What is a dystopia?
A dystopia is a fictional and theoretical social state. It is the opposite of a utopia and usually involves a down-trodden, undesirable society in which the powers-that-be are unfair and corrupt, for example George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The majority of this type of fiction involves totalitarianism, a system or government with one oppressive ruler or dictator, yet a dystopia can also be a pre or post-apocalyptic world, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. A dystopian state does not have to involve the entire planet either; it can be localised to countries or even particular segments of society. Basically, a dystopia is a miserable place that has been amplified to illustrate the flaws in contemporary life.
The dystopian genre, much like other components of science fiction, is a vast feeding trough for the imagination by providing an endless supply of ‘what-if’s and ‘could-be’s. It is these ‘what-if’s that have inspired the creation of this website.
What are some examples of dystopian fiction?
Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Road have been mentioned, but of course these are two of the better known titles; there have been numerous dystopian novels published over the years, particularly with the surge of YA dystopian fiction such as The Hunger Games. Alongside literature there are a multitude of films such as Brazil, Children of Men and Gattaca. Check out our book reviews and film reviews for more suggestions.
What is the point of dystopian fiction?
It highlights everything that’s wrong or that could go wrong in modern society. If it were not for Yevgeny Zamyatin’s fictional mirroring of the Russian revolution in We, or George Orwell’s interpretation of Nazi Germany in Nineteen Eighty-Four, we would not have such a distinct vision of the past to remind us of the fragility of our future.
Isn’t it all a little bit miserable?
Well yes… and no. There is an element of foreboding to the genre that can seem a little depressing, but amidst the horror and the misery there is always hope, inspiration and even humour. Fiction is there to entertain, educate and enthral, and dystopian fiction does this with the added bonus of making you think outside of the box.
So, where do I start?
You could start at the very beginning. We by Zamyatin is arguably the very first self-aware dystopian novel and is surprisingly easy to read for a book written in 1920. It still feels relevant and was a great inspiration for George Orwell, especially when writing Nineteen Eighty-Four. Alternatively, you could give my own dystopian novel, These Unnatural Men, a try…
For a film to start off with, not many can dispute the classic that is Blade Runner. Both the original and the remake are phenomenal.
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