or Now & Then...
Beth's post yesterday, about the importance of the setting in dystopian novels, got me to thinking about setting the time, the "now" and "then" aspects of dystopian novels.
Most dystopia is set in the future - be it near, far or ambiguously-timed future. Which would seem to be the nature of the genre. Moving the slightest bit out of dystopian and into the realm of speculative fiction, there is "then" as "past"- in works such as LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld (on my TBR list.) Which may not be strictly dystopian, but is set in an alternate history (which requires amazing world-building skills, which Mr. Westerfeld certainly has!) However, for now (tee hee) I am just going to stick with "now" & "then."
The time setting of dystopia is crucial in gaining the trust of the reader. If you set your work in a near-future time frame, you have to be convincing in that what is going on in the story would have had sufficient time to evolve in real life. Radical political gains, revolutions and government overthrows may happen in a very short period of time, but be sure that you do a bit of digging into history (both far and near past) to see just how long it took for say, Hitler, to come into power. A journey that started around the end of World War I (1918 or so) came to fruition when he became dictator in 1934. Using that model, it took 16 years (but, of course, Hitler's personal beliefs were forming long before 1918) for that kind of change to take place.
Even using the historical perspective requires a writer to take into account current technology. In Hitler's day, there was no internet and no mass media (as we know it today) to be used in turning the minds of the people into willing participants. He and his followers used print and speeches to gain followers and eventual victory in elections. Which took much more time than the instantaneous information flow we have today. So - what could happen in say... 16 months? Hmmm... what could happen in 16 months?*thinks about the possibilities, starts making notes* Oops! Back to the article!
Of course, a far and/or ambiguous future gives the writer much more leeway in what may or may not have happened to get from point A (the present) to point B (the future in the novel.) When I was writing XVI, rather than dropping it into a random future time, I plotted a timeline full of events that might have happened (such as wars, treaties and governments changing hands) prior to my world setting. So, even though my readers won't see those events happen, they did shape my world.
As far as the "now" aspect of dystopia - well... I am working on that - so, I can't talk about it - yet!
I personally love "star dates" and also the fact that 1984 seems timeless! (Published in 1949, Orwell imagined change in 35 years!) I wonder, what are some of your favorite "time" settings in speculative fiction?