Sunday, April 17, 2011


I had an awesome vlog all ready to go. It was a tour of my dorm room--mostly my bookshelf--and I was all cute and clever behind the camera. But then my computer refused to read the video, so I sighed and gave up. Maybe sometime in the future. For now, instead of watching me, you'll have to read.

Sucks, I know. No one reading this blog likes words. Yuck.

So today we'll be dicussing the future. (I know what you're all thinking--"Oh my goodness, the future! That's such a surprise! It's not like that's the title of this post or anything!") More particularly, the future as it is described in books. I'm talking, of course, about the division of genres.

The main three futuristic genres in YA are:

1) Dystopian (duh.)
2) Post-apocalyptic
3) Sci-fi

I am going to make a case that there should be more after describing each.

Dystopian. We all know what kind of book fits into this genre, but it's extremely difficult to define it. I'm going to use Scott Westerfeld's definition from this article:  "a counter-utopia in which a twisted vision of perfection is imposed upon a populace." This describes Hunger Games, Delirium, and Matched. I am going to argue that it does NOT describe Wither.

Post-apocalyptic. Something awful has happened to earth, and most of the population is dead. Some may lump The Forest of Hands and Teeth in here, but that depends if you believe zombies could happen. For me, I'd say this sub-genre is for books like James Dashner's The Maze Runner.

Sci-fi. The classic future genre, sci-fi has yet to make a big impact on YA, but I've heard whispers that it is coming. (haha, that's punny. The future is coming!) Anyway. Here we have books which put emphases on science, like space ships or colonization of other planets. These are books like Ender's Game or Across the Universe.

And yet some books don't fit solely into one of those categories. I'm going to use Wither as my main example, and then move onto one of my projects (because I'm arrogant like that).

Wither is partly sci-fi, since science figures so strongly in creating the disease/cure which causes the short lifespans. But no one is calling it science fiction; instead it is labeled dystopian. Going off Westerfeld's defintion, I don't see the dystopia. There is no "twisted version of perfection." The government doesn't have a large role. That's what I see when I look at true dystopians: a government with a large amount of control. Wither barely mentions the government, if at all.

In Veronica Roth's Divergent, we see the populace organized by factions, each with strict roles to play and rules to follow. That's a dystopian. In The Hunger Games, each district is expected to follow certain rules and stay with what they were born to. Matched: the government controls whom you marry. Delirium: they take away your ability to feel emotions.

I could go on.

But Wither doesn't fit.

And neither does my project, Playing God, which takes place in a world with a fair, benevolent government. The only problem is that the world has been duped into believing religion is not only illegal, but also illogical. I guess it's technically a dystopian . . . but the government is not controlling.

So what do we do with these worlds? Do we merely call them "futuristic"? It's not sci-fi. It's not post-apocalyptic. They are only dystopian because the concept of a dystopia has been stretched away from its true definition.

Should we let the definition continue to stretch until it means something entirely different? Or do we come up with a new name for all futuristic-fiction and let the three categories listed above become sub-genres? Do you agree with my categories? I'm very interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.

(Wow, this got long.)


  1. Hmm, my understanding of dystopian has always been that it doesn't have to be government focused/derived specifically. The conflict can stem from the way society and culture has evolved as well. Post apocalyptic stories are usually about survival, and coping with the aftermath of a Great Disaster, with that as the large source of conflict - dystopian focuses on the way day to day life and culture is constructed and operates in this vision of the future. I guess if dystopian is the counterpoint to utopian, consider - in a perfect society, a perfect world, would a government or regulatory body even be needed at all? I don't think so, at least some utopian societies would be government free - so the inverse of that is some dystopians can be government free as well.

    Speaking of futuristic stories in general, I would love to see actual utopian stories - just because society is perfect doesn't mean people are. Even in a perfect world, people will still have problems and individual concerns/drama - but the nature of those problems would be radically different, and I'd love to see more stories about what those actually are.

    Similarly, I'm still waiting to see fantasy stories set in the future. Kickass.

  2. What a great blog post! My buddy Yahong retweeted, and I'm so glad she did! (She gets a cookie!)

  3. Hmm...I agree about Wither. Now that I think about it, I'd call it a soft, post-apocalyptic type deal. People are dying ridiculous young, and society has basically fallen apart--sounds pretty post-apocalyptic to me. Definitely not dystopian, though.

    Playing God seems like a dystopian, with a focus more on society than government. 1984 is a dystopian--they have a 'perfect' government, but it's really terrible. Playing God sounds like it has a utopia-like government, but society and government in combination have abandoned religion altogether. That sounds like it would be a good example of dystopia--where the citizens think it's perfect, but there's a huge flaw.

    In other news, I've got Matched and Wither on my shelf, waiting to be read *cough*after graduation*cough*. Very hard to keep it there.

    Also, in response to Kalen's comment about utopias, I'd have to say there's a huge reason nobody's getting them published--there's no conflict. Utopia is a perfect society, which means no conflict, no shortages, no problems. If people are still having conflict, it's really a kind of subtle dystopia, because the society thinks it's perfect, but it's not. Utopia doesn't exist without near-perfect people, and you can't really write something with perfect characters and expect it to get published, because no one will be able to relate. That's how I see it, anyway. =)

  4. Fair enough. I actually see it the exact opposite, which is what makes conversations like this so fun. I think that there would still be conflicts, its just the nature of the conflicts would be different. After all conflict isn't just how we tell great stories, its how we evolve and progress as human beings and as societies. Without conflicts to face, without obstacles to overcome, we would stagnate, nothing would ever change, and we would lose our ability to grow - and THAT to me is a kind of dystopian society. A utopian society could still theoretically face external conflicts that originate outside the society, or interpersonal relationship dramas between members of the society that don't threaten the structure or integrity of the society. All it takes is one member of a utopian society who finds perfection boring, who thinks that having no problems or conflicts is a problem in and of itself, but when everyone else thinks he's crazy for thinking that way, he's the odd man out, and suddenly you've got a story about the same being different/alienation themes that have resonated throughout YA stories for decades, only set in a perfect, utopian society.

    I'm not saying how interesting or successful the end story would be, I'm just saying I'd be interested in seeing the attempt.

  5. I'm trying to imagine a utopian society in general and am coming up short. It seems that any society striving for perfection has set itself up for failure, because of human nature. As long as passions, interests, and opinions exist, there will always be conflict, so the only way a government could theoretically strive for perfection would be to look for ways to eliminate or control passions, interests, and opinions. And then you automatically have a dystopian. The only utopian situation I can think of might exist in a race of aliens/genetically altered human beings that have no passions, ect., but then we'll probably find that rather dystopian, too, because it's so bloodless and cold, like Delirium, the dystopian novel. And if you were able to create a believable utopia, the only conflict that allows it to keep its utopian status is an external conflict with a non-utopian society. The thought process kind of just goes in circles in my head to conclude that no utopia could possibly exist among human beings with free will.

  6. I'm interested in utopians! It's something I've thought about a lot. People are corrupt, as Kalen said, so it wouldn't be boring perfect world. The ancient Greek democracy, while obviously that culture had some issues, was a pretty great government. I guess what I want to see is something in the future without a hugely structured society that WORKS. Not a dystopian. Not necessarily a utopian. Just a possible projection of our future.

  7. I'm all for that--but that's what I think it would be, a possible projection of our future, rather than an utopia or dystopia. The government can work, and work well, but such a society would have to recognize the futility of striving for perfection and just figure out a system that does the best possible job, human beings as they are. My dictionary definition of utopia is a place where everything's perfect, and as much as I love the idea(being a perfectionist myself, lol), it just doesn't seem believably possible with emotions and rebellious souls on the loose. =)