Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dystopia and Our Society: Guest Diva Samantha

 Dystopia and Our Society: An article by Guest Diva Samantha

Horror has long been thought of as the genre that plays on our fears. Frankenstein is probably the one you have heard of most often. Frankenstein’s monster is brought back to life, and during the time that Mary Shelley wrote the novel, medical advances were being made. Many people feared and wondered if we were playing God, and they wondered how far we were allowed to go. The attempt to bring people back from the dead was not just fictional, it was really happening. Time has passed, though, and the idea of coming back from the dead isn’t as frightening to us as it used to be. Stem cell research doesn’t send shivers down the spine or make the person fear that they are going to die. A hoard of test tube babies is not going to come after us in our sleep. Global warming, government uprisings, natural disasters, government collapses, social networking, and severe social injustices, however, are very pressing matters for our society today.

 With vampires defanged and zombies not quite having the bite that they used to we are forced to turn from traditional horror to something new. Maybe Sarah Dessen leaves your knees trembling for the wrong reason, the Cullens don’t give you the creeps, and certainly witchcraft doesn’t end in trials anymore. Dystopia is where it’s at. 

The trends in YA are like a volcano. They come in spurts. As a reader you can’t exactly time when they will happen or tell what is going to come up; but you know trends will happen and, eventually, they will change. With The Hunger Games still rising in the charts, more and more dystopian novels are coming out: XVI by Julia Karr, Bumped by Megan McCafferty, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, Divergent by Veronica Roth. Then there are the ‘oldies’ (but the goodies!): Lois Lowery’s The Giver, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies Trilogy (er, quartet?). Then the classics like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. All of these books have one thing in common: something caused the upheaval of our society. Burning books, love being a disease, infertility, women’s place in society slipping back again, global warming leading to the change of the continents, Big Brother. 

Some of these books could tell our future, but some already have. With iPhones now having the capability to track the user and send them specific ads for where they are, the only thing closer to Big Brother would be if they were watching you. Of course, there was the high school that gave students laptops and then watched them through the webcams. But, certainly, that was only for their safety. (If you believe that, then congratulations, you’re buying into it.)

Other more recent books borrow tidbits from our society and emphasize it. In Westerfeld’s Extras your online status suddenly becames very important. Your friends hitting the “Like” button no longer just sends you little red warnings on the Facebook window bar, but now determines where you stand in society.

Lauren Oliver takes a different approach in Delirium where she plays on the reader’s relationship with love and heartbreak. Delirium is a YA book so it is intended for teens (I laugh in the face of intentions, though). Love is such a new thing for teens; it’s scary making yourself vulnerable to someone else. Your first loves, though, also come with your first heartbreak, and the idea of having a cure for that would be very alluring.
As our society changes, so will our fears. In conjunction, so will the topics that are discussed in the pages of dystopian novels.

Guest Diva Samantha is 21 years old. She will be a UC Santa Cruz student next fall studying literature. She has loved dystopian novels since The Giver was assigned reading in her sixth grade class. It was the first book she ever read in one sitting and the last assigned reading she ever enjoyed. Aside from dystopian novels, she likes paranormal (with a strong female main character) and some contemporary novels. When not reading, she is either writing or organizing.  Samantha can be found on Twitter: @writerlysam.


  1. Like your post. I think dystopian novels are gaining ground just as vampire novels are losing some steam. I did enjoy the Hunger Games and I hope to be starting Catching Fire next weeek. I like apocalyptic novels as well. They are all fascinating because they "could" happen, whereas vampire novels are a far cry for the imagination....atleast for me.

    Nice to find your blog. I found you through Good Books and Good Wine.

  2. Loved your post! And who's not to say that dystopian is just as scary as Shelley's Frankenstein?

  3. @Lena: Isn't the Hunger Games wonderful? I, too, enjoy a good apocalyptic novel, and we'll be reviewing some of those here on Dystopian Divas. We're not sticking to a "pure" definition of dystopia, but rather including books with dystopian elements. (Look for a post explaining more about this.)

    @Elani: So true about dystopian worlds being scary! For example, who'd want to go into the arena in the Hunger Games, or have to shield even your thoughts, as in 1984? Good point!

    Welcome, both of you, to Dystopian Divas!

    ~Diva Schuyler