Monday, June 25, 2012

It's the End of the World As We Know It: Dystopian Fiction

Raise your hand if you like dystopian fiction!  (Or raise your hand if you know what dystopian fiction is!)*
The utopia and its offshoot, the dystopia, are genres of literature that explore social and political structures. Utopian fiction is the creation of an ideal world, or utopia, as the setting for a novel. Dystopian fiction is the opposite: creation of a nightmare world, or dystopia. Many novels combine both, often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take in its choices, ending up with one of two possible futures. Both utopias and dystopias are commonly found in science fiction and other speculative fiction genres, and arguably are by definition a type of speculative fiction. 
Source: Wikipedia
I don't know that I would consider it one of my favorite genres, but I have read and enjoyed a few of its most popular pieces.  1984 was so good, I was depressed for a few days after finishing it.  Fahrenheit 451 was good too.  I could not get past 50 pages of The Hunger Games.  I didn't get far with War of the Worlds either.  I do love Stephen King's The Stand (The mini-series, that is.  Hey, full disclosure.  It's over 1k pages.)

Most recently: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  In a nutshell: it's a truly excellent novel that portrays a 'nightmare world' where women are used as commodities for what they can provide - housework and babies, mostly.  Men have wives, but then they also have "Martha"s for cooking and cleaning, and "Handmaids" for bearing children. As you can imagine, these women are kept under close surveillance and not allowed much (any) freedom.

The protagonist, who is called "Offred" ("Of Fred," the man she is assigned to), lets us into this world from the perspective of someone who remembers the time before, a time much like today.  We don't even learn her name from the time before because, after all, she no longer has an identity outside of childbearing.


The novel is thought-provoking and disturbing.  I have to admit that while I was reading, it occurred to me that these archetypes already exist in our society: the Wife, the Daughter, the Martha, the Handmaid, the "Jezebel."  Atwood has simply personified them, but they exist today as social constructs and roles many women fight hard to fit into, to avoid, or both.

I enjoyed this novel so much that I began reading Oryx and Crake, another of Margaret Atwood's novels that, as one fellow reader put it, has "that same futuristic, the world is going to hell in a hand-basket tone to it."

What's your favorite nightmare world?  Novel, graphic novel, comic, film?

*Check out this very cool infographic from Goodreads on dystopian fiction.

2 comments:

Me said...

Excellent post! I have this book as bedside reading but have yet to really get into it. But after reading this I will have to read it! As for favorite dystopian fiction I just finished reading The Passage by Justin Cronin and it was amazing! I do have a soft spot for zombie apocalypse and this is one of the best I have read.

project timesheet said...

the infographic reminds me of the book, 'the fourth turning' which is about the real dystopia coming soon (nonfiction)