Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dystopians: How Dark Can They Go?

Dystopian stories, by definition, are dark. They're usually rife with human misery, oppression, squalor and usually set in the future, at least if you read a lot of young adult novels these days. 

So why am I reading so many of them lately? Not sure, exactly.  But I've been hooked on them the last few months. I think it's because I love intriguing world-building and there are so many authors who do it so well.  In the last couple of months, I've read Maria Snyder's Inside Out, Allie Condie's Matched, and I'm currently reading Lauren Oliver's Delirium (I haven't finished Delirium yet so no spoilers in the comments, please!). 

Dystopians are currently the hot shiny, no doubt thanks to Hunger Games, right next to steampunk which has certainly gathered trend steam, no pun intended.  It seems every other book that publishes is set in some dystopian society so it goes without saying that authors are becoming more clever and even darker with their plotlines.  So, I guess the question is: How dark can it go?  Are you getting tired of dystopians yet?  Bonus question: Will utopian stories be the next trend?

24 comments:

Maria Zannini said...

I've never been a big fan of dark, regardless of the subgenre--but I'm probably in the minority. :) I love the world building, but not the gritty. I live gritty, I don't want to read it too. LOL.

My prediction is they will continue to grow in popularity, at least through all of 2012. ...unless someone else comes up with another doomsday message.

Karen Walker said...

My goodness, am I out of some kind of loop. Never heard the term before. I don't like dark stories - I used to,when I was younger. But now, not so much. I can see the attraction for them, though.
Karen

Elena Solodow said...

I'd love to do a utopian - the problem is figuring out how to add in conflict!

I'm writing a YA dystopian right now. It's been very interesting exploring a new world. I love to think how society might have turned out had different events occurred. And I think people enjoy them because when the state of our world can seem like such a mess, we want to see how a character handles that.

Enjoy Delerium! It's fantastic.

KarenG said...

I like them altho the only modern one I've read is Hunger Games, and I didn't think it was that dark. When I think dystopian I think Animal Farm, A Brave New World and Lord of the Flies. Shows you how old I am. I'm not sure I'd enjoy the new stuff out there.

J.L. Campbell said...

I haven't read any of them, but since they seem to be the latest reading craze, along with supernatural beings, I've read more than a few reviews. Based on what I've read to far from both blurbs/reviews, I'm not sure that there is a way for them to be any darker - suffering/misery/survival of the fittest. But I'm sure some brilliant writer will find a way.

I don't know about the utopian, since happiness is more often than not reserved for the last page of our novels.

Angelina Rain said...

I used to love dark, but not so much anymore. I like book that are a mix between dark and light.

Margo Benson said...

I think some Dystopia can be a fascinating look into 'what if' situations. Personally I don't want too much dark stuff as much of society and the world is grim enough.

I have a ball writing about gorgeous people in glamorous settings with happy endings!

I'm relishing a glam Steampunk :-)

Cold As Heaven said...

I enjoy dark stuff, at least when t comes to music and clothing. Not familiar with the dystopian literature genre. Maybe I should check it out >:)

Cold As Heaven

Kristabel Reed said...

I LOVE dystopia stories! I really liked Hunger Games (well books 1 & 2) but I've read a lot from Handmaid's Tale to The Road and even loved Walking Dead (show not graphic novel).

I think it's because like all great fiction, you're putting people in situations that are so far beyond their scope of reference that the drama is inherent. Or if it's far in the future, people fighting for a better day. All hallmarks of fantastic fiction and drama.

Jeigh said...

I don't know exactly why I like dystopian, but I do. I think it's because it's exciting to see a character rise above all the despair and try to make things better. I really enjoyed Delirium and Matched. Wither, by Lauren De Stefano (I think that's her name) is really good, too.

Donna Cummings said...

I'm not a dystopian kind of gal. There's too much real suffering going on in the world, so I can't read about it too. That's why I like to read, and write, comedy--so I can continue to feel hopeful about where things are headed.

But I'm glad the fans of dystopia fiction have so much stuff to choose from!

-E- said...

didn't realize that this genre continued after "Brave New World". good info!

Jennifer Hillier said...

I really enjoy the dark stuff - for me, it really can't go too dark. I really wish I'd known about books like the ones you mentioned when I was a teen, though. I went from Nancy Drew right to Stephen King - there didn't seem to be anything in between (that I knew about, anyway).

Liz Fichera said...

@Maria: I agree. I don't see its popularity diminishing any time soon. In fact, I think it's the opposite.

@KarenW: The YA section of the library is filled with so much great stuff these days. I wished I had had the variety way back when.

@Elena: You'd be ahead of the pack with a Utopian!

@KarenG: Those were and are great books. We'll see if today's crop stands the test of time.

JL: Ah, yea. The HEA. Must have one. Definitely.

Angelina: When I was a teen, I never read dark stories very often. Today, I don't mind dark stories but there has to be a believable reason for the darkness.

Margo: A glam steampunk? Sounds very intriguing to me.

CAH: You need look no further than the young adult section at your library!

@Kristabel: Agreed. The plotlines, obviously, are so important. Again, must be believable and even relatable, IMO.

@Jeigh: Thanks for the reminder about WITHER! I've added it to my TBR.

@Donna: I read across all genres but, as I said, I've been on a bit of a dystopian tear lately.

@E: It continues, indeed! Seems every week a dystopian is released.

@Jennifer: You're reading the good stuff, that's for sure!

Danette said...

I read a few when I reviewed MS fiction and just couldn't get into it. Left me in the dark :) btw: we have ebooks at DPL. And it seems to be a thriving part of the collection. Just don't know how they select which books to add to it.

Nas Dean said...

I must be in a cave somewhere, as I keep hearing the word Dystopiian, yet haven't read any so far.

Thanks for enlightening me, Liz. From your post itself and from all the comments I learnt something new here!

cherie said...

Great post, Liz. I'm tweeting this.

Sarah said...

Good questions--but I actually don't believe I've read a dystopian, so I don't really even feel qualified to comment! Most of my reading is in the contemp genre because of how those books cover mental illness/health issues. I think dystopian books are a reflection of the times, though, of what's on our collective mind.

Liz Fichera said...

@Danette: Love the pun! And I think with dystopians people either love or hate.

@Nas: You're welcome, Nas! Glad it was helpful.

@Cheri: Thank you so much!

@Sarah: I love contemps too. In truth, I'll read just about anything with a story that sucks me in except, maybe, a total gore story. But if there's a story...

Gina Blechman said...

My last manuscript is a Dystopian and so I ended up reading a LOT of Dystopians after it was finished to find out how my compared. (I had never heard the term dystopia before I went to my mentor and said "I have this novel and I have no idea what genre it is." LOL! But I fell in love. They're great, because they're thought provoking and personal and they test both the reader and the characters. I think a Dystopian can be as dark as dark can go or it can be much lighter, just very conflict based, just like any other genre. Dystopian is such a broad genre. It can be gritty, romantic, fantasy or sci-fi oriented. All really terrific options.

<3 Gina Blechman

Kittie Howard said...

Generally speaking, I'm not into dystopian. It's too dark. However, I think the genre will grow. Dystopian novels were popular around the turn of the last century. What with the Mayan calendar now at center attention for many, the doomsday appetite will continue.

M Pax said...

Dark is good, but not too depressing. Then it's just depressing. I think if the story is uplifting, the setting can go very dark.

Maybe dystopian vampires who are also ghosts is the next trend. :D

Liz Fichera said...

@Gina: That's kinda why I started reading them too. Total curiosity. Then I got hooked. :-)

@Kittie: I believe you're right about the Mayan calendar and it's doomsday-like effect. Art imitating life?

@MPax: I haven't read any dystopian vampires. Yet. But I do believe you're onto something...

Rachael Harrie said...

Intriguing question. I'm writing YA Horror, so am always conscious of that fine line between dark and too dark. I guess from the perspective of my genre, dystopian doesn't seem too dark, which makes the question of how dark you can go even more interesting for me :)

Hugs,

Rach