Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Dystopia of Our Own: Defining Dystopia by Diva Schuyler

The Literary Definition of Dystopia, & Why The Divas Ditch It  

In reading dystopian stories, it's important to know what, exactly, a dystopia is. We don't want any dys-DOPE-ians around, do we? (Forgive me; Big Brother made me write that. He tells lousy jokes.) So this Diva found an excellent literary definition of dystopia in the introduction to a short story anthology called Brave New Worlds, edited by John Joseph Adams, who described it like this:

The roots of the word dystopia--dys- and -topia--are from the Ancient Greek for "bad" and "place," and so we use the term to describe an unfavorable society in which to live. "Dystopia" is not a synonym for "post-apocalyptic"; it is also not a synonym for a bleak, or darkly imagined future. In a dystopian story, society itself is typically the antagonist; it is society that is actively working against the protagonist's aims and desires. This oppression frequently is enacted by a totalitarian or authoritarian government, resulting in the loss of civil liberties and untenable living conditions, caused by any number of circumstances, such as world overpopulation, laws controlling a person's sexual or reproductive freedom, and living under constant surveillance.

That's a fancy-pants description, but what it boils down to is this: a dystopia is a bad place to live. Forces outside of a person's power control their lives in some way. This is the part of dystopia on which your Divas will focus. So while the literary definition restricts itself mainly to places with oppressive governments, Dystopian Divas will stretch beyond this. We'll explore post-apocalyptic landscapes (some with zombies, some without), gang life, cult compounds, sci-fi environments, and even abusive households. Why? Because these places often have the feel, the taste, and the truth of a dystopian world. They are places where characters must, as in a pure dystopia, fight for survival. Not just for physical life, but for their identities and their humanity. 

Most of us have had to fight for our rights at some point in our lives, or will. We love to read dystopian fiction because it helps us with our own inner battles. Take up the armor of books, then, and we'll journey together toward brave new words.

~Diva Schuyler


  1. "dys-DOPE-ians" that had me laughing out loud. :)

  2. Yay, I'm glad it made you laugh...I was trying SO hard not to put that joke in, but just couldn't help myself! ;D

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  4. I love this! As a huge fan of the genre, I don't mind the stretching of the definition one bit! I especially like the bit about abusive households, which are not something one often thinks of as dystopian. Generally, some form of society is to blame for the dystopia, but how many times have we all seen the family described as its own form of society with its rules and restrictions. It also makes me wonder if you'll cover non-fiction topics, as well? For example, North Korea has often been described as a real-life dystopia. Finally, I am curious about how you will handle post-apocalyptic works. Will they be treated as dystopian worlds or will they be distinguished from them? Overall, it seems like a great definition!