We have a problem. To many of you, this missive will not be a surprise. To others, it may come as a great shock, but I feel that it is something we need to discuss, no matter the discomfort it may cause.
The problem is this: so many of you are wrong.
I know, I know. Someone is wrong on the Internet! I must correct them posthaste! I sense your mockery. But I cannot let it stop me from proclaiming a truth that has lain dormant for too long, too many of us taking it for granted as legions of ignorant readers brazenly flout it.
What truth is it that I write of? Only this simple fact: not all science fiction novels are dystopias.
Let that percolate for a while. Take all the time you need.
Are you ready to move on? Then let's.
The hallmark of a dystopia is the presence of a repressive or controlling society, usually presented initially as utopian. I also posit that this must necessarily be done on a large scale. Failing that, it must seem to be large-scale. (Teenage readers, just because your parents repress your ability to party on Friday nights does not mean your home is a dystopia.)
When one considers this all-important defining factor, one can easily determine the difference between a solid science fiction tale and a dystopia. And yet so many of you insist on conflating the two! Yes, dystopias are science fiction stories, but the opposite is not always true.
Perhaps some examples will help shed light on the situation.
Not dystopias: Variant (157 Goodreads readers have been misled into calling this a dystopia). Cinder (422 befuddled creatures). Tankborn (59 confused souls). The Obsidian Blade (1 lonely reader). Daughter of Smoke and Bone (22 readers who need to stop reading fantasy while under the influence of certain substances). The Fault in Our Stars (not even the professionals are immune).
Dear, gentle readers who have read any of the above-named books: please review them in your mind. I have no doubt that once you carefully consider the defining criterion for a dystopia, you will acknowledge the error of your ways.
Sometimes it's difficult to tell! you insist. And I acknowledge this. Some science fiction novels do have dystopian themes or portions that involve a dystopian society. I can think of two easily: Across the Universe by Beth Revis and Ashes by Ilsa Bick. The repressive and controlling society is there, even if it's not present through the entire book. If you choose to call these dystopias, I shall not shame you for it. Still, I urge you to use caution.
Perhaps now you are beginning to doubt yourself. Is anything a true dystopia? you ask. I feel like my whole life is a lie! you exclaim. Fear not. You may keep your Hunger Games, your Divergent, your Delirium and Wither. Do not doubt all you read. All I ask is that you examine carefully what it is you read before you proclaim it a dystopia. Pause, and consider.
So join with me, readers, and proclaim your resolve to not call all gardening tools spades. No more shall we be subject to the tyranny of incorrect labels. No more shall we allow the varied, vast, and endlessly creative field of science fiction to be ignorantly winnowed down to a slender subgenre. We shall strive for accuracy in all our categorization endeavors, and we will not back down from the truth!
Yours in Labeling Veracity,
A Concerned Reader
Friday, June 1, 2012