Sunday, January 5, 2014

Oh, Dystopia!

When I was sending my manuscript around to agents and publishers, a common criticism of why it was rejected was that it would be lost among all the other post-apocalyptic, dystopian novels currently out there. But, I responded in my head, it's neither of those...or is it?

Dystopian stories are dark tales of a society oppressed by a totalitarian state, or one where technology overrides the human spirit. Classics like Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, of course; as well as the more recent Hunger Games, Divergent and the Mortal Instruments series. (I'm glad to see a "resurgence" of this genre. I am soooo over vampires. Enough, already!)

As I did a little looking into this subset of science fiction, I realized many of my favorite stories and movies from my younger days are considered dystopic: A Boy and His Dog, Fahrenheit 451, and the films Soylent Green, Omega Man and The Planet of the Apes. (All starring Charlton Heston. There's some fodder for conspiracy theorists, huh?)

And last but not least, A Clockwork Orange. However, is this brilliant piece of literature truly dystopian? The world in which the protagonist lives is not particularly horrible or oppressed; it is only Alex who is scientifically dehumanized into becoming a functional part of his community. This, then, defines A Clockwork Orange as being "heterotopian" - what happens to Alex is apart from the society around him, and yet, at the same time, a reflection of it. (He's within a dystopia of his own, you might say.)

This is how I would describe my novel, Gospel for the Damned. What happens within quarantined San Francisco is a microcosm of the world outside of it, but I wouldn't call that outside world dystopian, not in the same sense as those in The Handmaid's Tale or Logan's Run. And I certainly wouldn't refer to it as post-apocalyptic. While, in my book, most of the west coast's population is wiped out, the disastrous event does not span the entire country, in the same way hurricanes Katrina and Sandy devastated only certain areas.

I prefer to think of my work as speculative, and lump myself in with (by association only, not by level of artistic ability) the likes of Margaret Atwood, Harlan Ellison, and Ray Bradbury.

Finally, I wondered, why the increased popularity of this particular genre of doom in recent years, anyway?

Well, if art does indeed reflect life...     

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