A Word About Dystopia and other Post War Societies in Fiction


Dystopia: a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding. An undesirable place to live. Dehumanizing and as unpleasant as possible. Profound divide of the haves and have nots, with the majority of society in poverty and often slaves to the government.

Those are the definitions of a Dystopian society. A trope that has seen resurgence as of late with the popularity of book series such as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent. All of these have elements of a Dystopian society. A pronounced split between the haves and the have nots is also seen in many of these stories. This is an old trope, one that has been bantered around in Science Fiction and Science Fantasy for a few decades now. Most, though have been adult oriented fiction and it is interesting to note that the current crop of popular Dystopia is firmly set in the young adult age group.  What significance that this has I honestly have no idea. It is just interesting to see once highly adult ideas now being utilized in young fiction.

Why have I brought up Dystopia? There seems to be a glaring misunderstanding of what exactly Dystopia and Dystopian Societies are. In many reviews that have recently been given to both fiction and fanfiction writers who have ventured into this trope there are many who believe that any story that takes place after a war is automatically Dystopian. This idea seems to stem from the fact that many of the popular young adult novels and series has Dystopia happen after a major war. While war is often the catalyst to creating a Dystopian society, war does not always create a Dystopian Society. There are many tropes and many ways to view society after a war.

I’m going to take a moment to mention Battle Royale. While the manga and the movie that came out based on the manga has many elements that The Hunger Games has, this story is not a Dystopia society. Battle Royale is a harsh satire that is uniquely Japanese and a glaring look at the Japanese school system. It’s also a jab at the Japanese Government and some of the decisions they have implemented in the school system. Many Japanese lament the rise in suicide rates among High School and University students. The real world pressure on them to do better, to basically run the mental and emotional gauntlet that is the Japanese school system and somehow come out okay at the end is a very daunting task. Though the macrocosm of both of these stories, The Hunger Games and Battle Royale have similar elements they are by no means the same story. Battle Royale is a micorcosmic look at the student uprisings in the mid-late 90’s and has nothing to do with an overall Dystopic governmental slave society.

Take for instance the In Death series by J.D. Robb. This is a wonderful series near future police procedural’s that take start out in the year 2058. In this universe there were massive uprisings all over the world that came to be known as the Urban Wars. The damage and destruction was on a massive scale. Many of the books talk about how society is still trying to re-build from these uprisings. Yet, at no time does the reader get a sense of Dystopia. Society and government survived in tact. Urban reconstruction took place and people re-built. At no time did it fall into the fractured, harsh world that is often characterized in a Dystopian society.

And it should be noted that Dystopian does not always equal post-apocalyptic. Which, by it’s very definition –  total and or universal destruction. There is no society. Those that are left often band together in small tribal societies and often have to find and fight for resources. While a Dystopian society can have elements of this fight for resources there is a need for people and government for Dystopia to exist. 

Then there is post-war reclamation, which was briefly mentioned above. These are stories where war has broken out and by the end society and government stay fairly in-tact. There is a possibility for new social norms to develop, like the resurgence of slavery, with no prejudice of skin color or gender. Unfair and unjust laws being created, government having a bigger foothold in the overall society, or government staying almost exactly the same but a need for re-building takes place.

Why are all of these different post-war society types so misunderstood and mistaken for the exact same thing? I honestly wish I knew. It would be nice if more people did understand these differences then when they go to review a book, a movie, or a  piece of fanwork they understood what they are talking about. But, at the moment that just isn’t happening. I see it all the time in book and movie reviews and it makes me scratch my head.



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