"Dystopian literature is gaining momentum, especially in the young adult market, yet no one seems to have a grasp on what words to you use to define, understand, and categorize dystopia."And the interesting thing is that nothing much has changed. People are still struggling to pin down what makes dystopia dystopian. Yet, we have also come to accept the word into our speech patterns. We use it without being overly concerned with definitions. The more we try to pin down our understanding of the term and concept the more variations of it emerge. This is both confusing and amazing.
I am curious if and why people feel they have a firmer grasp on understanding dystopia than they did in the past. What has changed? I guess we all have that moment when dystopia is defined for us and whatever words were used in that moment sort of stick. It is interesting how in the past I spent a lot of time on Twitter and blog posts defining dystopia and now I rarely ever get asked. The term has become part of the contemporary reading lexicon.
It is easy to point to The Hunger Games as the book that turned a lot of things around. But it was more than one book that created an awareness. People read The Hunger Games then when they went to find more books like it they may have found the term dystopia along with a list of other enjoyable books. Does the dystopian explosion exist without The Hunger Games?
One of the consequences/results of the reaction to dystopian books is a surge in books that aren't exactly dystopian but get the tag just because someone knows it is a selling point right now. The unfortunate thing is that people have started finding books that didn't represent what they were looking for under this classification and have started to become weary of the term. And while I can TOTALLY understand that (I have definitely faced disappointment) I am okay with using the term dystopia as a general umbrella term. Maybe we would be better served to use a term like "hard dystopia" for those books most fitting of the classic understanding of the term. But post apocalyptic and apocalyptic books have fallen under this heading along with other strays. Some readers and fans really resent that, but at the end of the day the term dystopia still brings me to the type of stories I want to be reading.
I am not entirely sure any of us know what dystopia means any better than we did a few years ago. I think trying to pin down an understanding has only lead to more confusion. Even though we are often faced with what Pam from bookalicio.us called a "branding" problem, genre exists for a reason beyond selling books. It helps us talk about what we read with a common language and find other readers who like the same books as us.
But Dystopia is inherently subjective. It can hinge on the world building, the psychology of the characters, or the quality of action. We all have different levels of enjoyment from different elements of any book, but it seem particularly prevalent in dystopian literature. From readers I have seen an expectation from the term "dystopia" that seems higher, more rigid, and more personal than readers seem to have from other genre fiction. I think author Elana Johnson put the reason for this very well, "Because, really, one person’s idea of a perfect, ideal existence is often another person’s nightmare." And that very concept of perfection verses nightmare is at the core of dystopian fiction and the core of the varying reactions we can have to it.
What do you think about the term and branding of dystopia? Has it more often disappointed you or helped you find the types of books you want to read? I think that a shift in thinking can really change the whole experience when reading young adult dystopian literature. This is particularly hard for me since I have been dedicated to an academic understanding of dystopia for many years now. The dictionary definition of dystopia as "a bad place" lends itself to including more types of books and types of world building that are not traditionally dystopian.
One of the interesting experiences I will have over the next month is seeing how dystopian books work and don't work for me. And how this contrast with possibly unrealistic expectations from a misunderstanding between dystopia as an umbrella term and dystopia as an academic one.