Distopian sci-fi?

“A dystopia is a community or society that is undesirable or frightening. It is translated as “bad place” and is an antonym of utopia.”
I have a weird question: if I write a story where the society is in a surprisingly good shape - if you take into the consideration the circumstances… is it dystopia?
I mean - you do what you do to survive. It was the only way to overcome the situation. Undesirable? Frightening? Sure, but you made it - and as long as you stay alive, you can always make a comeback, build a better future.

I don’t feel that falls into the category of dystopia (or, in my case, post-apocalyptic). On the other hand,…
Thoughts?

You raise a good question. I did some further research and found these two other written examples: the Giver and the Hunger Games.

Both worlds were survivable if you were able to do some unthoughtful things that qualify as frightening.

When a world is making a comeback after a severe natural disaster or world war, I see most eventually having a Gladiator/Colloseum type arena again.

You have opened a different path than I had in my mind, let me try to clarify: I connect dystopia with “needlessly heartless”.
If I have a look at Hunger games - the world there surely went through a lot. And of course, the games serve a purpose: to keep poor areas in check. But in general it is needless, because that world has already means to evolve, just some districts like the current state of things.
I consider it a dystopia.
On the other hand, if the circumstances were “we have no better way yet”, I struggle to call it dystopia.

And as for the gladiator arenas - in general you can call it a sign of decadence, but once again: the background might bring some surprising insight.

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Hmm… this is a good question… I think this actually pertains to the story I wrote recently, because the society is dealing with global warming and trying to basically deal with it on a global level to keep people surviving and to move away from the economic model that led to the climate change disaster in the first place. I’ve had people call it a dystopian story, and I marked it as such, but don’t think that makes sense either, because I think your argument is right. There’s a difference between needless cruelty as a part of the society, and then the society doing what it needs to do to ensure survival and decent living standards for its people. A post-apocalyptic society doesn’t have to be a dystopia, because post-apocalyptic doesn’t always equal a society inflicting terror on its people because there’s no other alternative. But it says a lot about the author and their beliefs I think. Some people believe that in the case of some sort of disaster, if given no other alternative, a group of people will come to power and basically do what they want at the expense of other people. However, I’m not of that belief. I do believe that in this circumstance, it’s absolutely possible to set up a society with noble goals while also facing extreme circumstances, and the desire will be for a better world for everyone.

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Ok. I completely disagree with the belief that no one has a better way yet and still acts in such manners of evil.

Just a few decades ago, whites thought there was no better way than to have slaves. There was no better way than to keep blacks in the back of a bus, there was no better way than to keep blacks from living in the same neighborhood, there was no better way than to build a wall.

There’s always a way to live in peace and be civil. Just stand up and open your mouth.

America is still a dystopia for some. We’re just fighting for survival in a different way.

All right, you have a point. But there are circumstances, let me give you an example:
A virus is spreading in a city, no cure, terrible experience that drags through weeks, death is inevitable.

  1. Is a person that would put such city on lock down to stop the spread of disease evil? (that means you will prevent anyone’s escape from the threat)
  2. Is a person that would kill an infected patient before he goes through all the hell evil being?

I would disagree. If a quarantine is the only known way how to fight a disease, you are forced to use it. Sure, some panacea would be better, but if you do not have those?
The same goes for some merciful death. And if it helps contain the global threat? You say it is OK to sacrifice the whole population just to let a person to go through the hell before he dies?

Those are serious moral questions with no easy or ultimate answer, but that is the problem: if you look at the circumstances, sometimes some evil might be even necessary to keep the society alive.

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That’s not hard at all

  1. you first give everyone a n opportunity to leave before you shut down for good, after having a unanimous vote stating that is what you intend on doing.

  2. I believe in Live and Let live. But if that sick chooses to die and not suffer then it’s perfectly fine to end his pain. Should you put a bullet in his head without him asking because you are scarred? Well, if I have to answer that for you, (not you @kadlis) the ‘you’ in general, then that is a scary world.

Wait, I misunderstood number one. To stop the spread, you cant let anyone leave?

Yes, I wouldn’t let anyone leave. That’s not evil… Just quarentine and keep everyone comfortable as can be

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Oh well, as you described it, it sounds more like an utopia: the world is facing a crisis - so the people unite.

I do not share your optimism, the people with psychopathic nature are too common - with strong tools at their disposal. The most probable scenario is really that if things go south, someone will use the situation for personal gains - regardless if the world burns down in the process.

…well, it might seem so if you picture it as a soldier showering a mother and 3 kids with bullets because they are approaching the safety line…

There’s always non lethal force.

Hell, build a moat…lol

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I know, I know.
But really, sometimes your resources just run dry and you are forced to behave the way you hate the most.
If you are choosing between two evils, is it wrong to choose the one that gives a mankind some future?

As soon as there is a way to preserve ethics and ensure the survival at the same time, you can call a world dystopian for not choosing such solution.
But if you can have one, or the other… you can go on and on about if the trade of your humanity is worth the survival… but it is not dystopia, it is dealing with a catastrophe.

edit: And once again, that is my problem, I do not have any legitimate catastrophe in the story (in the classical sense), so I do not consider the story as catastrophic. All is just a result of a war dragging on in the background.

My dystopia was set in a world uncomfortable to live in, but reasonably survivable. A bit like our present day society.

Depending where you live (or the occasion,) I can see why to call our society a dystopia. I consider something dystopia mostly for the needlessly bad attributes. If we made this world a pretty uncomfortable place… sure, that is bad - but was it needless? I guess in most cases: yes. Ignorance can be seen everywhere.
It kind of reminds me politics - one can see some condition as the best case scenario, while, for the other, it is a nightmare.

But… I am starting to doubt if the “needlessness” is a part of the “dystopia” definition. It might be dependent on a point of view as well.

Hi, just saw this thread and, as a dystopian author myself, thought I’d share my opinion on the subject.

Yes, whether something qualifies as a dystopia or not is entirely up to opinion. To me, totalitarian governments like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany are considered dystopias, but I know people who disagree with me. Personally, I think your setting sounds like a dystopia, but if you don’t consider it one, it’s not. Other people may interpret your world as a dystopia, but if you don’t, then it’s not.

In my book, the dystopian part is pretty much isolated to a walled city, and the rest of the world is sort of almost post-apocalyptic, but in a utopian way. Systems exist and blah blah blah, but it’s entirely up to opinion how each part of my setting is classified. My best friend agrees with me, but my sister goes as far as to claim the opposite.

And I repeat myself one last time, It’s entirely up to opinion.

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What caused your walled city to become dystopian? What went wrong?

Well, I have… Loose ideas on what qualifies as a dystopian society. Within the cities (there’s multiple, but I only really deal with one), it’s basically a communist/totalitarian state that’s kept in power by erasing the memory of the people inside… Basically anytime they know something the leaders don’t like.

But in the second book (I’m planning three), there’s a small uprising, which the government responds to by arresting everyone instead of locating those responsible (I haven’t put much thought into the second or third books yet, so there might be a few things that don’t quite add up).

In your opinion what makes as story dystopian?

I understand dystopian fiction to be speculation–a warning of how bad it will get if we don’t change course socially. The basic idea is you take a current problem and extrapolate to the horrifying consequences. It’s similar to utopian fiction, which speculates about possibly solutions to problems. I think there’s no clear division between utopian and dystopian. It depends on if the tone is hopeful or not. They both speculate about what could be. One person’s utopia is another person’s dystopia and vice versa.

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Definition of words is fluid and literary genres are kind of vague and tend to also morph.

That said, Wikipedia defines utopia as an imagined society that is considerably better than our current society, while dystopia is considerably worse.

Your virus example has less to do with either and is more about the point where society breaks down, which goes more into the apocalypse.

So based on your example, I think you may be asking the wrong question. That is a story that is not about a society that is too good to be true or worse that we fear, but a society that, regardless of how good or bad it may seem, facing a challenge that threatens it.

I don’t know if that is at all similar to the story you are writing, but if it is, I wouldn’t worry about the u/dys-topia question.

The word utopia comes from Thomas Moore’s book Utopia(written in 1516) about an imaginary society of the same name. It’s a work of worldbuilding and speculation in the tradition of Plato’s Republic. The Utopian genre is far older than science fiction and nearly every other comercial genre. To say that a book is utopian puts it in this tradition. The genre is philosophical about what society could be. The societies shown in Utopian fiction aren’t always perfect–they are as good as their authors can make them.
I haven’t read all of Utopia yet but it seems to be speculation about what to do with the poor/criminal elements of society. At the time these people were executed for petty crime. Moore proposed slavery as an alternative. I think this is a terrible solution, but probably the best they could do given the technology of the time (they lacked effective birth control).
So then along came dystopian fiction which flips Utopian on it’s head and instead speculates about how bad it could get. If Moore had been writing dystopian he would have shown increased use of capital punishment with people being killed for the most minor offenses. He might have shown some surprising consequences of such public policy.
For dystopian I think The Handmaid’s Tale may be the best example. Atwood speculated about what would happen if a totalitarian regime came to power in the US. The rests seem to be chillingly accurate.
Some people use the labels for the two genres loosely to mean a perfect society or a grim society. I think this misses the real power of the two genres. Utopian worlds(Tradition of Thomas Moore) aren’t perfect. Ick! Slavery.
And with dystopian speculation, the grimness isn’t random. It’s the results of how the society developed. This is why I asked what went wrong in the society? Why did it develop in such a way that it became oppressive?
I speak as someone who writes utopian fiction.