Dystopian novels were really big a few years ago (around the time of The Hunger Games), but they seem to have gone out of fashion recently. I’m guessing it’s because the genre got over saturated with too many books, most of which were pretty tropey. There was definitely a formula for how dystopian novels would go which got old pretty quickly. You know the typical…
- Girl who is “different” in some way
- Government that is controlling everyone, usually by splitting people into very specific groups or controlling love
- Girl finds out things are a mess and joins the resistance
- Girl somehow attempts to change the mindset of the whole nation
- There are also some hot guys who are in love with our main character (hellooooo love triangle). Choose two of (1) bad boy who hates everyone, (2) childhood friend, (3) athletic and attractive popular guy, (4) nerd who is smart and cute
And this got old really quickly, I agree. However I remember reading some good dystopians in my time and I’ve just started another one that I am really enjoying so I thought I’d take a look at why I still enjoy reading dystopian novels.
1. I love the world building
I am a sucker for world building, and I love reading about all the creative ways to organise people and society. Some of them are really crazy and make no sense, but others hypothetically would make society function better. Sorting people into groups by job or personality makes it easy for fans of the book to identify with aspects of the book.
**Side note: I have a theory that’s why books like Harry Potter, Divergent and Percy Jackson are so popular, because they have distinct groups that readers can fit themselves into which forms a sense of attachment to the series** (and yes I realise most of those aren’t dystopian)
I know it’s kind of weird, but I can’t help but love the organised way in which some of these societies are set out. And for the others I can at least admire the creativity of the writer.
2. They remind me that things can’t be perfect
A massive part of the dystopian genre is creating this society that appears perfect but is basically a mess, typically because of corruption and secrets. There’s also usually a dictator of some sort, or people following a bunch of rules without really knowing why. And even though some people are happy, we as the reader are shown that some people aren’t.
As someone who is quite perfectionistic and tends to have thoughts like “things would be better if I could just do it myself” it is helpful to have a reminder that the world
probably wouldn’t be better off if I was in control and could decide everything. Seeing an extreme example of how trying to control everyone can backfire makes me want to stay far away from going down that path.
3. They make us reflect on our world
So you know how in the Hunger Games most people are living in poverty and suffering while an upper class minority gets to party and basically ignores that there’s a problem? Isn’t that kiiiiind of what’s happening in our world today?
Reading dystopian novels has shown me that there is always an upper class and a lower class, and often the upper class is somewhat aware of the problem but chooses to ignore it because they don’t want to rock the boat or don’t think they can make a change. And although that might be an exaggerated example of our world today it acts as a mirror to our own behavior and a warning of where our society could end up.
There is this whole subgenre of dystopian that I was really into for a year that is all about environmental collapse, and this is also very reflective of the state of our world. Creating hypothetical scenarios of what could happen in ten years, fifty years, one hundred years (etc) encourages us to change our behavior now
4. They bring us hope
You know what one of the most defining traits of the dystopian genre is? That there’s a group of people who realise there’s a problem and work to change things. They usually succeed in overthrowing the government’s control and make a new world order that is less controlling of people’s actions.
This overarching tale of good defeating evil and the balance of the world being restored is comforting and nice. It’s good to know that no matter how rigid society is there will always be people working against that. There will always be people trying to help those in need.
5. They help us refine our world domination plans
Seeing all the ways that governments fail to control people and all the little mistakes they make help me know what not to do when my time comes around to take over. Or is that just me? Woops…. sorry….
But in all truth, seeing the failures of dystopian worlds helps us be more aware of how society could go bad. If we know that we need our freedom to make choices and we know that having guards that we can’t trust is bad then we can be aware if/when those things start happening in real life. So really reading dystopians are preparing us for the inevitable dystopian future.
6. The survival aspect
I love a good survival story. There’s something amazing about imagining myself trying to survive in the world and learning little hints that could help me survive if I ever have to. Dystopians usually have an element of trying to survive in the wilderness or off the land which is really interesting to read about.
I like how dystopians allow situations where characters do have to go a bit old school to survive without regressing to a medieval fantasy setting which gets cliche really fast and has been done a thousand times. That’s true of dystopian too… but eh.
Another survival type thing I love reading about is thieves and heists, but if it’s set in the modern day these books are often heavily centered around the technology which isn’t as exciting. Dystopians allow us to read about daring escapes and plots and people with really cool skills because they can’t always just use technology to solve their problems.
7. The technological developments!!
I have read some really cool technology in dystopian novels. It’s interesting to see what people come up with when they aren’t bound by the rules of our current level of technology or even anything that makes sense.
The first example I thought of was Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy (which in my mind counts as dystopian) where there is a whole society where people live like they’re in a video game and get points for every positive actions…. that is so cool!!
and now…some recommendations
There are some amazing dystopian novels out there and I planned to recommend some of them, but my list got so long that I’m transferring it over to a different post that I will link here once it’s live.
do you still read dystopian novels? why or why not?