2015-07-19 04:14 pm (UTC)
count me as one of a half dozen?
Because I would really like to see a utopia in a volcano.
So C. J. Cherryh's Union and Alliance books are less dystopian and more Life, using your axes. Also about the corrupting power of power, but.
2015-07-19 04:48 pm (UTC)
Re: count me as one of a half dozen?
Yeah, the degree of the corrupting of power matters from book to book, I think.
My working definition of a "utopia" is a work that explores a moral premise by envisioning an entire society that lives by that premise, usually because everyone in the society chooses to do so. Conversely, a dystopia does the same thing for a harmful or destructive moral premise, though often it's one that people are compelled to submit to. If you're not exploring the moral idea, you're writing something else. As you say, the physical setting is irrelevant.
I think that means that we more or less agree on what counts as a dystopia.
Your story set in the volcano actually does sound potentially interesting. The other one just sounds grim and not much fun to read.
I'm putting in a good word for Jo Walton's The Just City, which is definitely about exploring a society based on a complex ideal, if not exactly a moral premise.
DailySF just published Melody Marie Sage's "The Alchemist's Wife"
, which is arguably a utopian story set at the end of the world.
Thanks for pointing that out!
I think a couple things that may be prompting this reaction are that A) desperate events often motivate or give cover to people's desire to be awful to each other, and thus are correlated with though not necessarily causal re: dystopian behavior, and B) the authoritarian defaults of American schooling often look (or in fact are) dystopian in one or more ways.
There's probably more going on there, but I am not yet awake enough to articulate it.
I completely agree with you about people using circumstances as cover for their awful behavior. Sometimes it's awful behavior they've convinced themselves is good and sometimes not, but that's a major source of the correlation, I agree.
Having been homeschooled and in various loosely organized schooling systems up until high school, "the authoritarian defaults of American schooling often look (or in fact are) dystopian in one or more ways" was staggeringly apparent to me upon entry to a large public high school and it confused me endlessly why nobody else noticed.
See also: one of my pet theories about why dystopias are so popular with young adults (i.e. they live in one).
In other words, yes.
My high school was designed by an architect who clearly looked at the original Panopticon and thought it was a good idea to emulate (albeit in a single-story version).
The only exterior windows were in the hallway doors, so every so often teachers would send a student out with a hall pass to see what the weather was like outside.
Edited at 2015-07-20 05:38 am (UTC)
We had exterior windows in some of the classrooms--not in the part of the school that was adjacent circles, though--but they were very narrow and did not open. One of the ongoing Ralston conversations was exactly which drug the architect had been on.
One of the junior highs here is Right, one is Too Small and LEED-lovely, and one is Soviet Bunker with additional This School Is A Maze and The Secretaries Hate Maps. It's horrible. Plus they have some sort of evil climate control that leads to condensation on the desks sometimes. Awful, awful, awful.
I'm VERY gung ho about abandoned societies making good.
If I had a walnut shell to gild it would be on its way to you now, because you have put it in there.
I, too, would like the volcano story.
I only just now read your story, prompted by your entry, and I feel so grateful. You understand what it's like when you don't react to a tragedy the way people expect you to. Thanks for writing it so well.
And I like your mycological plague.
(And I wouldn't have characterized this as a dystopia at all; like you, I reserve that term for bad governments)
I enjoyed the story, and I had to send Christopher the line "…and extroverts are like house plants, they get all shriveled and sad if you don't talk to them. Water them. Whatever." even though I'm sure he had already seen it. :-)
(Also read the story when you posted the link, also liked it a lot!)
I guess I can't see where the story possibly *could* be a dystopia. It doesn't seem like people's understanding of society and who they are within it has changed at all from the status quo. It would be like calling a story set during the great flu pandemic of 1918 a dystopia, or Dresden during the fire-bombing of World War II. Terrible things are happening, and that understandably changes people's behavior, but their identities haven't broken continuity. (That's actually part of what makes it work as a story in the first place.) It could easily be set during the origins of a dystopian society, but it's not there.
My personal experience is that the aggregate matters a lot, and you can tip the status quo into a pretty dystopian setting without changing any of the people or their understanding of who they are within it. A story set during the great flu pandemic of 1918 wouldn't be a dystopia automatically--but I wouldn't be surprised if some regions stumbled into dystopia during that crisis, and then back out again. I don't think there has to be a break in identity continuity for that to happen.
Stories can be post-apocalyptic and non-dystopian, but I think the reverse can also happen.