Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dystopian Fans Speak Out!

by Maggie Toussaint
w/a Rigel Carson

Some excellent dystopian reads!
Dystopian books take us to different worlds where people behave badly under pressure. The stuff they need is unavailable or costs too much. Disasters hit in waves. People needlessly die, while others are on huge power trips. Hope seems a faint glimmer, but somehow people keep putting one foot in front of the other, proving the resilience of the human spirit.

Wait a minute. That sounds like today. Dystopia is supposed to be fictional. According to the Oxford Dictionary, dystopia is: "an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one."

I read and write dystopian fiction, but I struggled to articulate what draws me to these books. I love a good story, and when I get drawn into a story world, I don’t want to leave. I love books where the underdog beats the odds and emerges victorious. And I always like books where the good guy wins.

Even so, my rationale seemed thin, so I asked the good folks over at Band of Dystopian Authors and Fans why they read dystopian fiction. Here’s what 21 readers of dystopian fiction had to say.

#1. I'm fascinated with the idea of society hitting "rock bottom" and starting over again with a level playing field, kind of. In this type of disaster, "ordinary" people can become heroes, and you get to see the true colors of the people you thought you knew. Disaster, loss, upheaval: these things push you to the edge, and that's when you get to find out if you'll fall or fly.
#2. It no longer matters that you were thousands in debt, or never got that sports car you wanted, or never got to fly to Fiji or lose 50 pounds. You see what's truly important in life without all the bells and whistles and "wants" clogging your mind space. What's important? Love, friendship, family, strength, partnerships, community. . . And when you don't know if you'll be alive the next day, you take none of these things for granted. -- CR

I'm an introvert as well & I like reading about the will to survive and the struggles to do so without losing your humanity. -- KR

I agree with CR 100%. I also think it’s one of the best genres for showcasing an author's imagination and creativity. -- MP

I like that once it's all gone, we are all left to the basics and it doesn't matter what you did, it matters what you do next. It's easy to see that in a catastrophic situation, but reading it somehow gives me the courage to try it now. So what if I'm shy and lazy, I am going to go do something and talk to people, after I finish this last chapter, of course!! If we all acted the way some of the characters do about freedoms and insecurities the world would be a better place for everyone!! -- KSC

What CR said and because it strips people to who they really are in crisis. Good or bad. Strong or weak. Hopeful or taking the easy way out. It makes me think about who I would be in a world without rules and all about survival. -- BB

I'm getting a sense of empowerment and of a fresh start/equality from the responses. I agree with those. I really like the idea that an everyman (or everywoman!) can triumph and rise above humble beginnings. Reading dystopian fiction empowers our personal wish fulfillment in a role model sort of way. -- MT

It is a level playing field that we don't have now. Everyone's goal is survival. Whether that means by hurting others or working with others it's still the same goal. -- BB

I'm not an introvert by any means. I'm not necessarily proud of that fact. But, that's me. I love Dystopian stories because they remind me of what could happen if we're not careful. They make me open my eyes, and look where we're going. In my writing, my worlds are not post-apocalypse, or post-any disaster. They are just a representation of what could happen organically if we keep going. And, because I don't take it from an aftermath standpoint, I think it is even more scary because my people don't know what hit them. -- TH

Dystopian novels usually have the quality I like in other genres. There is usually suspense, mystery, conflict and twists and turns. Also it's that what if question. I could get really analytical and say it has to do with the meaning of life etc. They usually pose questions. If I go back to Anthem there is the recurring question we see in a lot of books: the I vs the we. --KSH

I enjoy Dystopian fiction as well. For me, it has to do with exploring great loss and finding characters who grow and blossom in the harshest of conditions. I think it's because we are always looking for the light at the end of the tunnel even in the darkest of times. -- CAH

I think it is because we are trying to figure stuff out. So it is a learning process. We aren't experiencing those worlds in many ways in our daily life, but what if we were suddenly thrust into this? Would having read these stories accustomed us to the thought of living in this scenario? And also I think it is because on some level, we believe that the world we know could become a very real dystopia. -- DAL

I think it's an escape. Our society is really not all that different from a lot of dystopian books I read, I think it's just disguised a little better. -- LHR

I like the idea of starting over. While it seems hopeless and life will never be as it was, you build a new existence from nothing. -- RB

Honestly, it is the perfect escape. Reading or Writing I can escape to world that would truly show who I am. I like the idea of everyone being equal and having to start all over again, with the way the world is now would it be a bad thing! -- IS

It reflects a deep seated belief that we are controlled by evil states (meaning governments) who do not have our best interests at heart. Just like the alien interest in the '50s when we were afraid of communists. -- JH

I wrote an article about why we are so fascinated by dystopian literature and film. Some of the experts believe it is because we LIVE in a dystopian society, and it is how we find control over, and have hope, in our current situation. Love everyone's responses here! -- LLW

I have not figured it out either. I am 53 and just in the last few years discovered this type of book. I used to read Danielle Steel type book lol. -- SA

1. In dystopia there is hope. Oxymoronic? But true.

2. Dystopia is about an individual taking on the system and challenging it and sometimes dying trying to change it. Something I wish I could do in real life - but I can definitely do it through my books.

3. Because dystopia is already around me in many different ways and when I peek into the future I can just see it all accelerating towards a strange THE END which in many ways is already here and then I wonder what's after that? Because that's when the real story begins. --LH

I'm often fascinated though, when I tell people I write dystopian fiction, people assume I write YA. I don't, my protagonist is a female paramedic in her 30s and the content/themes etc. are very adult. There's no way I would give my book to someone under 20 to read. I've often wondered why this is the case, why dystopia is very often relegated to "YA". Is it simply because people aren't writing adult dystopia, or they're not sellable? -- KM

I like the world building, the possibilities (without being pure fantasy), the escapist quality, and the type of atmosphere I get from them (if that makes sense). I wrote an essay on it recently, and one of the features I actually love, is that being in a sort of "end of the world as we know it" situation gives the characters motivation for discovering what truly matters to them. -- EK

A dystopian world can be a great equalizer. You don't care where someone is from or what they look like as long as they can help you stay alive. Survival skills are worth more than all the money the once-wealthy possessed and oh yeah, no more bills to pay. -- TC

I also write and read dystopian. To me, the only difference between dystopian realities and our current reality is that in a dystopian world, the screwed up things that happen and that people do to each other are a lot more blunt and blatant. In our current reality, everything is sandwiched between fluffy deception, i.e., very strict policies on physical abuse, we'll remove the child immediately if we see an unexplained bruise. But you can emotionally twist and torment your children all you want with zero interference. But rape is wrong too. We pick the "big and obvious" battles to crusade against while allowing the less in-your-face injustices which can be just as detrimental run amuck. –KF

If you’d like to know more about this topic, I highly recommend a well-researched dystopian article written by Lindsay Winsemius, "The psychology behind why we love dystopian books." http://www.lindseywinsemius.com/blog/7-reasons-we-love-dystopian-books


View all my books at http://maggietoussaint.com/books/

Maggie Toussaint - mystery and suspense at MaggieToussaint.com
Rigel Carson - dystopian fiction at RigelCarson.com

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