Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dystopia and High-Concept

What is it with all of these high-concept dystopias:

Wither: What if everyone died at a young age?

Delirium: What if you could "cure" love?

Divergent: What if society divided itself according to virtues?

Uglies: What if all ugly people were required to get plastic surgery?

The Pledge: What if socioeconomic classes were divided by language?

It seems that most dystopias these days center their world-building around some pseudo-scientific, high-concept "What if?" I suppose this is an author's way of attempting to be original, but these concepts often seem more like some silly gimmick. It's like when you're in third grade and you decide to write a story about 'what if candy rained from the sky?'

It doesn't help that these books tend to follow a similar pattern:

1. Choose your "what if?"
2. Create a totalitarian government that centers around that "what if?" concept. Bonus points if said government is one-dimensional.
3. Create a smart, spunky female protagonist. If she isn't already against the "What if?" concept, she must at some point discover how horrible it is.
4. Create a love interest, preferably a gorgeous guy who is a member of La Resistance. (Bonus points for creating a love triangle. More bonus points if the heroine spends more time obsessing over her love interest(s) than thinking about anything else. Even more bonus points if that love will somehow save or redeem her/him.)

I understand that the authors are trying to send a message through these "what if"s, but in many cases I feel like those messages are, well, obvious. (Choice is good, love is good, etc.) It's hard to sympathize with a protagonist's problems when it feels like they're in a situation that would never happen in the first place.

Then again, considering Takira in my NiP, I guess I have no right to talk.

*I don't really have the authority to discuss this trend, since out of all of the books I mentioned, the only one I actually read was Divergent (and admittedly, I do want to read Wither, despite the fact that the author doesn't seem to know how a virus works.)

1 comment:

  1. Of those, I've only read Wither and Uglies. They're both pretty decent reads but you make a good point. I would add to your list Jasper Fforde's "Shades of Grey" and Catherine Fisher's "Incarceron." They are, respectfully, "what if everyone was partially colorblind" and "what if everyone distasteful was locked up in a somewhat-sentient prison?"

    I do love both of those books, and have recommended them to people, but they fit this general pattern, though they don't get all the bonus points. :P


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