Since I can’t think of any good advice about writing, art or comics at the moment, I thought that I’d take a break and talk about one of my favourite types of science fiction today. If you want advice about actually writing dystopic fiction, then check out this article I wrote last year.
Anyway, one of the things which made me go from being mildly interested in the sci-fi genre to being absolutely fascinated by it back when I was a teenager was probably when I discovered dystopic sci-fi.
In case you’ve never heard of this sub-genre of sci-fi before, “dystopic sci-fi” refers to any story set in a future where the world has really gone to hell in a massive way. Most dystopic sci-fi stories tend to feature totalitarian governments of some kind or another, but they can also take place in post-apocalyptic settings and corporate-controlled worlds.
I don’t know exactly what the first dystopic sci-fi novel I ever read was, but it was probably George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” which I read when I was about thirteen.
I’d seen part of the film adaptation for it in an English lesson at school (since we were studying Orwell’s “Animal Farm” at the time) and there was something about the gloomy, oppressive atmosphere of the film and the mysterious machinations of the totalitarian Ingsoc government that fascinated me enough to want to read more about it.
Not only that, as a nascent splatterpunk fan and aspiring horror writer, I was also morbidly curious about exactly what macabre horrors lay within the dreaded “Room 101” too.
Ok, I was mildly disappointed when I actually read the “Room 101” scene (James Herbert wrote this kind of scene much better about thirty years after Orwell wrote his novel) but there was just something about the novel that really fascinated me.
In many ways, I think that part of the appeal of it was the kind of “there but for the grace of god” feeling that I got when I realised that I lived in a world which was much better than the one in “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.
Yes, I was thirteen at the time and was too naive to develop a healthy sense of cynicism about politics and the world, but there was something curiously uplifting about reading stories set in worlds much worse than this one.
In addition to this, another reason why dystopic sci-fi fascinated me so much was because the main characters in dystopic sci-fi stories are almost all rebels or dissidents of some kind or another. This, of course, allows you to vicariously experience rebelling against authority when you read one of these novels.
It’s also probably why dystopic sci-fi is both incredibly popular amongst teenagers (eg: things like “The Hunger Games”) and why actual totalitarian governments throughout history almost always ban everything in this genre.
And, on a subconscious and subjective level, as someone who felt a bit like an “outsider” (for various reasons) – dystopic sci-fi was probably one of the few genres that partially mirrored how I saw the world and my place in it.
After all, the protagonists of dystopic sci-fi novels who have to fit into the soul-eroding orthodoxy of a deeply bizarre, but supposedly “ordinary”, world in order to survive.
Dystopic sci-fi is one of the few genres where being strange or different in some way is pretty much mandatory for the main characters. As such, it can never really be a completely “mainstream” genre in the way that, say, detective, romance or thriller fiction might be.
Yes, it might be a popular genre (especially in movies) but it can never really quite be mainstream.
So, yes, this is why I love dystopic sci-fi.
Sorry that this article wasn’t particularly informative, but I hope it was interesting 🙂