Monday, November 19, 2012

How to Categorize Dystopia--Which Type Do YOU Prefer?

Announcements and Events:

  • I did my first signing on Friday in the building I work in. It's a corporate building that isn't even very fully, but I've worked there for awhile and my co-workers are very supportive of my writing efforts. I signed and sold about 45 books over the space of an eight-hour work day. Squee!
  • On December 14-15, I'll be signing and selling books at the South Towne Expo Center's event, Big Bodacious Christmas Boutique. That's in South Jordan, Utah, so if you're close enough! Come see me! I'd love to meet some of my followers and blogger buddies in person! :D

Now onto today's post:

Categorizing Dystopia

In my experience, there are two kinds of dystopian stories: the kind that ends well, and the kind that doesn't.

Now, hear me out. I know this can be said of all types of stories, but it's particularly relevant to dystopias. Why? Dystopias are inherently political. They always have an agenda--even more than science fiction does.

Lee Konstantinou of LA Review of Books wrote an excellent article about this entitled, "When Scifi Went Mainstream." This article is what got me thinking about this, so I encourage everyone to check it out.

Because dystopian stories always show us an undesireable society and serve as a warning to us to not let our society get to that point, authors can handle it one of two ways:

1) They can start in an undesirable way and end up better than they started, creating a dynamic society.


2) They can start with an undesirable society and end up the same way.

Let's talk about each of these options.
If you start with an undesirable society and end up better than you started, then this is a story of revolution. The characters will rise up and take back their world, making it better--generally more free than at the beginning. This is a classic and compelling story. An example of this would be Hunger Games. Katniss and her rebellion bring down the Capital.

Now, I'm going to say something that may be a bit controversial, but I appeal to Konstantinou's article to back me up: this kind of dystopian is not classic dystopian. This is a modern mutation: the melding of dystopian and the action/adventure genre. Traditional dystopian was largely literary, but more on this in a minute.
I don't mean to say that action/revolution dystopia is bad--far from it. I love The Hunger Games as much as the next gal--but it is a more modern trend.

The second type of dystopia is when the society, though undesirable, remains unchanged. The characters may change, but they don't have the strength or resources to change their society for the better. Examples of this would be Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (saddest story EVER!) and Cormac McCarthy's The Road. In these stories, the characters are dynamic and undergo their own kinds of transitions, but in the end, they are subject to the worlds they live in, and there's nothing they can do about it.
This second type of dystopia doesn't make for a very pleasant read. But I would argue that's the point. The only way to incite change is to instill passion for that change in people. While people love a great revolution story, if they see that the ending is good, they are somewhat placated. If they see injustice that no one is bothering to fix, that's what's going to get people's blood boiling.

Which is not to say that I necessarily prefer it myself. Though I am very affected by it, I'm a sucker for a (at least mostly) happy ending just like everyone else. :D

This second type tends to be much more literary than the first type, so I suppose you could categorize these as 1) Literary Dystopian, which would be character driven and probably not have a happy ending, and 2) Commerical Dystopian, which would be revolution (and therefore plot) driven, and probably end well. These are broad categories, of course, but relatively correct just the same.

What do you think? Is literary dystopia more effective than commercial? Which do you prefer?

As I said, while I plan to put my characters through the ringer and have a bit of tragedy along the way, I prefer a story that ends at least relatively well. So, no worries about my dystopian series. No promises about the end of each volume, but the story as a whole should end pretty well. :D
In a world where collective hives are enslaving the population and individuals have been hunted to the verge of extinction, Maggie Harper, and independent 21st Century woman, must find the strength to preserve the freedom of the future, but without the aid of her memories.

After experiencing a traumatic time loss, Maggie is plagued by a barrage of images she can't explain. When she's attacked by a creep with a spider's web tattoo, she is saved by Marcus, a man she's never met, but somehow remembers. He tells her that both he and her creepy attacker are from a future in which individuals are being murdered by collectives, and Marcus is part of the rebellion. The collectives have acquired time travel and they plan to enslave the human race throughout all of history. The flashes Maggie has been seeing are echoes of lost memories, and the information buried deep within them is instrumental in defeating the collective hives.

In order to preserve the individuality of mankind, Maggie must try to re-discover stolen memories, re-kindle friendships she has no recollection of, and wade through her feelings for the mysterious Marcus, all while dodging the tattooed assassins the collectives keep sending her way.

If Maggie can't fill the holes in her memory and find the answers to stop the collectives, the world both in her time and in all ages past and future will be doomed to enslavement in the grey, mediocre collectives. As the danger swirls around her and the collectives close in, Maggie realizes she must make a choice: stand out or fade away...

Releases nationwide on January 29, 2013! 


  1. I guess I would pick commercial first. An unhappy ending is all right once in a while, but I prefer a happy ending.

  2. I would agree with Alex. I thought the Hunger Games ending (movie at least) was a nice balance between the two. Happy, but lots of work left to be done. Keep hope alive! Cool summary Liesel

  3. I'm gonna have to get out west one day just to meet the massive population of writers out there.

  4. Congratulations to you! I sincerely hope that I am in your position some day....long road ahead.

    In response to your post: I think that you can argue this for just about any subject. It's lithe whole literary fiction vs. genre fiction argument. I try to review both types but the literary stuff does get a bit heady. I would prefer a happy ending. What can I say? I'm American to the core.

  5. I love how you break this down! Really makes sense!