April 4th, 2012
Dystopia? What the heck does that mean in book reading terms?
Well, often times the characters in dystopian fiction believe they’re living in a utopian society. You know, the kind of society where nobody speaks out of turn, everyone appears to get along splendidly. Everything seems perfect and orderly; from the activities you participate in, the games you play, the food you eat and the time at which you eat it, the work you do, and yes, sometimes even your death is a scheduled event. It’s all for the greater good, rules are in place and followed to maintain the peace and order of that society.
But then there’s the character who asks the question, why. Why do we have such rigid guidelines for living, why is everything we do carefully controlled? Why can’t I select the person I want to be with for the rest of my life? Why do I have to enter my name for a reaping of 24 child tributes to participate in your Hunger Games?
Typically in dystopian fiction, you’ll have that main character asking questions like “why” or doing things that are outside the boundaries of what’s deemed “appropriate” behavior for that world. Those kind of actions begin creating discomfort in the characters around them. People aren’t supposed to act out of turn or question why the government does what it does in a dystopian society. Questioning rules and procedures is a form of dissent against a regime that believes it’s doing what’s best for the people. Characters exist, do as they’re told and obey at all times — or suffer the consequences. Sometimes the greatest obstacle is not a leading body bent on keeping that main character from overthrowing the system, but rather the other people in the story, the friends and loved ones who are obedient to order. The ones who don’t want to see people they care about breaking the rules.
I like to read and write young adult dystopian fiction because I can explore a world of what could be. What if we let our leaders have too much control over our lives? What are some of the potential consequences of sacrificing personal freedoms for the sake of safety? What happens to our humanity if we let technology commandeer more of our lives?
Some of my favorite dystopian reads are The Giver by Lois Lowry, Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, Ship Breaker by Colorado author Paolo Bacigalupi, and of course, Shatter Me by the great Tahereh Mafi.
Have you read anything that fits this category? If so, what are some of your favorite dystopian books? What would you recommend I add to my stacks?