My Top 10 Elements in Dystopia

In my not-forgotten-but-slightly-neglected quest to figure out what works for dystopias for me and what doesn’t, I thought an excellent topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday freebie would be the top ten elements I like to see in dystopia stories I have read. This can be the nature of the characters, the plot, the society structure, etc., and it can be from specific stories or in general. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Sameness of the society

Though I think several dystopias have adapted this idea, but I like the way it is illustrated in The Giver the best. Not only does everyone follow the same progression through life up until they are selected for their job and start to train for those, but they do not exhibit much independent thought because of this environment. The ability has not been taken away or suppressed by drugs, but they have been encouraged through positive reinforcement all their lives to live a certain way, to not question it, and to not want any more. When Jonas learns of the past and colors and things no one else in his town knows about, it challenges his thoughts on the status quo. It’s easy for everyone to be the same, but is it really a life worth living?

2. Separation within the society

capitol-citizens

I think The Hunger Games in particular does an excellent job in showcasing a clear divide between the two main groups of people within the society: The elaborate Capitol and the struggling Districts. Not only do they force the Districts to give up children each year for the annual Hunger Games, which serve as a source of entertainment and gambling for the Capitols, but they subject the winners to their ways for the rest for their lives, so even the winners don’t really win. Some, like Finnick Odair, are even forced into prostitution because of their good looks and charming nature. Whatever the Capitol wants, the Capitol gets, and subjects the Districts to.

The Selection also shows a divide with a caste system and monarchy set in place, though I do not find Cass’ world building quite as detailed or effective as Collins’, but it does have a lot of potential.

3. The “stand-out” among the society

tris-divergent

I think there are several dytopias who have their main character a stand-out. Tris (and others) are Divergents in their society, and cannot be categorized by one faction of their society, which some see as a threat. In The Giver, Jonas stands out because he is the Receiver, he has the ability to receive past memories and see things differently than the rest of his society. In Across the Universe, those who think differently from the norm, like Elder and Harley are considered crazy, when really they are just creative and the others have had their creativity suppressed. It’s an obvious element not just for dystopia, but for any story, but it is an effective one. I believe most all of us have a desire to stand out somewhat, even if it scares us.

4. The “good guys” aren’t as good as they seem

For all the things that drove me crazy about Reached, the conclusion of the Matched trilogy, the strongest element of the story, I thought, was how it was clear that the Resistance, the “good guys” in the story, aren’t as good as they had been romanticized by Cassia and Xander to be. They are willing to sacrifice people and create chaos in the name of their cause; they turn to panic rather than logic or strategy to overthrow the government. Cassia’s world grew more gray in Reached, which I think was a necessity for that series.

It’s also interesting to see in Divergent and Insurgent how among these five factions, one cannot really be labeled “the good guys.” Yes, there are the honest ones, the peaceful ones, the humble ones… But just the same, the factions are not particularly good or particularly bad. It is the individual who is good or bad.

5. A secret rules the society/main character

In either movies or books, I am always fascinated by the notion that everything the main character has believed about their life has been a lie or at least a facade veiling secrets. It happens in Across the Universe, Insurgent, The Giver, Ender’s Game, Cinder, The Maze Runner series, and of course in other stories as well.  It’s funny when you’re on the outside looking in, not understanding why the main character can’t accept that their reality is not actual reality when it seems so obvious to you. Or sometimes, it takes the reader by surprise too. But either way, if I think about it, it would be hard for me to accept too. It’s a “what if” question that certainly makes for a fascinating string of possibilities.

6. Humans as test subjects

The-Maze-Runner-Concept-Art-Copy

The Maze Runner series was not my favorite, but one thing I did find fascinating was what these teens were being put through. First they are forced to live in an environment with a seemingly unsolvable maze (as well as potentially dangerous), and then when they finally escape it, they only face more trials that they forced to go through in the name of science and discovery. Unfortunately, I found the end of the series to be unsatisfying for an explanation as to why all these weird techniques were supposed to help, as well as an unsatisfactory resolution to the characters and their journeys, but the overall concept of using humans as test subjects is certainly fascinating.

7. Revolution

salute

This is also a common theme in dystopia, but I think the way it was built up and ultimately played out in The Hunger Games trilogy is especially fascinating. Katniss plays the rules of the game to a point, but she slowly, and not completely purposefully, starts the destruction of the system from the inside out. She also has a lot of help along the way because even a teenage girl as strong as Katniss can’t take down a whole government herself.

8. Genetic mutation/manipulation

Unfortunately I have not seen too much yet of this yet in the dystopias I have read, and in the ones I have found it in, they have been used in somewhat underwhelming and disappointing ways, but as I have mentioned before, genetic engineering fascinates me. I want to see more!

9. Strong and diverse characters

hg-characters

This, in a nutshell, is what really makes The Hunger Games stand out from other dystopias in my mind. I have never, in any other dystopia series I have read, fallen so in love with so many characters as I have in The Hunger Games. They are so well-rounded, each with such unique personalities, that they just feel so real. Sometimes I think authors get so caught up in their epic story line that they forget to give special treatment for the characters. But plot alone cannot carry a story; we need more epic characters! (Though I will say that The Lunar Chronicles are producing some pretty great characters as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing them develop more and meeting new ones in the last two books!)

10. Post-War

Any story that starts off in the ruins of a previous society marred by war, or even years after war but with lingering aftermath, (Hunger Games, Divergent, Ender’s Game, The Selection, Cinder, etc.) piques my interest. What caused the war often determines how the society is rebuilt afterwards. There is often this notion that society will be better this way than it was before, but many times, as we see, that is not necessarily true.

Books mentioned in this post:

dystopiasWhat about you? What elements interest you in dystopias?

Review: Divergent and Insurgent

I heard a lot of buzz about Divergent by Veronica Roth as I was mourning my finishing of The Hunger Games trilogy, so I placed a hold for an e-book version of it through my library and checked it out when it became available.

divergent

It was an interesting idea: the society in which the main character lives is divided into five different factions, each which have a certain focus: Erudite (intelligence), Candor (honesty), Amity (peace), Abnegation (selflessness), and Dauntless (bravery). Beatrice (later called Tris), tests well for multiple factions, which is extremely unusual (why is explained in Insurgent) and gives her the label Divergent. She ultimately chooses Dauntless when the time comes, though she was raised in Abnegation.  I didn’t really understand why a society would choose to function this way, but I decided to go along for the ride.

Beatrice decides to go by Tris as she goes through the very rigorous and exclusive training for Dauntless initiates. Not everyone will be accepted into the Dauntless faction, which will leave them factionless, a fate some would see as worse than death. She learns a lot about herself, overcomes fears, and falls for one of her trainers, who in turns likes her. Then at the end something happens, and Tris is one of the few who can fight to stop the problem (I’m remaining vague to avoid spoilers).

I enjoyed the book pretty well, though I didn’t like it quite as much as The Hunger Games, and had no problem patiently waiting for the sequel, Insurgent, to become available as an e-book in my library.

insurgent

Once it did and I got it checked it out, I accidentally selected that I only wanted it for 7 days, which isn’t a problem if I really love a book or if I have plenty of free time, but it was during the holidays, so I was wary of getting it read in time. Thankfully I did, but due to the lack of time, I did not bother to find any sort of refresher of the first book. The second book picks up right where the first leaves off, with no rehash of anything. Which I think is the way to do a second book, but apparently I had forgotten a lot in those few months, such as details of the end of the first book as well as who a lot of  the minor characters were. I think I spent the first half of the book asking, “Who’s that?” “What happened?” “What does this have to do with anything?”

But when Tris ends up getting taken by some people who want to study her divergence, I started to grow more interested in the story again. Also, I somehow ended up completely loving a super minor character who ends up dying a chapter or two after he is introduced, which I thought was quite an accomplishment since I still only kind of liked Tris and Four (Tris’ love interest) at this point. Then at the very end of the book, there is a twist in the story when we finally get an idea of why the society exists the way it does and why being Divergent is rare, and that made me much more interested reading book three when it comes and finishing the series than anything else that happened beforehand. So I am really hoping the final book will be a strong conclusion after the two first books that were good but not great (in my opinion anyway).

I do think Veronica Roth is a good writer (though I hate her now that I have learned that she is only 24! Ack! Stop being so talented and successful at 24!), but for some reason there has not been a big emotional connect between me and the books, and I also don’t find all the plot points interesting. I wish I could put my finger on why I feel this way; I hope I will have more insight when the series finishes and I find that the last book either finishes strong or falls flat.

Anyone else read Divergent or Insurgent? What’s your take on the series thus far?

Favorite quote of the series (so far): “Human beings as a whole cannot be good for long before the bad creeps back in and poisons us again.” (from Divergent)