Near Vs. Far

I don't think it's a secret that we read a lot of dystopian novels around here. Or maybe that's just me...

Anyway, I've been madly reading every dystopian tale I can get my hands on. I've noticed something about myself as a reader: I don't really want and/or need to know where I am in the future. In fact, I'd rather not know what the year is.

Here's why. If I feel like it's too close to the year we live in now, I find it very hard to suspend my disbelief. I like imagining the futuristic society as many, many years from now, in a time when I'll be long gone from this Earth. I don't feel like I need the date; I can make it up on my own. Very far into the future.

So that spurs today's question: Do you prefer near-future or far-future dystopian? Why?

16 comments:

Penelope Lolohea said...

You just put my exact feelings into words. I have read a few dystopians that were set only a few years into the future, and found it hard to believe so much change had happened, no matter what brought the change on. I like to either not know the exact time, or to know that it is set very far into the future.

On the other hand, I was thinking the other day, how it would be nice to have more books that take place *during* the epidemic/war/climate change that occurs. I would love to see an author who can take our current world, and bring it through the change into a dystopian society. It would be interesting to actually read how and why it would become a dystopian society, and how human nature plays into it, instead of only reading about that society's downfall. Just a thought.

Roberta Walker said...

I feel that way about all the books I read...Except historical fiction of course! I think a novel has more "staying power" the less detailed the author is about the year (and everything that goes with it - fashion, music, car models etc.) I read a story recently that had a lot of potential, but it bugged me in that I knew it was recently released, but the setting was "old" (without meaning to be, you know) The characters listened to portable CD players, cell phones were a novelty and a now defunct model of car was driven. It bugged me to no end!

B.E. Sanderson said...

It doesn't really matter to me. As long as the author does a good job of showing why things are the way they are (like if I know it's an alternate history up front), I can suspend my disbelief for a near future dystopian.

faefever25 said...

Near. I think it's a lot more frightening when it's so easy to place ourselves in the position that it could be the near future.

NotNessie @ Today's Adventure said...

I like when the exact year is never mentioned. Then I can put it in the near or far future depending on how plausible it seems to me. As you said, it helps me tame my disbelief.

Audrey said...

Like you, I prefer not to be told exactly when the story is taking place, because often it dates itself. (Shouldn't we all have our own flying cars by now?)

But Penelope brought up a good thought--I think it would be fascinating to see more books that take place during the apocalyptic events and watch a dystopia emerge from the other side. Though, I suppose, that would inevitably lead to a book with a downer ending, because even if the characters don't realize what's happened, the audience would.

Then again, you'd have all the excellent set up for sequels about tearing down that dystopia. :) It would probably also make for some fascinating characters, because the readers would know the motivations for the "evil" people in charge of the dystopia and would have a lot more sympathy for them than the typically flat evil dictator we see in those books. That could make for a fascinating dynamic.

Elana Johnson said...

Audrey and Penelope, excellent! Have you read LIFE AS WE KNEW IT? It's sort of like that. I'm not sure a dystopian society evolves from it, but we go through the event that leads to the "apocalypse."

Great thoughts, everyone! :)

Carol Riggs said...

I prefer the EXACT year not to be mentioned. That also lends a more timeless appeal/quality to the book. Although it didn't seem to hurt 1984 any. LOL I was trying so hard to put or indicate the date in my light sci-fi recently, and then I decided it really didn't matter if the reader knew the exact date. It's better w/o it. :)

Karen Akins said...

I appreciate both. But "near" definitely scares the crap out of me more.

Kristal Shaff said...

When I saw your title, I couldn't help but think of this. hehe

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FZN-vpWKOc

Tere Kirkland said...

I love the creep-factor associated with "not-too-distant-future" novels, but I also like reading an author's version of the next century or two.

Maybe it's just me, but I WANT to know what year it is. Maybe it's too many years of watching shows that begin "Star date..." ;)

Elana Johnson said...

Tere, ha ha! Yeah, no kidding.

Kristal! I thought of that exact thing. I almost googled for an image. Ha ha ha!

Karen, I'm with you. The near kind really creeps me out. Which is why I bought tons of food storage after reading LIFE AS WE KNEW IT. Yikes.

Carol, I like how you said, "timeless appeal." That's perfect.

IanBontems said...

I'm not fussy if the story's good I'll take the story whenever it's set.

I like the far future dystopes becuase it's great to see how the author extrapolates cultural trends following them to some strange and unfamiliar conclusion.

But I also love near-future stuff where you can imagine yourself only a single world-level disaster away from being thrust into this world.

As kids, my friends and I would have fun thinking about how to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, or a zombie-infested world, and so on. Ah, great times.

A Backwards Story said...

Like you, I don't care about an exact date. Normally, I don't care if it's near-future or far-future, but lately, I've noticed that if the book is so far in the future that there's crazy new lingo, I get annoyed. It's either over-explained in a way that feels unnatural, or not explained at all, leaving me confused. Two 2011 novels come immediately to mind. Mostly, though, as long as it's well-written, that's enough for me!

Marcia said...

I prefer relatively near. There's more at stake for me and mine in that. Far is more impersonal. I agree that I'd rather not know the exact year.I'm reading one that's set far in the future, and I'm jarred by feeling not enough has changed. Do we dress, talk or live the same in 2011 as people did in 1411? Of course not. So why are teens in, say, 2611, still wearing jeans and saying things like "What's up with that?"

Sarah Ketley (constance) said...

Well... in my opinion, if you set the date for the dystopian and it is too close, when your book is still a hit 20 years later it is in the past. So to speak.

makes it a bit awkward sometimes when the book is set in the future, but is actually in the readers past.

:-) other than that i like thinking they 'could be close' that is what gives the excitement for me. what could happen soon (especially if we don't pull out our fingers and do something about the world).

I also like fantasy dystopia - has to be done super super well.


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Sarah ketley