming indistinct through strict presiding regulations. Bubbling far below the surface, there is talk of a revolt, or rising up against the oppressors and building a new society.
Brutality is implemented for amusement; survival a daily hope. Friends are pitted against each other, sometimes having to take sides to ‘ensure’ their continued existing – more of the disturbing sort of amusement that those in power revel in. What could be better than spinning fine threads of false hope, then tangling everyone up in the web of deceit and resulting difficult choices?
Take THE HUNGER GAMES, for example: where the Capitol selects two young people (one male, one female) in each District to compete in what can be seen as ‘the most dangerous game’ – an arena where your survival depends on being the last person not killed. How do you kill other innocent people? How do you kill someone from your own district?? How do you keep from being killed, yourself, having to depend on your own skills to procure food, water, weapons? And all this while the entire world watches your every move, sees every killing, every hardship… and are glad that it isn’t them in there.
Because that’s how the government works: keeping you in captivating horror, making you believe that this is how the world should be and that you are powerless to stop them. The social norms set in these times might be disturbing and cruel, yet the people have been brainwashed to believe that it should be so.
Of course, propaganda also comes into play, making people believe that the government/ state is just, that things are how they should be, that they are being taken care of and that all rules must be obeyed without question…
Queue the hero/ heroin of the story to take a stand, to not give in, to survive and rise up and renew hope for a better world and sometimes even unwillingly rally others to join in the fight.
All of that said, why would anyone enjoy reading these types of books?
Is it because we want to see good triumph over evil? Do we take pleasure in seeing those misusing power get their comeuppance? Are we glad that at least we do not live in such extremely oppressive times? Or is it because we can feel a spark of ‘recognition’ in what is being written – that we can, to a certain degree, relate to what is said?
These novels are set in the future for a reason: they look at social trends we are currently living in, then take them to the extreme, thus serving as a sort of warning by showing us the ‘what would happen if’ situations (i.e. the horrifying consequences and ramifications that today’s world and technologies could have on the future – always with the worst case scenario depictions…)
These books want us to be voyeuristic, to see what could happen to society by injecting bits of the familiar and building it up to uncomfortable proportions. You know how they say familiarity breeds contempt? That’s pretty much what’s happening here.
I could probably make this blog entry run on forever if I start talking about how wonderful I think the HUNGER GAMES trilogy is, how scary it would be to take part THE LONG WALK (mental breakdown practically assured), how I wish things could have turned out differently at the end of the CHAOS WALKING trilogy… but that can wait for another day. I think I’ve loaded your minds with enough noise… errr, ‘information’ to make you not want to think about society and our own corrupt governments (fat chance of that) for quite some time.
But I hope I’ve also interested you in these types of novel(la)s. If I can get more people reading, it will be reward enough for me 🙂
Oh, and did I mention how these types of novels often have an ending where issues are unresolved or you don’t feel satisfied with how things turned out/ are left unexplained/ just don’t ‘feel’ right to you?
Yeah, that’s always lots of fun.