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Surviving Dystopia

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Kristen Simmons

I’m a fan of end-of-the-world type things. Post-apocalyptic things. Conspiracy theories. Doomsday forecasts. Those signs you always see outside big cities that warn that “HELL IS WAITING” or something along those lines—I eat that stuff up.

I’m not really sure why. I wasn’t a particularly paranoid child. My guess is that it happened somewhere in my teenage years when I realized the world was a HIDEOUS, AWFUL PLACE and that everybody is CRUEL and that adults have only one purpose: TO KILL FREE EXPRESSION. I suspect most young people feel this way at some point. Maybe we grow out of it. Maybe, like most things, we learn to live with it, like a chronic health condition, and gradually over time stop remembering why we were fighting everyone anyway. We become part of the machine. We follow the status quo. We look back on ourselves and say, “If I’d only known how easy I had it.”

But the truth is, it wasn’t easy. We were fighting then, and we’re still fighting, on one level or another. There’s always something bigger looming, threatening to terrorize, whether it be parents, or bills, or my empty gas tank. Or famine, and disease, and war. The world is a dangerous place with or without manmade barriers, and at the end of the day we’re all just trying to make it through.

To me, a dystopian story is just a magnification of the world we live in—a more extreme focus on the challenges we face every day—finding food, finding work, surviving. All of the frightening, negative things that we are confronted with—injustice, persecution, and mistrust—come to life in a bigger, bolder way. And though the world may be presented in a harsher light, a dystopian story actually highlights the amazing resilience of humanity. It forces characters to be stronger, wiser, and braver. To make choices that impact their survival, choices that, in the end, have potential to cause great growth. And in reading, dystopian fiction gives us hope that our struggles here, in this world, are not in vain.

This is what I hoped to accomplish with Article 5. I tried to create a setting in the aftermath of upheaval, where a new government had dissolved the separation between church and state. With characters who remember a time of freedom, but now must adapt to a society that dictates how to dress and behave, and what to believe. A society that punishes those who refuse to follow their moral regulations. An exaggeration of our own world, where norms and rules—some written, some unspoken—are observed and broken every day. Where we sometimes hurt people who are different, just because they are different.

But though Chase and Ember, the two main characters in Article 5, are confronted with the darkness of their changed world, they do not succumb to it. They are not unlike any of us. They make mistakes, they struggle with baggage, they are affected by what they must endure. But they also demonstrate a tenacity and resilience that gives me hope, and reminds me that if they are brave enough to survive their world, I am brave enough to at least attempt to survive mine.

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From the Tor/Forge February newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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  1. February 6, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I think dystopic tales speak to our fears about the world we live in today. I am afraid of the potential for danger and chaos that is present in us all. I think that this is the crux of much of our dystopian literature…the need to find the safe place between being civilized and a forced civilization. We are, I think, at the heart of it all, just animals. What happens when this civilization breaks down?

  2. February 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    I like dystopian tales myself, but I am no cynic. Quite the opposite. I think some fairly positive thoughts about humanity, and that in general people are good. This, I think is one of the mainlines of fantasy literature. And certainly is such, in more modern fantasy.

    It is my personal project to write a dystopian piece that exemplifies not the hideous struggle (a volume of the Walking Dead is called “This Sorrowful Life” another “Made to Suffer”) but the good that men and women do through collaboration, and cooperation.

    This isn’t to say that greed, and cruelty aren’t plentiful, merely to say, as St. Augustine would say “And even when men are plotting to disturb the peace, it is merely to fashion a new peace nearer to the “heart’’ desire; it is not because they dislike peace as such. It is not that they love peace less, but they love their kind of peace more.”

  3. Andi A.
    February 7, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    I think that you’re right about what a dystopian novel represent. The problems faced in novels such as Article 5, though they evalated to a high degree, are not problems that are unrealistic. They do happen. On a much smaller scale of course and in different context, but they happen. I also agree that it’s important to show the ‘resilience of humanity’.

    As i write my dystopian novel I aim to show that in the darkest days when things are horrifying, and you feel trapped, there is still hope. And I think in Article 5 with your characters and storyline you portray this strength and perserverance quite well.

    And think one of the best things about writing is what you end up teaching yourself as you try to teach your characters and reader’s.

  4. February 7, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Against Nature is a recent dystopian novel set in the post-9/11 landscape. A global pandemic emerges and the vector is neither bacteria nor virus. One radical scientist contends the organism is something akin to an extraterrestrial dust mite introduced to earth in a now deceased astronaut. America is the epicenter and the social Darwinsist ruling from Washington do little to stop the spread. Soon the society slides into chaos.

    The novel was inspired by the headlines over the past decade. Sometimes fact can make for compelling fiction.

  1. February 6, 2012 at 9:47 am
  2. February 6, 2012 at 9:47 am
  3. February 6, 2012 at 9:48 am

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