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Why do people enjoy dystopian fiction so much?

dystopian fiction book stack

For those who are not currently teenagers, do you remember the sudden surge in popularity for dystopian fiction in the late noughties and the early 2010s? When The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner basically ruled the young adult space.

However, in recent years, dystopian fiction hasn't held so much of the market share. With recovering from dystopia fatigue, the rise of romantasy fiction and having lived through a dystopian environment with the pandemic, readers currently don't seem as taken by it as they once did. On the surface. The truth is dystopian fiction still has a great deal to say about our society and still engages readers around the world. In fact, many of the popular romantasy titles like Fourth Wing utilise many popular dystopian elements.

So, what is it about the dystopian genre that captures readers' attention? Why do people like dystopian fiction? And why, if you're like me, do you choose to write dystopian fiction?

First up, what is dystopian fiction?

Before we skip ahead, let's remind ourselves what we're talking about; what is dystopian fiction? Masterclass offers one of the best definitions:

"Dystopian literature is a form of speculative fiction that offers a vision of the future. Dystopias are societies in cataclysmic decline, with characters who battle environmental ruin, technological control, and government oppression."

I would also add false utopias to this definition which is of course the idea of an seemingly ideal society and many dystopian novels utilise this well to depict these themes of control and oppression. Divergent by Veronica Roth is one example. I would also argue that dystopian fiction has developed to be less futuristic than it was previously. There are many dystopian works that are set in something like present day but introduce futuristic elements with the development of particular technologies, such as in Netflix's Black Mirror.

Why do people like dystopian fiction?

Its Critique on Society

I believe one of the primary purposes of dystopian fiction is to make a comment about the society in which the author is living. With the likes of 1984 and Brave New World, both published around world wars and the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, we see a comment on how the development of technology and industry could steal our humanity. When thinking about The Hunger Games, we see Suzanne Collins highlighting the huge gap between the rich and poor, and more recently, with something like Kazuo Isiguro's Klara and the Sun, we explore that fine line between technology and humanity in the development of artificial intelligence.

Readers enjoy the way that dystopian fiction pulls out some of the wrongs in our society and exposes them.

Different Levels of Escapism

With that in mind, dystopian fiction actually offers differing levels of escapism. For example, reading a short dystopian story like Skin during the pandemic did not offer me much escapism as the themes of isolation and contagion were very much our reality. Sometimes readers want that, but other times, they want complete escapism. Dystopian fiction can offer both. As something like Kazuo Isguiro's Never Let Me Go, is that thought-provoking and quite abstract, it can be a world the reader gets lost in. The teen series offer that strongly too.

Hope in the Human Spirit

This is one of my, as a dystopian author, favourite parts of the genre.

For there to be darkness, there has to be light. Using the themes of oppression, depressing settings, and technological control allows dystopian authors to demonstrate the good in life or even ask the question of what good is. How should we respond in the face of adversity? What truly matters and what can we do to protect it? Through the characters in dystopian fiction, we not only see the struggle on that line between good and evil (see my comments on the dystopian novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes) but also the hope in the human spirit to overcome it. Such feel good reading!

Personal development

Therefore, in a similar way, you see how dystopian fiction can benefit readers' self-awareness, personal development and well-being. By exaggerating certain wrongs and unhelpful characteristic tendencies, its a clearer way for readers to see where they might need to make adjustments in their own lives. I've certainly found myself convicted by a shocking dystopian idea and considered whether any of my own inner judgements or ideas need addressing. Of course, this is sometimes scary and painful, but there seems to be a need in our human spirit to sometimes read fiction that helps us to be better versions of ourselves.

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