Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics
Utopia: A place, state, or condition that is ideally perfect in respect of politics, laws, customs, and conditions.
Dystopia: A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and sometimes the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control. Dystopias, through an exaggerated worst-case scenario, make a criticism about a current trend, societal norm, or political system.
Characteristics of a Dystopian Society:
• Propaganda is used to control the citizens of society.
• Information, independent thought, and freedom are restricted.
• A figurehead or concept is worshipped by the citizens of the society.
• Citizens are perceived to be under constant surveillance.
• Citizens have a fear of the outside world.
• Citizens live in a dehumanized state.
• The natural world is banished and distrusted.
• Citizens conform to uniform expectations. Individuality and dissent are bad.
• The society is an illusion of a perfect utopian world.
Types of Dystopian Controls:
Most dystopian works present a world in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through one or more of the following types of controls:
• corporate control: One or more large corporations control society through products, advertising, and/or the media. Examples include Minority Report and Running Man.
•bureaucratic control: Society is controlled by a mindless bureaucracy through a tangle of red tape, relentless regulations, and incompetent government officials. Examples in film include Brazil.
• technological control: Society is controlled by technology—through computers, robots, and/or scientific means. Examples include The Matrix, The Terminator, and I, Robot.
• philosophical/religious control: Society is controlled by philosophical or religious ideology often enforced through a dictatorship or theocratic government.
The Dystopian Protagonist:
• often feels trapped and is struggling to escape.
• questions the existing social and political systems.
• believes or feels that something is terribly wrong with the society in which he or she lives.
• helps the audience recognizes the negative aspects of the dystopian world through his or her perspective.
DYSTOPIAN LITERATURE FOR TEENS
(At thefreedictionary.com, “dystopia” is defined as “1. An imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror.”)
1. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey - "Aided by an artificially engineered plague and the “Silencers” (humans placed under alien control as fetuses), aliens were able to eliminate more then seven billion people on Earth, leaving the survivors to try and pick up the pieces. Author Yancey's new sci-fi epic chronicles humanity's last stand as seen from two perspectives: 16-year-old Cassie, whose solitary life is interrupted when a mysterious figure saves her, and 17-year-old “Zombie,” who is training to become a member of the planet's last resistance against the invaders. In the beginning, the aliens carried out their genocide in four waves, beginning with an electromagnetic pulse that rendered all technology inert. Now, survivors fear the aliens' dreaded fifth wave—which might eliminate the final holdouts of humanity for good."
2. Across the Universe by Beth Revis (Million Suns, Shades of Earth)
"Chosen to complete a 300-year journey to a planet far beyond the Earth's solar system, Amy and her family are cryogenically frozen so that they will be able to survive the trip. During the course of their exodus Amy nearly loses her life when her pod is opened early. She soon meets another teen aboard the ship named Elder, called such due to his future position as the leader of the planet they are traveling to. Together, Amy and Elder attempt to discover who is opening pods on the ship early, but their investigation takes them to places they couldn't have imagined as they uncover generations of lies underscoring the ship's on-board society."
3. Animal Farm by George Orwell
"First published just as World War II was ending, Animal Farm has been read by millions of readers in over a dozen languages. When the animals at Manor Farm oust their human owner, Mr. Jones, and take over the tasks of running the farm, they confront – and stumble over—the challenges of resolving their own differences. Subtitled “A Fairy Story,” the novel is a hilarious and often biting satire –one that highlights themes of greed, justice, tyranny, weakness, and revolution. In addition, though the novel makes no explicit historical parallels, many critics believe that Animal Farm is an allegory tracing the people and events that figured prominently in Soviet politics during the early 1900s. Be it satire or allegory, more than fifty years after its initial publication, Animal Farm still offers a relevant lesson about how human nature can corrupt even the best-intentioned government."
4. Article 5 by Kristin Simmons (Breaking Point)
"New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., have been abandoned. The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes. There are no more police--instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behavior--instead, there are arrests, trials, and maybe worse. People who get arrested usually don't come back. Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren't always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it's hard for her to forget that people weren't always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. It's hard to forget that life in the United States used to be different. Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs, like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and how to pass the random home inspections by the military. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow. That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings & the only boy Ember has ever loved."
5. Ashfall by Mike Mullin (Ashen Winter)
"While 15-year-old Alex Halprin's parents visit relatives in Illinois, a supervolcano under Yellowstone Park erupts, leaving the United States covered in volcanic ash. With no food or water and a rapidly-changing climate, Alex, determined to survive, sets out from Cedar Falls, Iowa, in search of his family. On his harrowing journey, Alex is joined by another survivor, Darla Edmunds, and her mother, and witnesses acts of violence as humans become desperate for resources."
6. Blood Red Road by Moira Young (Rebel Heart)
"Eighteen-year-old Saba lives in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by dangerous weather. When a monster sandstorm arrives with four cloaked horsemen, they kidnap her twin brother Lugh, and Saba's world shatters. With her younger sister, Emmi, her smart raven Nero, and handsome daredevil, Jack, she embark's on a quest to find her brother. Feeling lost without her beloved brother, she learns along the way that she is a cunning opponent, fierce fighter and unbeatable survivor."
7. The Darkest Minds by Alexander Bracken (Young Elites)
"Sixteen-year-old Ruby breaks out of a government-run 'rehabilitation camp' for teens who acquired dangerous powers after surviving a virus that wiped out most American children."
8. Delirium by Lauren Oliver ( Pandemonium, Requium)
"In an effort to cure all discord throughout the country, the America of the future has outlawed the ability to feel love, believing this emotion to be the cause of the nation's troubles. Lena, nearing the age of 18, is about to receive the neurological procedure that will remove her capacity to feel passionately about anything, but everything changes when she meets a boy her age named Alex. As her feelings for Alex start to reshape her very being, Lena begins to question her community and the totalitarian government that runs the nation. The first novel in an expected trilogy."
9. Feed by M.T. Anderson
"In a future where most people have computer implants in their heads to control their environment, a boy meets an unusual girl who is in serious trouble."
10. For the Win by Cory Doctorow
"In a near-future world, teens from around the globe participate in online role-playing games to farm virtual gold -- earning a meager income and tolerating abuse at the hands of their oppressive leaders. A mysterious individual named Big Sister Nor corrals stand-out teens -- such as 15-year-old Mala, aka General Robotwalla, from rural India and rebellious Californian Matthew -- in her efforts to unionize the network of gamers, reveal the harsh conditions they endure, and bring the virtual world to an abrupt halt."
11. Gone by Michael Grant (Hunger, Lies, Plague, Fear, Plight)
"The 13 and under crowd of Perdido Beach, California, is stunned when everyone over the age of 13 simply vanishes into thin air. Realizing that he and his friends are left to fend for themselves, 13-year-old Sam seeks to uncover the mystery behind the disappearances while protecting himself and other "townies" against a rival group of rich kids led by bully Caine, a student at the nearby private school. Imprisoned within an impermeable barrier 20 miles in diameter, the kids must deal with their newfound supernatural abilities, hostile environment and impending fate on their 14th birthday. A gripping, end-of-humanity story that will leave readers breathless!"
12. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
"When Melanie, one of the last "wild" humans left on Earth, is captured, she is assigned to become the host of a spirit called Wanderer. As Wanderer probes Melanie's memories to reveal the location of the human resistance, Melanie shows the spirit visions of the man she loves, and soon, Wanderer can't help but fall in love with him too. The pair eventually becomes unwilling allies and they set off in search of the man they both love."
13. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (Sapphique)
"In a world where human progress was stopped to save civilization from dangerous technologies, 17-year-old Finn finds himself in Incarceron, a vast prison. He cannot remember his past, but Finn is sure he was born outside of the prison. Then he finds a crystal key that helps him communicate with the daughter of the prison warden -- a girl named Claudia. She is determined to escape an arranged marriage, and Finn wants to escape the prison. The two attempt to help each other but don't know that their outbreak will cost them everything."
14. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men)
"Residing in an all-male town where everyone is infected with the Noise germ -- which allows people to hear each other's thoughts -- Todd Hewitt, the only boy on the planet of New World, anticipates that the town is hiding a secret from him as he approaches manhood. Todd escapes with his loyal dog, whose voice he hears as well, and begins to question everything he has ever known when he stumbles upon Viola -- a girl -- in the woods. With a mob of townsmen in hot pursuit, Todd continues his journey, struggling to reconcile his past with the future."
15. Legend by Marie Lu
"Author Lu's 'cinematic adventure' (KIRK) follows 15-year-olds June and Day, both living in the Republic. As wealthy, intelligent June trains for the Republic's prestigious military and earns a perfect score in the Trials, Day, a street thug, becomes the Republic's most wanted criminal. Their worlds drastically collide when June's brother, Metias, gets murdered, and Day stands accused of the crime. The gripping story unfolds through the alternating perspectives of June and Day, both racing to uncover the truth about their lives and country."
16. Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Dead and the Gone, This World We Live In)
"When a meteor hits the moon and knocks it closer to Earth, 16-year-old Miranda and the rest of her small town must struggle to survive as tsunamis, earthquakes, disease and volcanic eruptions disrupt life on the planet. In a daily ten-month diary, Miranda documents how she finds strength in her family and herself to overcome the physical and mental hardships of the events that have taken place. Readers will respond to the characters' will to survive and experience the emotions of their day-to-day life."
17. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
"When a near-future San Francisco is struck by a major terrorist attack, 17-year-old techno-geek Marcus -- while playing hooky from school -- is caught at the scene of the crime and illegally interrogated for days by the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, his best friend Darryl and other citizens are wrangled up and removed from the area. Eventually, Marcus is released into the high-surveillance police state and becomes determined to use his expertise in computer technology to set things right."
18. Matched by Ally Condie (Crossed)
"In a futuristic society, 17-year-old Cassia has all her choices made for her – what to read, what to watch and who to marry. Cassia is pleasantly surprised that her friend Xander is chosen as her marriage Match. But when she enters Xander's data into the system, his face disappears and for a split second, the face of Ky, an Aberration, appears. Cassia's not sure who she is supposed to be with now. Ky is prohibited from Matching, but Cassia begins to have feelings for him. Slowly Cassia goes down a path of rebellion against the Society and craves running outdoors, reading forbidden poetry and most of all, Ky. However, the Society will not take rebellion lightly."
19. No Safety in Numbers by Dayna Lorentz (No Safety in Numbers)
"A busy suburban mall is quarantined after a biological bomb is discovered in the air ducts, and as people begin to get sick and supplies begin to run low, four teenagers trapped inside with the hundreds of other shoppers cope with the situation in unexpected ways."
20. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (Unravel Me)
"Ostracized or incarcerated her whole life, seventeen-year-old Juliette is freed on the condition that she use her horrific abilities in support of The Reestablishment, a post-apocalyptic dictatorship, but Adam, the only person ever to show her affection, offers hope of a better future."
21. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Drowned Cities)
"Nailer, a teenage boy, has carved out a meager existence by scavenging for copper wiring with a crew on abandoned ships in the Gulf Coast region. Now he faces an uncertain future and a variety of dangers, including his drug addict father. After a violent hurricane beaches an exquisite clipper ship and strands its lone survivor, a beautiful shipping heiress, Nailer gets caught up in upper-class trade disputes when he decides to help the girl, whom he has nicknamed "Lucky Girl." With his crew and father angry at him, Nailer sets off with Lucky Girl toward New Orleans and sees firsthand the devastating effects of class disparity."
22. The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (The Testing Trilogy)
"Sixteen-year-old Malencia (Cia) Vale is chosen to participate in The Testing to attend the University; however, Cia is fearful when she figures out her friends who do not pass The Testing are disappearing."
23. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (Pretties, Specials, Extras)
"Fifteen-year-old Tally's postapocalyptic society gives extreme makeovers to teens on their sixteenth birthdays. When a top-secret agency threatens to leave Tally ugly forever unless she spies on runaway teens, she agrees to infiltrate the Smoke, a colony of refugees from the "tyranny of physical perfection." At first baffled and revolted by the rebels' choices, Tally eventually bonds with one of their leaders and begins to question the "validity of institutionalized mutilation - especially as it becomes clear that the government's surgeons may be doing more than cosmetic nipping and tucking" (BL). Teens will sink their teeth into the provocative questions about invasive technology, an image-obsessed society, and the ethical quandaries of a mole-turned-ally."