“I tuck caution into my pocket and hope I can reach for it if I need to.”
― Tahereh Mafi
Dystopia covers a pretty broad spectrum of things. In young adult fiction, there’s Mindy McGinnis’ Not a Drop to Drink where there’s no governance, just an acute scarcity of water and too many people who’re willing to kill for it. There’s also Red Rising, which is somehow science fiction and fantasy and dystopia combined. My point is it’s hard to figure out what the common identifying feature is.
Personally, I believe it isn’t dystopia without the bleak sense that things are bad (and that they’re just going to get worse) . It’s about people feeling trapped and powerless. It doesn’t have to be about a government; It doesn’t have to be the apocalypse, even.
Imagine you’re in a car that’s sitting in a ditch. You turn on the ignition and the wheels turn, throwing up a cloud of dust. There’s this whiny noise like the wheels already know their effort is futile.
When you turn off the engine, you’re even more stuck in the rut. This is the attitude of most of the characters in a dystopian novel. They’ve seen efforts to make things better, and they’re convinced it won’t work. So, they just sit in their cars which are in ditches.
For most people, it’s not hard to learn, to find a pattern of thought that works and stay that way.
– Veronica Roth, Divergent
Then- behold! There comes a dashing young hero (or heroine) who was born in the stuck car (yikes! my metaphor is getting really stretched here). She’s grown up in the stuck car and so she’s bitter, deprived and cynical. In a word, she’s completely “ordinary”. But she sees something ahead of the ditch. Maybe it’s an ice-cream truck passing by on the road. So, she along with a group of
sidekicks and love-interests loyal, talented friends come up with a contraption to save the day. They pull the car out of the ditch with the help of sheer will power held together by scotch tape (it’s magical, you know). The ending goes something like: Everyone lives happily ever after (except for the few that got squished underneath the car).
“Hope. It’s the only thing stronger than fear.”
-Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire
I get why dystopia is attractive. I really do. There’s something intoxicating about a person who is close to normal stepping up to save the world. It’s lovely to read a bleak, depressing book and think “Man, we sure have it better than they do.”
But right now, most dystopia is not my cup of tea. I can’t justify reading something so profoundly unhappy and bitter when the world isn’t even close to perfect. I’ve moved on from the point where pissed-off and bitter characters seem more like children to me than kindred souls. Those are just excuses. Let me muster up some courage to tell you, I just don’t get it anymore.
I don’t know if it’s because the sudden flooding of dystopian books have cured me of my liking or if I just grew out of it naturally.
Do I hate dystopia? No, that’s like saying I despise hope. Or that I can’t take pleasure in misery. I totally can. It just has to be really high-caliber hope and despair.