Friday, February 24, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: Dystopia

Ah, dystopia!

Desert of the Real, anyone?
A dystopia is a future in which things are going very, very badly for humanity – and it's usually our own fault. Dystopian stories have been around forever, but they became especially prominent in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They tend to function as satires of ideas or social trends occurring at the time they were written.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, 1932
1984, George Orwell, 1949
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, 1953
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, 1962
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner, 1968
Soylent Green, film, 1973 (based on Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room!)
"The Machine Stops," E.M. Forster

My personal favorite out of all of these - Stand on Zanzibar. It was clearly written in the '60s, but it's still ghastly fun, and written in a very interesting style.


  1. To be a real dystopian story, it has to be more than just things going badly, right? Because I don't think of Zombie apocalypse stories or alien invasions as dystopias. I don't know if I even include post-nuclear worlds into your theme.

    The elements that make the story horrifying have to already be present in the world and the reader be able trace the progression from today to that future without an interruption, yes?

    Can the setting be dystopian without the story being free of all light and hope?

  2. Quite right. I should have said "things are going very, very badly - and it's our own darned fault." But it can be dystopian and still have hope, although that is quite rare. If there is hope, it's often hope that exists outside the dystopian society itself.

    For instance, in "The Machine Stops," the Machine Society collapses, but there is a remnant of humanity that never succumbed that might provide the chance for regeneration.