Happy Dystopian February everyone! Lenore over at the Presenting Lenore blog is presiding over another month-long celebration of dystopian literature. I decided to join in since I am reading several such works for a SFSignal column (coming out probably in two weeks). So, at some point I will review a dystopian novel for the blog, maybe Jack London ‘s The Iron Heel. I’d like to read some of the YA stuff coming out, but time is my enemy.
I am a little leery of “celebrating” dystopia, for reasons that I have touched on before. On a certain level (especially given some comments on Lenore’s blog that there are people who “love” dystopian fiction [and they are not alone]) I feel that an event like this normalizes dystopian writing, buffs the sharpness of its potential for unease and critical ideas, and that bothers me. It becomes another setting for entertainment, rather than debate and reflection. But it makes more sense to me to join in, since I am discussing the subject, and have my review and thoughts added to the mix. I hope that some good conversations get started as a result.
I’ve been thinking about dystopia as I draft my next SFSignal column, which is on the need for us to not only champion but engage “difficult” works, not just those with tough messages or dark content, but those that challenge us through poetic language and surrealism or non-standard associations. Dystopian fiction began as a reaction (sometimes a very reactionary one) to utopian fiction, but then became somewhat more sophisticated, although a lot of dystopian works have a sharp, singular point to them. But there have been periods where dystopian works have not been heralded as entertaining and have made people consider the shortcomings of the world around them, and the one that they were helping to make. It seems that today a lot of dystopian writing has lost that edge, just another sort of difficult literature domesticated for mass consumption.