Monday, June 14, 2010

Hope in a Hopeless World

As you may know, I'm a fan of dystopian - or speculative - fiction.  One thing all of these types of stories have one thing in common.  Somehow somewhere along the way, something went horribly wrong.  Either in mankind's thinking or in its actions, we as a species fucked up our current semi-happy existence.

At least that's the idea.

So, the road ahead is bad.  People have died, or been disfigured, or been oppressed.  Technology may or may not be gone.  The world may be covered in zombies, each of them lusting after your yummy brains.

But in my opinion, there should still be hope somewhere in even those hopeless worlds.  Look at Anthem by Ayn Rand.  Technology is gone, men are oppressed, and the hero is shunted off to the job of street sweeper because... well, because he tested too smart to be anything else.  He's in danger of being burned at the stake, for petesakes.  And then he gets away.  He takes his ladyfriend and escapes.  They live their lives - however hard - in happiness.

For me, speculative novels should all have an element of hope in them.  Not just hope for one, but hope that someday, their little bit of hope will build and expand to fill an entire culture.

To use another example, look at Fahrenheit 451.  The culture is at an all time low, there's the impending threat of war, and the one person Montag feels any kind of connection with mysteriously disappears.  He's hunted like a friggin' animal, but he escapes.  He finds other people hiding in the woods who are like him and who want to preserve whatever small amount of knowledge they can, so they can hold onto the hope of a better future.

Hope in a hopeless world.  I don't really care how bad things get.  Take everything away from your characters, but for petesakes, leave them hope.

Conflict is what novels are built on.  Without it, books would be happy lala things that no one would want to read.  Conversely, a book that is all conflict without even a glimmer of a chance of a happy ending are stories I don't want to read.  No matter how rough life gets, how crappy the economy is, how violent or depraved society gets, I hold onto the hope that someday, somehow it will get better.

That's what I need from my dystopian fiction, too.  A little hope, however vague and elusive its object might be.  This is why - regardless of how well written they may be - I can't recommend 1984 or Brave New World.  Those worlds are hopeless and they will continue to be hopeless into eternity.  Most dystopian books - at least the ones I've read - aren't like that.  Every once in a while one will be published that kills hope along with a lot of characters (well, if not their bodies, at least their characters' spirits).  I don't understand why they sell so well or why anyone would make them into movies - even movies that aren't so close to the story in the first place.

But then again, I may be a little naive.  What do you think?  Got any good titles of dystopian fiction with hope in it?  (Let's leave out the negative titles - unless you want to email the titles to me so I can avoid them.)

(And for as silly as the topmost picture is, I'm serious about this.  If I wasn't, I wouldn't write what I do.)


  1. This is not a genre I'm well read in but agree all good stories have at least a shred of hope.

  2. There was hope in Forest of Hands and Teeth. And in The Giver.
    But I'm under-read in this genre. I need to get my hands on some more books!

  3. I agree about there being an element of hope in the novel - that's one of the reasons why I read dystopian, to see how the characters will triumph despite their situation.

  4. I don't think I've read any dystopian novels, but have to agree with you that there has to be hope of some sort, otherwise why read it.

  5. THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX is dystopian-ish. And offers some hope, and a super cool premise. If you haven't already read it, give it a go!