In this guest post, MA Publishing student Chantal Moclair investigates the world of dystopian fiction.
Restrictive worlds. Cruel governments. Post-apocalyptic setting. These elements characterize a dystopian future. You don’t have to be named Katniss Everdeen to know that The Hunger Games, set in such a world, has taken the publishing world by storm. This sparked my curiosity about the genre of dystopian fiction as a whole: Does it have staying power or is it a publishing trend that will soon come an end?
The history of dystopian fiction, elaborated on by GoodReads, reflects the genre’s ability to be popularized again and again as times change. In the 1930s-60s, themes like fear of the state were focused on by Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and George Orwell (1984). In the 1980s-90s, anxiety about the body became a popular theme; Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel V for Vendetta are prime examples of this second wave of dystopian fiction.
Now, in the 2000s-present day, we’ve seen the explosive rise of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, and similar books, such as Veronica Roth’s Divergent, and Matched by Ally Condie, where “in the Society Officials decide…”.
Called the “new breed” of dystopian fiction by GoodReads, the newest shift in focus of this genre is on romance, and the popularity can be attributed to the rising appeal in the young adult market. Featuring interesting twists (romance and tough heroines) added to the classic elements of dystopian fiction, today’s craze for this genre is unmatched. But why the appeal to the YA market? The Observer simply credits the excitement factor, while Libraryschool.com created a more detailed list, which references the focus on “big questions” in a “high stakes scenario” all wrapped up in a “hopeful ending”.
Last year Sarah Flowers, the president of the Young Adult Library Services (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association, talked about trends in the books teenagers were reading and shared her forecast for future trends in YA literature. Dystopian fiction, she says, and books set in post-apocalyptic times, will continue in popularity, especially in the YA market. She also stresses the importance of the “trilogy trend” in this genre. Several popular dystopian fiction series are still on the first book, and she suggests that the continuation of such series in the future will allow this genre to hang onto its popularity among teen readers, and even increase its appeal.
The mass readership, the popularity of film adaptations and dystopian fiction’s overall success rate within a specific designated market make me believe in the staying power of the genre. Commercially astute publishers will be looking for future themes that continue to exploit dystopian fiction’s appeal. Dystopia is in high demand; we’ll definitely see it in the (hopefully not post-apocalyptic) future.
Originally from Canada, Chantal Moclair is an MA Publishing student at Kingston University. Follow her on twitter @MoclairTwins.