Slouching Toward Dystopia

Last week, we talked about some of the more catastrophic ways we could create a dystopia. Rogue asteroids. Pandemics. Biotech disasters. Good times.

Of course, those are not the only way to frame a dystopia. In fact, I’m more a fan of slouching toward the bad place. As a writer, I’m more fascinated by how we reach the tipping point that sends us irretrievably (or not) in the wrong direction.

So, here are a FEW other ways we might build a dystopian world:

Government takeovers
This is a mainstay of classic dystopian fiction. Corporations, religious sects, dictators, and/or other countries could take over the land. For instance, in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a right-wing sect overthrows the US government.

Economic Upheaval
The world economy could melt down (imagine that!). A world power could become a third world country, and vice versa. Or rampant consumerism could destroy the economy and the planet. The latter is what happened in MT Anderson’s FEED.

Over population, large-scale pollution, climate change (I know, it was on the other list, too.), man-made disasters (big oil spills), etc. could all contribute the collapse of civilization as we know it. In Saci Lloyd’s near future books, Carbon Diaries 2015 and 2017, the UK adopts carbon rationing in the face of global warming (and rising sea-levels). Society begins to crumble just as the heroine is starting university.

Either through evolution or genetic experiments, mankind could change drastically or subtly, leading to some sort of dystopia. For instance, in PD James’ Children of Men, humans have become infertile.

In Through a Scanner Darkly by Phillip K. Dick, the US lost the war on drugs. And in the movie, Idiocracy, the stupid inherited the Earth--and kill the crops off with sports drinks.

Cumulative effects of any of the above
Other than a coup by right-wing fanatics (or alien overlords or killer squirrels), this one seems the most likely. If you look at MT Anderson’s Feed, for instance, you’ll see his dystopia resulted from a combination of technology (the Feed), rampant consumerism, and environmental factors. Most dystopian worlds are built on the foundation of several related things going wrong.

Why the fascination with how we get there? It’s all part of the world building exercise when writing science fiction—for any audience. I know I left a lot of elements out—such as technological advances getting ahead our ability to cope or a non-nuclear war. Can you guys think of any others? Discuss.

EXTRA CREDIT. Now for a little fun. I had intended to include this widget here on the League blog, but I couldn’t get the darn Javascript to work! So, if you would, jump over to my blog for the RANDOM DYSTOPIAN WORLD GENERATOR.


Kate Evangelista said...

I think Miscellaneous causes is my favorite.

Anonymous said...

I've been enjoying The League blog. I usually write contemporary YA but have had this dystopian idea brewing for a long time and have finally started writing it.

Julia said...

Awesome post, Angie! I'm a huge PD James fan, although I haven't read Children of Men, yet... I love the premise.

I love thinking about causes. I'll be listening to a news story about something or other happening in the world today, my mind takes off on a flight of fancy and next thing you know - I've got a book premise.

Off to check out the Ramdom Dystopian World Generator!

Angie said...

Glad to hear you've come over to the dystopian side, Paul.

Everyone - Let me know if the random gizmo on my blog isn't working. My blog host seems to be running a little slow this AM.

Anonymous said...

Angie - when I clicked on the Random World generator - it popped up a Random World in the little box. Is that right?

Angie said...

Yes, you should get a little paragraph describing a random dystopian setting.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Loved your examples. This is becoming a favorite blog for me to read.

Jana said...

My first dystopian read will always be one of my favorites, The Stand. I guess that could be biological. But, I mostly don't like the "how." I like the aftermath. I don't like reading about the actual disaster, I like reading about how we've picked ourselves up (or not).

Jemi Fraser said...

There are so many ways to destroy a world... Fun for us, but sad in reality :)

Angie said...

Thanks, Tricia!

Jana, I agree about the Stand. My favorite part was how the "good" people came together. King pulled off a hard thing--making the good more interesting that the bad.

Unfortunately, it is too easy to screw up the world, Jemi. Hopefully writing about it in an entertaining and/or thoughtful way will make people more conscious of it.

Riv Re said...

Very interesting. I hope you'll continue to write more on dystopias.

Nishant said...

you should get a little paragraph describing a random dystopian setting.
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Angie said...

Nishant, try this link: I updated my blog without updating the link here. That's now fixed.

Rebecca Gomez said...

I like the idea of things happen gradually, so that the change is almost imperceptible until it is too late. Losing minor freedoms one at a time until the world itself becomes a prison.