Is dystopian literature gaining in popularity now and, if so, why? Dystopian literature refers to stories set in states (according to my on-line dictionary) ones “in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically totalitarian or environmentally degraded ones,” in other words, the opposite of utopian. This question has been on my mind, given the popularity of The Hunger Games.
I tried to read The Hunger Games last year, but had to stop about a third of the way into it. I couldn’t read about kids placed in situations that were so violent and grim. Of course the kids in the book were fierce and strong and didn’t worry about their futures nearly as much as I, the reader, did. I knew that this book — and most dystopian literature — was not what I wanted to curl up with before falling asleep, (though I admit I plan to see the movie), which is why I’ve been curious as to whether we’re in the middle of a trend and why.
Also, I wanted to know what kind of influence social and political conditions had on the this type of literature. The closest analysis I found was in goodreads.com, which charted high points in dystopian literature as 1939 — the beginning of World War II — then 1948 through the sixties — the Cold War — and again in 2010. In 1940, dystopian literature constituted 1.125 percent of all the books published, compared to the period from 1980 to 2008, in which it represented less than 3.75 percent. We’re back up to about .76 percent now.
Literature from the first period included Brave New World and 1984. In the current era, young adults are the target audience.
Controlling governments have always been a theme in these novels and since the early examples, goodreads.com says we’ve seen environmental issues, anxiety about the human body (the Handmaid’s Tale), extremes in popular culture and media, and the War on Terror layered over this. Romance and tough heroines are the latest additions to the genre.
After reading a few other opinions on the matter, I decided that while wars, famines, nuclear threats, and political mayhem may have inspired the return of the genre, its main appeal is that of any other page turner: tension, crises, interesting settings, heroes, a view of another, almost unimaginable life, complex characters and an enormous shot of adrenalin.