With Hunger Games, and other YA dystopias being incredibly hot right now, and over the past several years, it makes me wonder why. What is it about dystopian worlds, some postapocalyptic, some brought in a more subtle manner, that makes them appeal so much?

I have a theory. Actually, several of them, working together.

1. Real life sucks and is scary.

Dystopias takes our fears and make them real. Government being run by religious leaders intent on compromising our freedoms? There’s a dystopia where that has been amplified (Article 5, When She Woke). Pretty much name any trend in politics, fashion, or hollywood, and I can probably find you a dystopia where the worst possible outcomes are reached from it. Post-apocalyptic scenarios also fit in this category as well.

2. When times are tough, money wise, people want two things: To escape, and to be reassured that things will be okay.

Most “grown up” adults are just good at hiding their inner child. The basic impulse never changes from childhood. When you’re a kid, and someone picks on you or teases you, it triggers that built in flight or fight response. Except when it’s your whole life that’s the problem, you can’t really run from it. Depending on the person, either they get angry and lash out at the safest target they can find, like shouting at family, pets, etc, or they run from the situation. Books are cheap escapes. And when you read through the dystopias, at the end of the book, in some cases, and almost always by the end of the series, there is hope. It’s not always great, things generally still suck, but things are at least better than they had been during the course of the book.

3. When life feels like it’s confined into too many boxes, people reach for the stories of others breaking out of their boxes.

As a society, we’re taught the rules. Stay in line. Color in the lines. Eat this, not that. Grow up and do these sorts of jobs. Depending on your family, sometimes even the exact job can be almost assigned to you, and it’s expected you’ll make it happen. We have so many rules, that we have to put them all in boxes just to keep track of them all. So you’re (race). You’re (age bracket). You’re (career). When everything is balanced, you don’t want to do anything to screw it up. And yet you want to know what it’s like to be outside of those boxes. By their very natures, dystopian characters have to break their boxes. If they don’t, if they just do what everyone in their society expects of them, there is no story. It’s the struggle to remain an individual, to remain free, that makes these stories the best escapes.

What’s your favorite dystopia? Are there any that you’d actually want to live in?



  1. April 4, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Hi Leigh,
    Breaking out of the box, that sounds pretty logical to me. Rebellion has always driven fiction. I’ve actually written a YA futuristic thriller called Fireseed One that has dystopian elements. Though it’s a tad too positive to be labeled as such, because it focuses more on inventive ways to solve thorny problems than it does in flailing around in the miasma. But I do love a good dystopian, starting with that Orwell classic, 1984. I’m over from A to Z, at #1144 if you want to come visit. Cheers, Catherine

  2. April 4, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Great post. You’ve made some very good points. I wonder how long dystopian novels will stay in vogue. Great to meet you on the challenge.

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