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What will be the next possible trend in Dystopian Literature? Robotics? Climate change? Insect overlords?
March 24, 2012 8:22 AM   Subscribe

The Dystopian Timeline to The Hunger Games [INFOGRAPHIC] .
posted by Fizz (91 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
The next trend was already kicked off by The Wind Up Girl, monoculture related food scarcity and the return of water empires. It's rare enough that most people aren't sick of reading about it, but it's direct enough to hit in the gut, so to speak.

Also I have this nagging feeling we need a few more Utoppias At Risk Due To Internal Or External Strife but it's hard to write a Utopia without being preachy-even reasonably optimistic SF seems a bit endangered.
posted by The Whelk at 8:27 AM on March 24, 2012


I'm happy to see the current YA crop lined up next to the classics, that makes sense. If you do that, though, you should plop in some older YA dystopias like Christopher's Tripods.
posted by feckless at 8:28 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


And didn't the season finale of The Walking Dead attract a record number of viewers?

We know what we('re) like.
posted by edguardo at 8:30 AM on March 24, 2012


Heh, I assumed this was going to be an article about the fake history leading up to the story of Hunger Games, as this is for Prometheus.

Anyway, that's still interesting data.
posted by delmoi at 8:31 AM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


The next trend was already kicked off by The Wind Up Girl,
Biopunk: (a portmanteau synthesizing "biotechnology" and "punk") is a technoprogressive movement advocating open access to genetic information. Biopunk hobbyists or biohackers experiment with DNA and other aspects of genetics.
posted by Fizz at 8:32 AM on March 24, 2012


It's pretty disingenuous to compare 1984 to Hunger Games in terms of Goodreads ratings. Why not only count Hunger Games Goodreads ratings made after 50 years have passed and then compare them?
posted by DU at 8:34 AM on March 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'd be interested to see where World War Z and Robopocalypse will stand on this list in a few years time - both books seem to be focused towards male audiences and both have movies on the way, WWZ with Brad Pitt and Robopocalypse being helmed by Senor Speilbergo. I wonder if Dystopia is replacing Superheros as the power fantasy du jour?
posted by the theory of revolution at 8:34 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't particularly agree with this 'infographic' except that it's a sad state of affairs that a discussion on dystopias needs to be condensed into an infographic.

But as to the whole clever marketing to teen girls for yet another book/movie adaptation -- well, I just can't resist letting the Kurt Weill from 1928 speak for this one.
You gentlemen who think you have a mission
To purge us of the seven deadly sins
Should first sort out the basic food position
Then start your preaching, that's where it begins

You lot, who preach restraint and watch your waist as well
Should learn, for once, the way the world is run
However much you twist, or whatever lies that you tell
Food is the first thing, morals follow on

So first make sure that those who are now starving
get proper helpings, when we all start carving
What keeps mankind alive?

What keeps mankind alive? The fact that millions
are daily tortured, stifled, punished, silenced and oppressed
Mankind can keep alive thanks to its brilliance
in keeping its humanity repressed
And for once you must try not to shirk the facts
Mankind is kept alive
by bestial acts!

posted by Catblack at 8:37 AM on March 24, 2012 [16 favorites]


Just to clarify for anyone who might be wondering the same thing I was: This link is about publishing trends of dystopian books, and does not contain any spoilers for The Hunger Games trilogy.
posted by jcreigh at 8:37 AM on March 24, 2012


World War Z was interesting cause it took one of the more interesting bits of the zombie story - that it can happen anywhere in any situation - and spent a whole book showing the different responses to it, urban, rural, dog based, space based, etc. The audio book is really, really, good. It's like NPR from the post apocalypse.

Robopocalypse is ...not as good.
posted by The Whelk at 8:40 AM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Ug, I didn't quite catch that this is an infographic with Goodread's numbers, not anything concrete like number of copies sold, and this whole thing is just a smarmy ad for their website.
posted by Catblack at 8:42 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


superheros are a good example of Male Power Fantasy - what's a good example of Female Power Fantasy?
posted by the theory of revolution at 8:42 AM on March 24, 2012


I have this idea for a dystopian novel set in a world where every kind of electronic communication is possible, and yet instead of actually using words people are forced to reduce every piece of information they want to convey into an annoyingly slick infographic with no real substance.

I shopped it around for a while, but every agent I talked to said there's no market for realism these days.
posted by koeselitz at 8:43 AM on March 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is pretty subjective, and apples to oranges. Not sure that there are any conclusions to be drawn from this.
posted by HuronBob at 8:45 AM on March 24, 2012


Well in the Diamond Age peoe are shocked that Nell can like, read, cause people from her class are used to only animated pictographs.
posted by The Whelk at 8:45 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll take dystopias over sexy vampires YA-trend-wise, but personally I'm still hooked on the idea of pro-civilization fiction.

Civilization: It's what's for dinner.
posted by pts at 8:47 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ug, I didn't quite catch that this is an infographic with Goodread's numbers, not anything concrete like number of copies sold, and this whole thing is just a smarmy ad for their website.

Number of copies sold? What does that have to do with anything, in a world where a lot of classic dystopian literature are the kinds of things that are often passed around between friends or handed down by family or read in school, or endlessly repurchased in used bookstores? "Copies sold" breaks down for very-beloved books, I think, and probably neglects a huge proportion of the ways that people access a text. How's that any less concrete than the ratings given by Goodreads members who are, in fact, people who read a lot of books?
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:48 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, but a couple of interesting points about that graph. 9/11 is an inflection point, sure. But things only start to increase there. I'd say the financial catastrophe probably has a bigger impact.

Also, I had no idea the Hunger Games was a new book. For some reason I had assumed it was something written back in the 50/60s or something that was just being adapted for cinema now.
posted by delmoi at 8:50 AM on March 24, 2012


In the " what were the influences on The Hunger Games books" AskMe, someone mentioned The House Of Stairs, and I went yes! Wonderful example of a dystoopian YA horror novel and then I realized a lot of girls I know read that in middle school and adored it so .....
posted by The Whelk at 8:50 AM on March 24, 2012


Ug, I didn't quite catch that this is an infographic with Goodread's numbers, not anything concrete like number of copies sold, and this whole thing is just a smarmy ad for their website.
"Infographic as Advertisement" thing is pretty popular these days. In fact it's so common it's not even worth getting upset at at this point. I'm pretty sure almost all info-graphics these days are ads.
posted by delmoi at 8:52 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Also, jeezus, yes, of course it's kind of an advertisement. So what? It's a business that has access to vast quantities of data and is looking to do something interesting with that data. Netflix has said interesting things about the kinds of movies people watch; Google publishes Zeitgest summaries on a regular basis. Interviews with filmmakers, however noteworthy or serious, are also advertisements for their films; an author publishing a work for free on their blog is also an advertisement for their novels. Can we please stop acting like it's awful and disgusting that something has multiple purposes and one of those purposes might be informing people about a service or product they might like)
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:56 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


How is Atlas Shrugged not on this list? A dystopian novel that appeals mainly to adolescents (of any age).
posted by SPrintF at 8:59 AM on March 24, 2012


Huh. Did anyone else notice how they didn't include a ♥ for 1984 indicating a romance? Had the person doing the infographic never read the book?
posted by delmoi at 9:06 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


superheros are a good example of Male Power Fantasy - what's a good example of Female Power Fantasy?

This is an interesting question, however, very few writers have attempted to do this. There is the short story "Houston, Houston, Where Are You?" by Tiptree/Sheldon, there is the LeGuin story "The Matter of Seggri", and there is the (to me inferior) Y: The Last Man series.

"The Matter of Seggri" is far and away the best of these, in that it posits an utterly dysfunctional female-dominated world in a way that underlines how that sort of power corrupts no matter who holds it, and yet does not have some sort of antiwoman axe to grind.
posted by emjaybee at 9:10 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Did anyone else notice how they didn't include a ♥ for 1984 indicating a romance? Had the person doing the infographic never read the book?

I suspect they're going off of user-submitted metadata, and people generally didn't list romance as one of the main themes. I'm not sure I would, myself. It's there, certainly, but it's far from the first thing I think of when I think of the book.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:12 AM on March 24, 2012


Huh. Did anyone else notice how they didn't include a ♥ for 1984 indicating a romance? Had the person doing the infographic never read the book?

"Romance" as a genre has several tropes associate it, one of which is a happy ending.

Robopocalypse is ...not as good.

Yeeeeeeeeah.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:23 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I would, myself. It's there, certainly, but it's far from the first thing I think of when I think of the book.
Ok, but I'm not sure the romance in Hunger Games is any more foregrounded, and that's listed under "The Young Adult Explosion: Romance!" I think that's partly because the Hunger Games' fanbase has bought into the "Team Peeta"/ "Team Gale" thing, which is probably borrowed from Twilight, but it's also partly because men and boys are allowed to have love and/or sex lives without being defined by them, and women and girls sort of aren't, at least in literature. There's romance in Harry Potter, but nobody would describe those books as romances. Harry grows up over the course of the books, and part of growing up is falling in love with Ginny Weasley, but that doesn't mean that the romance overshadows Harry's battle with Valdemort or even other aspects of Harry's emotional development.
posted by craichead at 9:24 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


WWZ with Brad Pitt and Robopocalypse being helmed by Senor Speilbergo. I wonder if Dystopia is replacing Superheros as the power fantasy du jour?

Also, post apocalyptic is not dystopian, and if we're going to talk about where Robopocalypse sits on the trendy genre scale, I think the singularity elements are probably more significant.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:25 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Number of copies burned would be a more accurate metric for how much attention we should pay to this.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:25 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure the romance in Hunger Games is any more foregrounded

The romance in the Hunger Games is the central plot driver for all three books. It shouldn't be, and I found it tedious as fuck, but it is.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:28 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


apparently the people who saw preview screenings who loved the books say that the romance is actually toned down considerably and that made me all excited again
posted by The Whelk at 9:30 AM on March 24, 2012


The romance in the Hunger Games is the central plot driver for all three books. It shouldn't be, and I found it tedious as fuck, but it is.

My favorite part of the third book (which I didn't like very much at all, save the epilogue) was when Collins, via Katniss, chews readers out for caring who she ends up with.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:30 AM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


The romance in the Hunger Games is the central plot driver for all three books.
Isn't the romance in Nineteen Eighty Four also the central plot driver?
posted by craichead at 9:34 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's been a while, but I vaguely remember that it's more the... book he finds? The romance is rather secondary (although of course critical to the denoument.) It's totally possible that I'm misremembering. I tend to discount romance as a factor in books I read all the time, because they're usually boring.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:41 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


well there is a difference between having a romance plot in a book and the book being A Romance.
posted by The Whelk at 9:43 AM on March 24, 2012


It's hard to take a list of dystopian fiction seriously when it excludes John Brunner.
posted by wintermind at 9:44 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The one "ooooh romancey!" moment during the movie version of the Hunger Games (a longing look by Gale at Katniss) was shut down pretty quickly for us when I whispered "if you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it, GALE" to my movie-going-friends.

Compared to Twilight, it was refreshingly NON romance longing romance romance romance. And the movie downplayed it even more, which I thought was pretty awesome.

Seriously, who has time to think about romance when survival is at stake? I know who I'm going to want on my team when the zombies come, and hint: it's going to be my friends who own guns and bows and very, very sharp things. Similarly, in the Hunger Games, you do what you have to do, even if it sucks, because you need to survive.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:46 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


No Reproductive Issues icon for Brave New World?
posted by Scoo at 9:49 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Zompist on Brave New World repeating my problems with it
posted by The Whelk at 9:55 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, who has time to think about romance when survival is at stake?

Who has time to think about Anne Frank when there is another fantasy book to read.
posted by stbalbach at 9:55 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


And the movie downplayed it even more, which I thought was pretty awesome.

Oh, excellent. My main reaction to the book was "That's going to make a great movie," so I'm just as happy they're not trying to play up the emo drama.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:59 AM on March 24, 2012


in the film as much as in the novels, i thought the way katniss was portrayed in terms of being encouraged to play up the public sex appeal and romance was a really strong condemnation of twilight-ish teen romance.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 10:00 AM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's hard to take a list of dystopian fiction seriously when it excludes John Brunner.

It's a list (or graphic, I guess) that leaves out almost every literary and semi-literary dystopian novel, from Octavia Butler's Parable books to all of the cyberpunk genre books (both good and bad) to Kim Stanley Robinson's Three Californias books to political novels like Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia and Macdonald/Pierce's Turner Diaries. Plus children/YA fiction like the above-mentioned Christopher books, or more micro-dystopias like Lord of the Flies.

In other words, this appears to be a rather pretty, but totally glib, result of using crappy data to try and illustrate something far more rich and complex.
posted by Forktine at 10:01 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


In 1984, the romance is not an adult romance, though. Both characters are technically adults, but the attraction between them is all based on an adolescent need to rebel against the strict parenting of Big Brother. Understandable, but not grounded on a firm foundation that could withstand the test of time or real adversity (as the book amply demonstrates).

Their relationship is not a classic Romance--no happily ever after, or even after ever together, no sense that they were always destined to be together.

He was always much more invested in that relationship than she was--even before he came along she was breaking the rules and getting an adrenaline thrill from getting away with it, and he was just her partner in crime.

In contrast, his voyage of self-discovery is both fueled by and feeding into the intensity of his attraction for her. He loves the idea of her; as the Bad Girl she epitomizes freedom (and that's another reason why the romance fails, since he loved the Concept of her more than he actually loved her).
posted by misha at 10:13 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


{spoilery?}

The romance/sexual aspect of the Hunger Games trilogy bothered me to no end. I mean, I do appreciate that Katniss wasn't just a sex object, the way Bella in Twilight seems to be, and that the corrupt powers-that-be try to manipulate her through her sexuality, but it's not like she ever takes full control over it -- in the epilogue, the way her life develops is basically by default, she just sort of falls into it. And it is basically the life she wanted to avoid all along, a kind of standard heteronormative narrative for women (although I guess the way the society has changed by the end of the book makes it not quite as unappealing as it was in the beginning). I also found the gushing descriptions of her KISSING (oh my gosh! kissing a BOY?!?!) really, really tedious and juvenile -- I don't even think there was any tongue involved. She's 16 years old, for numberwang's sake, she can have sexual desire beyond just smooching. I guess, though, it is not surprising -- people feel comfortable peddling images of graphic violence to the teen market, but sexuality is verboten.

Incidentally, what bothered me most about the books, besides their general repetitiveness -- Collins uses a fairly standard set of narrative devices over and over again -- was the squishiness of the sci-fi aspects. Especially in book 1, I kept asking myself, "Wait, how the heck are they capturing EVERY DETAIL of the Games on camera? How is it that they have the technology to make pretty much anything appear instantaneously from the sky, yet items of far less technological sophistication than invisible hoverplanes are prohibitively expensive, even for the people who live in the Capitol?"
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:18 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


PS: All the great recommendations in this thread make me think that someone needs to do an AskMefi post about dystopian lit
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:20 AM on March 24, 2012


Saxon Kane
posted by The Whelk at 10:22 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


And this
posted by blucevalo at 10:23 AM on March 24, 2012


I saw The Hunger Games at midnight on Friday (exhausted, on the brink of the flu, too. The things I do for my kids!).

No spoilers, don't worry, but we did notice that while the movie is very faithful to the book, ninery-something percent, one area was that we all.agreed Gale was more fleshed out as a character and thus more likeable than in the books. Interesting creative decision, to take the time to do that, and one we approved of.
posted by misha at 10:23 AM on March 24, 2012


I also found the gushing descriptions of her KISSING (oh my gosh! kissing a BOY?!?!) really, really tedious and juvenile -- I don't even think there was any tongue involved. She's 16 years old, for numberwang's sake, she can have sexual desire beyond just smooching. I guess, though, it is not surprising -- people feel comfortable peddling images of graphic violence to the teen market, but sexuality is verboten.

On the one hand, I think you're right about graphic violence vs. sexuality. On the other, most sixteen year old girls still find kissing to be pretty significant, whether or not they're also fucking. Criticizing a book about sixteen year olds as "juvenile" because of its focus on makin' out feels a little goofy, to me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:26 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The audio book is really, really, good. It's like NPR from the post apocalypse.

NPR? Wait, I thought you said it was good.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:26 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


PhoBWanKenobi: Fair point. I guess I mean that she seemed to be a bit 2 dimensional in that respect. Like, she could kiss boys and feel some vague feeling in her heart, and then she could imagine getting married and having kids. There's a whole world left out in between.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:30 AM on March 24, 2012


The Whelk: Thanks for that, although I was thinking more generally than just "books like Hunger Games."
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:31 AM on March 24, 2012


PhoBWanKenobi: Fair point. I guess I mean that she seemed to be a bit 2 dimensional in that respect. Like, she could kiss boys and feel some vague feeling in her heart, and then she could imagine getting married and having kids. There's a whole world left out in between.

Aren't there scenes where Peeta crawls into bed with her? I found it odd that nothing happened then, but then, I've recently read some YA where teenage girls appeared to have orgasms at having their hair stroked. So.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:32 AM on March 24, 2012


Aren't there scenes where Peeta crawls into bed with her?

Lots and lots of scenes. In fact, that's pretty much a third of the second book. They snuggle. A lot.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:35 AM on March 24, 2012


I just keep thinking of more books that, if they were to be included, would complicate the simplistic story that graphic is telling, like Colson Whitehead's Zone One or Cormac McCarthy's The Road in the US, or Children of Men and Ridley Walker in the UK. Dystopian literature is not a unidirectional story, nor does The Hunger Games represent an endpoint within the genre.
posted by Forktine at 10:36 AM on March 24, 2012


I haven't read Zone One, but The Road, Children of Men, and Riddley Walker are again not dystopian but post-apocalyptic.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:46 AM on March 24, 2012


It seems a bit late to be describing YA dystopian novels as the next thing. For a start. the YA boom seems to have been utterly dominated by dystopian themes (noughts and crosses, pretties, hunger games) and secondly it's been "booming" since the beginning of the century.

Of course this thread made me half remember / fixate upon finding a dystopian novel I read some 6 years ago, and I've been trying to remember what that was for the last 30 minutes. Apropos of nothing, it was The Carhullan Army. This isn't relevant to the discussion, it's only an above average book, it's not YA, but seeing as I just spent too long trying to find it, I thought I may as well tell you all about it.

BTW - If you haven't read Ridley Walker, you should.
posted by zoo at 10:50 AM on March 24, 2012


Children of Men? Surely that is not post apocalypse? Government still in control and everything calmly winding down.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:51 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, apocalyptic, more appropriately (in retrospect, you're probably right that the book is closer to "dystopian" than the movie, but it still lacks many dystopian markers--such as the outward appearance of a utopia). But apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic are still pretty different, content-wise, no matter how eager publishing seems to be to make them one and the same thing.

Don't even get me started on the trend of calling straight sci-fi dystopian just because it features a "bad" society.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:56 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


SPOILERY COMMENT!



/Incidentally, what bothered me most about the books, besides their general repetitiveness -- Collins uses a fairly standard set of narrative devices over and over again -- was the squishiness of the sci-fi aspects. Especially in book 1, I kept asking myself, "Wait, how the heck are they capturing EVERY DETAIL of the Games on camera? How is it that they have the technology to make pretty much anything appear instantaneously from the sky, yet items of far less technological sophistication than invisible hoverplanes are prohibitively expensive, even for the people who live in the Capitol?"

That to me makes perfect logical sense in this dystopian world, though. The biggest threat, the greatest fear in this world, is that these poor districts will rebel again, as they did once before. So the technology is naturally most advanced when it comes to the biggest tool in the arsenal against a future rebellion, The Hunger Games.

The electrified fences are not always kept up, the guards sometimes look the other way, because what's the point, really? What holds people back is the knowledge that their children are the price they'd have to pay for freedom. What parent wouldn't be paralyzed after coming face to face with that? So yeah, let's make sure when their kids are out there fighting for their lives, we have cameras everywhere. It's just a diabolically effective strategy for keeping them all in line.

END SPOILERY COMMENT
posted by misha at 10:56 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


it's so common it's not even worth getting upset at at this point.

Speaking of dystopias.
posted by DU at 10:57 AM on March 24, 2012


And the portions are so small!
posted by Meatbomb at 11:01 AM on March 24, 2012


I never considered "outward appearance of a utopia" as a prerequisite for a dystopian novel, but I like it.
posted by zoo at 11:03 AM on March 24, 2012


Aren't there scenes where Peeta crawls into bed with her? I found it odd that nothing happened then

Again, makes perfest logical sense in the dystopian world, though. Katniss is TERRIFIED of having kids. Since control over the people comes through their kids and THe Hunger Games, the government is certainly not going to give the people access to birth control! They want people to have kids.

If you are a kid who's been chosen for The Hunger Games --well, if that's not going to serve as a deterrant against having unprotected sex, I don't know what is.
posted by misha at 11:07 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I haven't read Zone One, but The Road, Children of Men, and Riddley Walker are again not dystopian but post-apocalyptic.

People can parse these out endlessly, and there is a huge overlap between the two -- a novel can absolutely be both dystopian and post-apocalyptic, for example (I'd put Zone One into both categories). Children of Men is definitely dystopian, as are similar books like The Handmaid's Tale and Sarah Hall's great Daughters of the North. Riddley Walker is (aside from being one of my favorite books ever) both post-apocalyptic and dystopian; it's a classic example of using a fictional future setting to illuminate aspects of both our past and present.

I see two common uses of the word "dystopia" in both academic and mainstream writing. One is as the opposite of utopia (in which case The Road fits perfectly), and the other is like in the Wikipedia definition, "a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian" (which The Road definitely is not). I'm more partial to the more expansive version, but I can live with either; either way, I see dystopian novels as fundamentally books that are using this imaginary future world to comment on the present, rather than simply being all books that describe a bad future.
posted by Forktine at 11:07 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see dystopian novels as fundamentally books that are using this imaginary future world to comment on the present, rather than simply being all books that describe a bad future.

The first sounds pretty close to the standard definition of science fiction.

I'm still struggling to see what about Riddley Walker would be dystopian. The propaganda of the Punch and Judy shows? Doesn't seem enough for me, at least not enough to make it more sense to label the novel that way rather than according to its more pervasive and significant post apocalyptic elements.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:16 AM on March 24, 2012


over at Projects.....
posted by The Whelk at 11:22 AM on March 24, 2012


As a child of the 60s, I remember reading numbers of post-nuclear holocaust stories and novels, such as The Chrysalids. These were so entwined with popular culture that I tried writing my own when I was 10 or 11, partly and childishly aware that the sweeping away of civiliation in these books was a form of wish-fulfillment, just as zombie novels are today (end of structure! freedom from goverment! freedom of movement! the end of authority! kill anyone you want because they are mindless zombies!). Genuine dystopias, such as 28 Days Later and its sequel gave me nightmares (I still occasionally have them, too).
posted by jokeefe at 11:55 AM on March 24, 2012


How is it that they have the technology to make pretty much anything appear instantaneously from the sky, yet items of far less technological sophistication than invisible hoverplanes are prohibitively expensive, even for the people who live in the Capitol?

The US Air Force can easily airdrop basically anything you want, anywhere in the world, with very little notice. Yet there are big parts of the US where items with far less technological sophistication than a Predator Drone are unaffordable to many people.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:26 PM on March 24, 2012


Still more for Saxon Cane. I hope to find some more good ideas for things to read. The OP was worth it for me because I was inexplicably unaware of the Kazuo Ishigura novel.
posted by wintermind at 12:33 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm still struggling to see what about Riddley Walker would be dystopian.

You are using the term in a much more restrictive sense than is commonly used. Which is, of course, totally fine -- but it might be a losing battle to try and fight. Googling "Ridley Walker dystopia" brings up examples from Wikipedia to the New York Times, along with a smattering of journal articles, some academic books, and endless blog book reviews, for example. It's how the book is broadly characterized, and the books it is most commonly compared to are other dystopic fictions (eg Clockwork Orange).

But even in a more restrictive sense of the word, Ridley Walker qualifies. It's not a portrayal of a destroyed society -- it's a society that has been rebuilt along harsh systems of control, sexual violence, and centralized repression. I love the book for its language, but it definitely holds its own thematically, as well.

Books like Ridley Walker, Clockwork Orange, and The Handmaid's Tale are fantastic reminders that genre fiction doesn't need to be cursorily written or simplified.
posted by Forktine at 1:20 PM on March 24, 2012


Seriously, who has time to think about romance when survival is at stake?

I spent the last few years of the Cold War as an adolescent, trying to figure out where and with whom I would have sex in the last moments before total nuclear annihilation. I'm pretty sure I wasn't alone in this.
posted by thivaia at 1:37 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


-spoilery around Hunger Games-

That nothing happened when they snuggle isn't confusing, she isn't in love with him. She is traumatised and needs the comfort of his presence, and the society around them requires that they keep up the pretense of being a couple. Or did I miss something?
posted by Iteki at 2:20 PM on March 24, 2012


I too managed to spell it wrong. It's Riddley Walker.
posted by zoo at 2:55 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I too managed to spell it wrong. It's Riddley Walker.

Ah, fuck me. You'd think I'd be able to remember the difference between the Rid(d)leys Scott and Walker.
posted by Forktine at 3:45 PM on March 24, 2012


Spoilers for The Hunger Games, the trilogy:

The romance in the Hunger Games is the central plot driver for all three books.

You and I read different books. It's almost as if Suzanne Collins set out to write the anti-Twilight. Two guys pining over the teenage-girl, and her response is "GTFO. My life has been FUCKING DIFFICULT BEYOND IMAGINING and you're both idiots. I am not interested in this bullshit I am going to shoot arrows at things and fucking kill people. I don't want romance, and I don't want marriage, and I don't want children, and this world fucking sucks." And even when she begins to allow herself to feel things that are natural for a young woman, she's still conflicted about it and fights it.

If that's your idea of a romance driving a plot, I got nothing.
posted by tzikeh at 4:11 PM on March 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's not a portrayal of a destroyed society -- it's a society that has been rebuilt along harsh systems of control, sexual violence, and centralized repression..

I'm not entirely sure how you can say that a portrayal of a society destroyed by nuclear weapons where being "dog et" is a thing isn't a "portrayal of a destroyed society."

And I'm aware that I'm defining it more narrowing than the term is used in media commentary. But really, my point is that the terms dystopian and post-apocalyptic are used interchangeably, without much attention paid to the nuanced differences between the two. Which still exist, even if they're largely ignored.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:58 PM on March 24, 2012


Or, what this chart sez.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:01 PM on March 24, 2012


If that's your idea of a romance driving a plot, I got nothing.

SPOILERS ABOUND.

Well, yes. Because nearly every action she takes in the second and third book is reacting against one or the other romantic situation (or both.) She's not taking political action, she's not directly fighting for her family, she's kicking against the idea of a relationship - or desperately trying to keep her options open. That's why I mean by "driving the plot" - it's not that she's swooning over a dude, but she's still only valuable to the world as it's built as a romantic foil for *somebody*, and she never really manages to shake that off.

I see what Collins was trying to do there - I just think she missed. I think the "triangle" thing was too much, and that Katniss was basically stripped of her agency after the first book. It's an anti-Twilight, for sure, but not in that it's more robust and three-dimensional, just in that it's a mirror image.

(These criticisms are mostly about the latter two books, to be fair - although I was righteously fucking annoyed that Katniss was set up to only "win" the games because of the "romance," and not because she was smart, capable, and deadly.)
posted by restless_nomad at 6:23 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, yes. Because nearly every action she takes in the second and third book is reacting against one or the other romantic situation (or both.) She's not taking political action, she's not directly fighting for her family, she's kicking against the idea of a relationship - or desperately trying to keep her options open. That's why I mean by "driving the plot" - it's not that she's swooning over a dude, but she's still only valuable to the world as it's built as a romantic foil for *somebody*, and she never really manages to shake that off.

That's one of the smartest criticisms of the books that I've seen.

I actually think Katniss actually would have been more of a "strong female character" had she been allowed to actively choose one boy or the other. As Saxon Kane says, even her ultimate choice in the epilogue was largely made for her by external forces--more of a resignation than a choice.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:30 PM on March 24, 2012


How is Atlas Shrugged not on this list? A dystopian novel

Because the idea of Corporations running the Government isn't dystopian - it is reality.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:12 PM on March 24, 2012


I'm not really sure what Never Let Me Go is doing on this list. It would suck to be in the position of the main characters (trying not to spoil anything), but I wouldn't call it dystopian at all - if anything, "society" seems to be functioning better for everyone else. It's bleak sci-fi, certainly (if that's not slightly redundant), but it doesn't seem to be the whole world gone pear-shaped.

Mitchell's Cloud Atlas tackles the same subject in a far more unforgiving and heartbreaking way, and definitely in what I would characterize as dystopian.

Also seems to be missing a couple of categories - Health Scares (Oryx & Crake, The Stand), and of course, Jesus (the Left Behind series and other Rapture books, plus arguably The Stand as well)...?
posted by Mchelly at 10:16 PM on March 24, 2012


Mchelly: "I'm not really sure what Never Let Me Go is doing on this list. It would suck to be in the position of the main characters (trying not to spoil anything), but I wouldn't call it dystopian at all - if anything, "society" seems to be functioning better for everyone else."

Panem society is functioning pretty well too if you live in the Capitol. Are we saying it's just a numbers game and it only counts as a dystopia if the horrific abuses of happening to >50% of the population? Because we don't really know how the numbers shake out for NLMG. All the text gives us is that Hailsham wasn't the only such place and that the protagonists were much better treated than most in their position.
posted by the latin mouse at 7:18 AM on March 25, 2012


'Are' not 'of'. I'm not sure what happened to that sentence.
posted by the latin mouse at 7:19 AM on March 25, 2012


It would suck to be in the position of the main characters (trying not to spoil anything), but I wouldn't call it dystopian at all - if anything, "society" seems to be functioning better for everyone else.

It's a world where they've reinstituted slavery. The main characters are slaves owned by the state or by firms in the relevant industry, and are chattel property whose owners can do pretty much whatever they want to them. And if you stop to think about it, a significant portion of the world's population would have to be enslaved for their society's plan to work.

That, me bucko, is pear-shaped. Dys fucking topic.

I don't know whether it's worse than the Blade Runner world. We don't see the people in the main characters' positions who are pleasure models, but you know they have to be out there somewhere because why on earth wouldn't someone do that to the people we've decided aren't really people so we can pretend it isn't slavery. And we don't see replicants being used for the purposes the main characters in NLMG are, but you know that's got to be out there too.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:49 AM on March 25, 2012


I'm not arguing that it's utopian or even remotely a good thing. I'm just saying that (for me, anyhow) it takes more of a breakdown in all of society, everywhere, before I would classify a work as dystopian. I agree that they've reinstituted slavery. But that's not all that far removed from society today, right now, and certainly is true in our past. Would you characterize Gone With The Wind as dystopian, too (even assuming it had been written before the Civil War)?

I understand how the assumption of "pleasure models" and using replicants for the same purposes is a possible and maybe natural extension of the concept, but so much of the text revolves around rumors that I think if those scenarios were meant to be part of the story, they would have been in the text.
posted by Mchelly at 10:57 AM on March 25, 2012


Actually, I take my question back. GWTW would almost certainly be classified as dystopian if it had been written before the fact.
posted by Mchelly at 11:24 AM on March 25, 2012


Yeah, the only real difference between the dystopias of Never Let Me Go and the one part of Cloud Atlas is what the society uses the underclass for. Presumably in the latter book the upper class of Nea So Copros is pretty happy with the way they have engineered things.
posted by furiousthought at 1:19 PM on March 25, 2012


delmoi: "Did anyone else notice how they didn't include a ♥ for 1984 indicating a romance? Had the person doing the infographic never read the book?"

A Brave New World inexplicably doesn't get the "biological / reproductive issues" tag, either. Go figure.
posted by Bokononist at 2:22 PM on March 25, 2012


I'm not entirely sure how you can say that a portrayal of a society destroyed by nuclear weapons where being "dog et" is a thing isn't a "portrayal of a destroyed society."

Wasn't "dog et" a place as well as an ever-present fact of life?
posted by pullayup at 6:04 PM on March 25, 2012


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