Monday, September 12, 2011

Types of Dystopos: Pangaea

Panem in The Hunger Games; Eurasia in 1984; the Magisterium of The Golden Compass

Tectonic theory posits that the earth is actually a series of plates floating on molten metal. The continents used to be smashed together in a giant supercontinent that geologists call “Pangaea.” It suggests a simpler world, where you could walk from one side of the extant world to the other; it’s a world that’s almost impossible to imagine as contiguous with our own, Brazil and Nigeria next door neighbors, Russia and Alaska and Canada all one big hunting ground.

In dystopian fiction, a similar move happens: in 1984, we have neither Great Britain nor Russia nor China but Oceania and Eurasia and Eastasia. In The Hunger Games, we have Panem (a word that is probably originally a play on “panem et circenses,” the Latin for “bread and circuses”, but also nicely captures the idea of a pan-encompassing nation-state).

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Types of Dystopos: Astroturf

Examples: The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451

I just finished Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, one of the many “classic” dystopian novels that make up this genre’s history—and I was struck by Atwood’s decision to set her novel so close to the founding of her dystopia, Gilead.

New regimes are sometimes forged by revolution, born of sweat and popular dissent—created by grassroots movements that call and clamor for change. Few dystopias arise from this, if only because where they end up is ultimately a population of people too miserable, or lethargic, or both. Instead, as in Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, the dystopian system just springs into life, a fake grassroots movement—astroturf. Extremists in Handmaid’s Tale gun down the American Senate; we have intimations that the caste system of BNW was developed by scientists and World Controllers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Goodwhere, Badwhere, Nowhere, Thiswhere

Dystopian novels are hot right now: my dad has been reading them like crazy—the Uglies series, the Hunger Games series (check out my review of The Hunger Games series: 1, 2, and 3), the novel Matched, and more and more. I liked them before they were cool—right?—I remember being in high school, senior year, reading 1984 and Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 and the rest.  Now we've seen an explosion of dystopian fiction.

The easiest answer for this sudden trend in popularity is this: most teenagers and young adults like them, and now that YA literature is hot, dystopian novels are hot, too. I can imagine why I as a young adult, just learning the shadier undersides of everything from economics to politics to religion to authority in general, would enjoy reading books where the entire world is slightly askew: to wit, it was the way I saw the world I was living in already anyway.