Will the Future Be a Dystopia?

Hunger Games fever (not an actual ailment) continues to sweep the nation. If you’re a reader of fiction, you probably know that the demand for not just The Hunger Games, but also all young adult dystopian fiction, has been quite high the past few years (see Matched and Divergent, among many, many others). In fact, I would wager to say that the overall popularity of that genre transcends YA and includes some of the most notorious books of the last 40 years (see Fahrenheit 451 and 1984).

I love dystopian fiction because it takes a familiar world, turns it on its head, and gives me the chance to explore one potential future and the reasons it became that way.

However, dystopian fiction is inherently sad. You’re basically reading about the end of the world as we know it, about how bad things can get. It’s a little discouraging.

Thus it was refreshing to read this over at David Anthony Durham’s blog about a month ago:

[A related post about positive futures in sci fi writing] leaves me hankering for a big, hopeful, bold novel of a future that we can aspire to. I like dystopian fiction as much as anyone, but… it might be nice to find a way to feel positive about a possible future – and challenged to achieve it.

YES. Why is the future so terrible in fiction? If a writer creates a hopeful future, something we can aspire to, doesn’t that mean that we might actually make it happen instead of devolving into Hunger Games savages?

So when I sat down to start writing my novel 25 days ago (I’m at 35,000 words now, so I’m on schedule), I kept Durham’s words close at hand. I knew I wanted my story to take place in the not-so-distant future, and I didn’t want the world to look all that different from present-day. And most importantly, I wanted the future to look better than 2012, and I wanted there to be specific reasons for why it gets better. Not that 2012 is so bad–in fact, for the most part it’s quite good–but the key is that things get better instead of getting really bad.

My novel isn’t utopian, and it definitely isn’t dystopian…perhaps anti-dystopian is the best classification. Either way, I’m not done yet, so who knows what the world will look like by the end of the novel?

What significant improvements do you foresee happening in the next 80 years? What will be completely different in 2092? And I’m not just talking about technology; I’m talking about government and the environment and relationships and pets and entertainment, all of it. What are your predictions? I’ve actually incorporated one idea that a reader brought up in the comments section a few weeks ago, so if one of your ideas hits home with me, it might end up in the novel, and I’ll be sure to credit you.

3 thoughts on “Will the Future Be a Dystopia?”

  1. At first I was thinking, “Yeah, who says life is all downhill from here?” and passionately excited about a more positive futuristic book. But then I realized that arguably, depending on your perspective and level of optimism, we might not be in a better place now, and writing about the future may be labeled dystopian but you might label current life as we know it similarly.

    As much as I cringed through the Hunger Games, wouldn’t reading about a worn-torn developing nation in 2012 have a similar effect? As would reading about the Holocaust?

    I completely agree that there should be more books that are futuristic without being doomsday, but I also wonder if it is all so relative that we just happen to label futuristic stories as dystopian if they aren’t picture perfect, when in reality periods of time (past, present, future and fictional) are what they are, and the dystopia is moreso a label based upon how you perceive it vs. how it is.

    Philosophical comment from the #30 MetroBus over and out.

    • Emma–Those are good points. Even as I write, I discover more and more conflicts in a “better” world. I think that’s what makes some dystopias truly fascinating–there are some people running the show who think what they’re doing is the best for the world. Mine is a little different in that the leaders have essentially been gifted this great future, and they’re merely trying to not let it go to waste. But the idea is similar. Nothing’s perfect.

      You make a great point about perception and relativism. No one ever looks around and thinks, “This is a dystopia!” I think some people are more oppressed than others, unfortunately, but even they may not completely realize it (another theme in dystopian fiction–citizens don’t realize they’re being oppressed).

      I think one thing that isn’t all that relative is regression. In The Hunger Games, most of the districts have regressed, some all the way back to the early 1900s even though it’s set well into the future. That doesn’t tend to happen all that often otherwise.

      • Ahh regression, great point 🙂 I hadn’t thought about that!

        I am definitely intrigued by your premise of something being “gifted” and the dynamics that are bound to arise from that. Happy writing!


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