Wednesday’s Word: Dystopia
Welcome to a new feature for the site- “Wednesday’s Word”. This represents something new for me, something a little more “practical” to allow me to post things here more regularly when there are not book-related updates. Since my site is available as a subscription on Amazon I thought it might be good to actually give people a little more variety and a little more content. And also for those who don’t subscribe, hopefully it will give them something to check in on, at least every Wednesday.
Part of the inspiration for posting about new words comes from another site, Word Dynamo. That is a great place to take some vocabulary quizzes or sign up for their own newsletter where you can have new words sent to your inbox.
Obviously, as a writer I love words. And I love authors who introduce me to new words because each new word makes the world that much bigger. My aim is not to simply increase your vocabulary, however. I’m sure many of these words will be ones you already know. But hopefully I can give you a renewed appreciation for the word or point out something about it that you might not have considered before. We’ll see. I really have no idea what I will write in these segments so you’ll just have to keep coming back to see what it develops into.
So, without further adieu, here is Wednesday’s Word:
It means a society where there is something systemically wrong, usually through the presence of a powerful government. It’s a word you are probably familiar with since there is now an entire sub-genre of science fiction that bears its name.
What’s interesting about this word is that it was coined as an antonym for “utopia”, a word that itself was invented by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book of the same name. Utopias of course are places where society has achieved an ideal or perfect state.
The thing I find interesting about dystopias is that, for at least some of the members of such societies, or depending upon one’s perspective, they may appear to actually be utopias. For instance, in many totalitarian countries, crime may be greatly reduced or nonexistent. There may even be an abundance of material wealth (certainly for the rulers but surprisingly even for the common people in some cases). And yet usually the dystopian element involves a lack of freedom for at least some segment of the population which ultimately makes them unacceptable societies in the final analysis. It comes down to the truth that “if one man is not free then no man is free”.
This dystopian/utopian paradox is certainly present in my novel, Into the Vast, where poverty, sickness, and even death are largely non-existent, but people’s perception of reality is entirely controlled by a small group of scientists who are willing to exploit others or even kill in order to preserve the order they have established.
It is interesting to me that going into the 21st century where supposedly everything is getting better and better all the time and we are all progressing towards some great Kumbaya sing-in on the top of a mountain paradise that dystopian fiction continues to enjoy such a wide audience. Could it be that deep down we know or at least fear that all the positive things we are being told about the world and our future are not quite right? If technology and science are really solving all of our problems, then why are our dreams of tomorrow so often filled with darkness and despair? Are they just cautionary tales or prophetic warnings?
Art often does imitate life, but we should tread lightly lest life one day return the favor.