You’re in for a treat today! For starters, there’s the first scenes of //023: Exit Interview. I didn’t know if I’d have this sorted out in time to post immediately after the last chapter’s finale, but I’m reasonably confident in the material and ready to get it up. This will be a shorter, more experimental chapter for reasons which will be clear on reading. It’s a chance to tie up a lot of loose character ends, while paving the way for Little Monsters and the big finale, Dreamweaver.
But that’s not the treat, no sir. The treat is this blog post. ’cause I GOT OPINIONS on dystopias. I haven’t done a good rant in awhile, so if you like rants, read on! If not, well, there’s new story you can enjoy. It’s cool.
So! Recently I watched the CinemaSins rundown of The Purge, which got me to thinking about how much I love a good dystopia… and how few GOOD dystopias are actually out there. Too many of them rely on “for reasons” as their big explanation, refusing to provide a plausible cause for the dystopian dawn itself and the way that dystopia continues to operate. Massive suspension of disbelief required to make the world shift plausible.
Let’s look at The Purge, for example. The big conceit of that movie is that for reasons, America has chucked all common sense out the window and decided to make all crime legal for one day a year. This makes crime the other 364 days of the year practically unheard of, for reasons. It’s Murder Christmas! And it’s completely impossible. Give it two seconds of rational thought and you can start poking holes in the idea immediately. People do not behave like that, would not behave like that.
I can’t just swallow it and say “Well, it’s a stupid entertaining movie, go with it” because these writers present their world as plausible, with a full faith effort to have everything make sense. It’s not a parody, it’s not a comedy, it’s a sincere effort to make their dystopia “terrifyingly real” when it’s actually “bloody stupid.” Nothing about it rings true with the actuality of history and human nature itself; it’s a forced conflict set up by lazy writers to make a lazy point about class warfare.
Worst example is Elysium. “But wait, everybody loved that movie!” Put the quality of the visual effects and action aside and look at the PLOT. It’s contrived as hell: you can physically land a spacecraft inside an artificial atmosphere without any sort of airlock for reasons, the only defense against illegal immigrants to the space station is a guy with a rocket launcher on the surface of Earth for reasons, they keep sending immigrants up there despite a 99% fatality rate for reasons, the entire space station’s root password is fantastically insecure for reasons and then gets stored in the most pointless brain-lock security method where anybody can copy it (meaning it actually has no copy protection at all) but the brain it gets copied from explodes for reasons, the super-rich society just happens to have thousands and thousands of magic healing beds going completely unused in surplus for reasons…
But you could just say both of those are terrible stories in general. So, let’s look at something with decent writing, engaging characters, good dialogue, a nicely designed overall plot… and a terribly broken dystopia setting. Let’s look at the Hunger Games. The idea of a superpowerful elite crushing the underclass is a time-honored tale. In its guts, HG is constructed quite well. The movie in particular does a good job depicting a desperate and unpleasant situation, even amdist glitz and glamor.
But… again, the setup in HG is completely ridiculous. The supercity of rich people has nanotechnology and genetic engineering and holograms, but they still need a peasant underclass to mine coal for reasons. They want to keep the underclass oppressed, so they routinely murder their children live on television assuming this won’t cause immediate angry rioting in the streets for reasons — and whaddya know, an angry riot HAPPENS in the first book immediately after a little girl’s death. Rioting which, with Katniss as a figurehead, inevitably snowballs into full revolution. Couldn’t see that coming, for reasons. How is the actual Hunger Games oppressing anyone? It’s like poking a bear with a stick; it doesn’t demoralize the bear, it gets your head torn clean off your neck by gargantuan bear claws.
Right. Let’s summarize.
If your entire fiction’s setup requires that much handwaving to justify incomprehensibly stupid forced conflict? If the great “because” is followed by “for reasons” or just “shut up” or “I said so”? You are doing it wrong. Even if your characters are awesome, your dialogue is snappy, and your plots are well crafted… if the dystopian setup can only possibly exist for reasons, I can’t enjoy your story. Sorry.
Lest you think I’m throwing stones in a glass house… I’m not innocent in this, myself. The apocalypses I’ve set up are not perfect; I have a doubt America would concede territory to the Faeries, would wall themselves up and call it a day for two hundred years. I have a doubt technology would stall out. I THINK I did a reasonable job establishing the hows and whys, but I know I have work to do to improve as a writer, and I’d like to one day write a story where nothing ever happens for reasons, that things only happen because it makes perfect sense for things to happen that way. I can dream.
But meanwhile, be tough on writers who rely on laziness, who demand you accept the unacceptable just to get their greater point across. Demand better in your dystopias. You deserve it, dear reader.