As regular readers of this blog probably know, I’ve been going through a bit of a cyberpunk phase recently. One of the interesting things about the cyberpunk genre is that it is, by necessity, a sub-genre of the dystopian science fiction genre. After all, most cyberpunk comics, games, stories, movies etc… wouldn’t really work if they were set in a perfect paradise of any kind.
After all, the dystopian settings help to add drama, intrigue and thought-provoking satire to the story. Not only that, the main characters in most things in the cyberpunk genre are traditionally “underdog” computer hackers of some kind, that the audience can use for vicarious rebellion. But, for today, I’ll just be focusing on how to create dystopian settings for comics, novels etc…
The easiest way to think about a fictional dystopia is that, to someone (or some small group of people), it’s actually a utopia. If someone is a dictator, then their country is -to them at least- a utopia.
After all, they have absolute power, massive wealth, constant praise from their supporters and they own an entire country. To a dictator, a dictatorship is heaven on earth. The perfect utopia. However, of course, for everyone else – that country is a dystopia.
So, when thinking of ideas for fictional dystopias, just ask yourself “who benefits the most from this dystopia?“. This sounds like an obvious question but, thinking about it carefully will help you to shape your fictional dystopia into something that feels more dramatically plausible.
For example, a sci-fi dystopia that benefited technology corporations would probably look at least subtly different to a dystopia that benefited pharmaceutical corporations.
The technology company sci-fi dystopia would probably include a lot more surveillance (because the technology makes it possible), a lot more advertising (to sell technology), lower product safety standards and a social hierarchy that benefits high-mid ranking technology corporation.
It would probably also include compulsory social media use (again, for advertising and control), a ban on open-source software (to sell more proprietary software), stricter copyright laws (to protect corporate profits), planned obsolescence for most gadgets (again, to sell more technology repeatedly) etc…
The sci-fi dystopia that benefited pharmaceutical companies would probably include things like biometric surveillance (for targeted advertising of medicines), longer patent terms for medicines (because greed would come ahead of saving lives with cheap generic drugs) etc…
Once you work out who benefits the most from your dystopian sci-fi world, you will be able to extrapolate from that and come up with a much more plausible and detailed setting than you would if you just set out to create a fictional world that was a terrible place for no real reason.
If you remember that a dystopia is a matter of perspective, then you’ll come up with far more chilling and dramatically plausible dystopian sci-fi settings.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂