We’re off of alternative history fiction and onto another deeply speculative genre: dystopian fiction. You know: stories like The Hunger Games and Divergent and Maze Runner that started out as books and got snatched up to become highly profitable movies.
And there’s new dystopian fiction being published every month, typically in the young adult sector.
Clearly, there’s an audience for this kind of tale. So clearly, we’d better get to defining it.
When the world we know today has totally fallen apart in the future, that’s dystopian fiction.
Machines that have turned us into slaves because we pushed the technological button one too many times... leaders that dictate our every move after we gave up too much freedom for so-called security... natural disasters that end life as we know it sometime going forward...
Dystopian fiction doesn’t advance society. It regresses it, forcing intense characters to confront intense plots.
Goodbye beautiful, advanced, utopic future with all its freedoms and happiness.
Hello misery in some drastic, dramatic form.
Also known as post-apocalyptic literature, dystopian fiction is about how life goes on after some catastrophic event changes the world as we know it.
Whatever disaster is about to strike could be 30 seconds into the future – hold your breaths! – 30 days into the future, 30 years or 30 decades. It can be an alien invasion, a secret government project gone wrong, an asteroid colliding with Earth or any such thing.
Dystopian fiction writers, take your pick.
Similarly, you’ve got free reign when it comes to taking on historical elements – where people are forced to go back to agrarian lifestyles to make ends meet – or science-fiction elements, where characters have much higher technological capabilities (or at least the remnants of such) despite whatever happened.
Or your story could go both routes. There are plenty of examples of each already out there, with plenty of further possibilities to explore.
For example, Divergent involves genetic engineering and extremely advanced pharmaceutical products: classic sci-fi material.
NBC’s Revolution, was largely low-tech, with Americans reduced to life like it was back in the 18th century thanks to a power pulse that wiped out our entire electric grid.
At the risk of going off on a bunny trail, that show began on an awesome note, only to quickly turn into something that wasn’t worth watching. Hence its cancellation not even two years after its debut.
Which was a far more generous time span than it deserved.
Then there’s the WB’s The 100 (which also started out phenomenally before the stupid script writers ruined it. No idea why that show is still on the air). That dystopian fiction world starts out on a space station, only to find the main characters hurled to Earth, where they have to make their own clothes, build their own shelters, create their own weapons… and avoid their own deaths at the hands of the equally primitive though much more experienced natives.
Clearly, the immediate future isn’t looking so good for our poor protagonists.
But also clearly, dystopian fiction, or post-apocalyptic literature, isn’t about making things comfortable for them. It’s about throwing them into the fire and seeing if they can swim.