What is Dystopian Fiction?

My Spell Check doesn't recognize the word dystopia. Do YOU?

The first time that I heard the term "dystopian fiction" it was in association with Stephanie Meyers' science fiction novel The Host. I can't honestly recall whether or not it was a book review, but I was reading a lot of them at the time. The word had me befuddled and lost. I knew that The Host was a science fiction novel and at the time had a general idea that it was about some kind of zombie (it isn't; it's about body snatchers) but the only thing I could figure was that somebody had misunderstood the concept behind Utopia (more on that below) and was spelling it wrong.

The odd thing is that I'm not sure how I got set straight. I think that I went to dictionary.com to look up the meaning of the word (a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding). Anyway, once I realized just what dystopian fiction was, I realized that I'd been reading it for years, and loving it. I run through dystopian movies, I read dystopian novels, and I love every one that I've tried. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's my favorite genre.

Only I think of it as dystopian horror rather than dystopian science fiction.

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Fahrenheit 451, Dystopian Fiction at its best!

We can define dystopia by first looking at what a utopia is...

Most people have heard that term at least!

Sir St. Thomas More wrote Utopia

When I was growing up, the term "Utopia" was tossed around quite frequently. I think that some people used it in place of the word "paradise" and to mean roughly the same thing. Any place that was considered to be beautiful and pleasant was a utopia. I've heard people talk about their personal utopia. But these people are discounting the ultimate meaning of the term, which is more complex than that. And in some ways simpler than that.

Although he probably wasn't the originator of the term utopia, Sir St. Thomas More was the author who penned the novel Utopia, which is how many of us have come to know the term. My husband describes a utopia as the "ideal unreality." In fact, the theme behind the Utopia book is ideas and association.

These days, some people view Utopia as being about the government and its essential (or nonessential) involvement in our lives, the formation of society (specifically the perfect society) and the creation of a system that promotes peace. For my part, I've always thought of utopia as being centered around a commune and based on communist ideals. I think of a utopia as a place where everyone has enough. I'm sure I'll have more to say about communism at a later date.

Want to Read Sir St. Thomas More's Utopia?

Thomas More

I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that the novel is available for your Kindle (and probably for your Nook as well) for free. It would be unfair of me not to mention that if you purchase the paperback of the book through this link, I get a small commission for directing you to Amazon for your purchase. If you have a reader or tablet, I highly recommend getting the classic books on your device rather than purchasing the paperbacks. Save space, save trees, and save green!

Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia

Dystopian fiction is the opposite of utopia.

A utopia is a perfect world, a perfect society in which there is no hunger or violence. Everyone is happy and disease doesn't exist. There is no dissent. A dystopia is the polar opposite, an environment where the majority are hungry and there is constant war. There is often an oppressive big government in a dystopian society, one which wishes for nothing more than to control the people.

As my husband put it, a dystopia is the ultimate reality.

There is no perfect society. But there are plenty of societies around the world that have faded into decay and ruin. Look on Flickr under urban decay and see what you find. Some of those pictures are featured on this page, because they are prime examples of what a dystopia is. A dystopia is a ruined society.

The question that is often prominent is "who ruined the society." There are examples throughout dystopian fiction of societies ruined when people turn on one another, societies ruined by corporations, and societies ruined by the government.

Image Credit (Right)

Image Credit (Below)

Dystopian fiction is often allegorical

New word: Allegory

Dystopian Fiction if often Allegorical

I'm giving you a new word: Allegory. According to Dictionary.com, an allegory is defined as: "a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another." One example of a very famous allegory is The Wizard of Oz.

Allegories are generally political. An example of this is Gregory Maguire's adaptation of The Wizard of Oz: Wicked (which I will openly admit to not understanding!). Dystopian political allegories, such as The Hunger Games (which I write about frequently) can be either right wing or left wing dystopian societies. In other words, in some cases the big corporations are responsible for having destroyed the society, and in others, it's the big government that has come to oppress the people.

Not all dystopian fiction is political, and not all dystopian fiction is allegorical. In fact, I was surprised by the definition of allegory in that not all allegories are political. I had thought they were, and could never figure out how I didn't understand the politics of certain allegories!

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The big three

1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451

The following novels constitute a trinity of some of the best dystopian fiction ever written. Each has its own predictive qualities, and that is what makes these novels so terrifying. I believe that every library should include these dystopian classics. Read them, then read them to your children. Examine the themes of the novels together and be prepared to answer questions (both those belonging to your children and those belonging to you). I recommend reading any dystopian fiction with an open mind!

Fahrenheit 451: A Novel
Ray Bradbury
Amazon.com: $7.75

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, is a brilliant novel set in a future where there are no books. The firemen are tasked with the responsibility of burning all of the books in the world. This is the story of one of those firemen. The book is a classic, well worth adding to your library!

Brave New World
Aldous Huxley
Amazon.com: $8.81

Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is somehow predictive -- and utterly terrifying. The book accurately predicts some of our modern conveniences in the utopian society of the future, where the people are under the perfect control of the ruling class. We must pray that the future for our own society isn't so "utopian!"

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Centennial Edition
George Orwell
Amazon.com: $15.35

George Orwell's classic, 1984 has given us several cultural phrases that are commonly in use today. Have you ever heard the term "Big Brother?" What about "Thought Police" or "Orwellian?" These terms come from George Orwell, and specifically his novel 1984. Terrifyingly accurate!

Soylent Green: Right Wing Dystopia

Soylent Green is a Right Wing Dystopian Movie

Most people have heard of Soylent Green. You might be like me in that you've never seen the movie (in my case, I haven't run into it on television and don't want to purchase a movie I haven't seen at least once), but you've probably heard of it. Soylent Green is a cultural phenomenon, and on the off chance that you've never heard of it (and that you won't Google it now that you have), I won't tell you what the big secret of the movie is, mainly because the point I'm trying to make has nothing to do with the secret.

I wanted to use Soylent Green as an example of a Right Wing dystopian society. As I define the term, right-wing dystopia refers to a dystopian society in which the "right wing" has "won." In this case, the corporations control the society through their provision of foodstuffs; in this case, soylent green. There is more to the story than that, but you'll have to either watch it or find your own spoilers, since I won't provide any here!

Soylent Green Trailer

Soylent Green

Soylent Green
Warner Home Video
Amazon.com: $8.50

Soylent Green, the classic dystopian horror movie in which the corporations control society, has an interesting storyline, even if it has been spoiled virtually everywhere.

1984 is a left-wing dystopia

The dystopian classic 1984 by George Orwell

Although I'm sure that there will be some disagreements with this one, I believe 1984, with its big government is left-wing dystopia. The political left wing in the United States is in support of bigger government and more regulations. The left-wing tends to want more laws and more control by the government of the people over which it rules.

In 1984, the large government has taken over total control of the people, watching everything that they do ("Big Brother") and regulation thought and activities of the people.

You might consider 1984 to be classic horror, or predictive (which it certainly is, with the predicted technology in the book, such as the CCTVs that are everywhere to monitor possible criminal activity). What's going to come next? The dystopian society of the film Minority Report.

Minority Report Trailer

Minority Report

Minority Report (Widescreen Two-Disc Special Edition)
Dreamworks Video
Amazon.com: $5.00

Minority Report is what I would consider a cultural dystopia in which the society simply goes crazy in its attempt to prevent crime, to the point of putting criminals into jail in order to stop the criminals before they can commit their crimes. Is this where our society is headed?

Dystopian fiction takes many forms

On a final note, I would like to point out that dystopian fiction takes more than one form. There are, of course, the classic books that most people have heard of. There are also obviously dystopian movies, such as Soylent Green and Minority Report or even The Matrix. Dystopian fiction can be right wing, left wing, or cultural. It might even be allegorical. No matter what, however, it always makes a serious impression on the person who is reading or viewing, and is meant to make a point. You can learn a lot about an author by the type of fiction they write, and dystopian fiction, particularly political dystopian fiction, can be very interesting.

It's even more interesting to make the point of discovering what type of political system exists within the dystopian world. I've known many people who have seemed to think that all dystopia is right wing (upsetting for a dystopia-loving wingnut!), regardless of the theme of the story. There is a lot that can be learned through an exploration of dystopian fiction. I'd like for you to keep checking back since I'll be adding to this page. You can also either follow my blog or you can follow me on Twitter. I look forward to offering you some interesting dystopian novels!

Check out my book blog

I write about several topics (on my blog and on platforms like Zujava). My blog is a source where you can find a full listing of the articles I've written about books and writing, and I hope that you'll take the time to check it out. I work very hard on my articles and if you're interested in the book reviewing and blogging world, I am doing my best to build a good repertoire of articles that will hopefully help you to get started and continue well. I also use this blog for memes.

Review of Through the Fog, by Michael C. Grumley Feb 20, 2015
Review of Bait, by Courtney Farrell Feb 19, 2015
A Book a Day? Feb 17, 2015
Review of Surviving the Stillness, by Jessica White Feb 17, 2015
Review of Divergent, by Veronica Roth Mar 15, 2013
Review of Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl Mar 12, 2013
Why My Ratings Differ by Platform Mar 11, 2013
Why I Can't Define a Niche Mar 10, 2013
7 Books I'm Really Looking Forward to Reading Mar 9, 2013
Thank Goodness it's Friday! Mar 8, 2013

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Lol...I looked at the phrase "Dystopian Fiction" and thought that it sounded like some strange new illness. Well it turns out that it sort of is an illness of society I guess and thank you for enlightening me. The opposite of Utopia. Great article.
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giftideas on said:
Some of these "Dystopian Fiction" stories read link a scary NWO blueprint...
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That's pretty much the point. I forgot to add post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction to the list, which is rather odd because one of my main Niche's is The Hunger Games, which is... Post apocalyptic dystopian fiction.
Anonymous on said:
Your font is so tiny I can't read your post. I like your topic and it looks like you have a lot here. I could enlarge it but tiny fonts just annoy me. I don't understand why people would make their content unreadable.
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I'm sorry that you feel that way, Laura. The font on this page is fairly standard. 12pt unless I'm mistaken. I'm not sure that I would describe that as "tiny." I'm not the one controlling the size of the font. It's standard for Zujava. Same size as on your blog or your Hubpages account.
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mihgasper on said:
Just watching the TV news makes me believe we are already living in some sort of dystopia... Well done presentation!
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jenb0128 on said:
I love dystopian fiction (hah, my spell checker doesn't recognize it either). A couple more good books that fit into what you call the "right-wing dystopian" category are "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood, and "It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis.

A precursor to "1984" and "Brave New World" is a lesser-known Russian dystopian called "We" by Yevgeny Zamyatin, that was finished way back in 1921 (it was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988, but was published in English translations in 1924). In fact, George Orwell started writing 1984 shortly after reading We.

For the record, I have to disagree with your assertion that "1984" is "left-wing dystopian" because it involves big government. Pretty much all the dystopian books I've read involve big government of some sort. Also, the Patriot Act is more than a bit reminiscent of Big Brother! (Yes, yes, I know, Obama renewed it). Just my opinion. :)
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Argh! I've read so much of this I'm having a hard time thinking of specific options to add to your list. The big three you mention are a great place for people to start. Toss in Dick and Heinlen and you're doing well.

What I love about dystopian fiction is the blinders-off look at the future. Yes, it might involve flying cars and cool technology, but it might also involve a complete lack of privacy and individual rights. They're great examinations into the potential long-term impact of current political policies and laws. Sometimes extreme, but sometimes right on.

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