First of all, thank you very much for letting me write a guest post for the Speculative Fiction Showcase!
I’m a big fan of YA dystopian and post-apocalyptic books. I think one of the reasons why the genre appeals to me is that there is a nugget of reality in these stories. In many cases, if we're not careful, I can see our society turning into the world described in The Hunger Games, Legend, or Under the Never Sky, to name some of my favorite dystopian novels.
That leads me to wonder if we would recognize whether we’re living in a dystopian society if it happened to us. As a public service, here’s my attempt to help us determine just that.
1. Everyone around you acts like everything's great.
Most people who live in a dystopian society don't realize that they are. They are actually pretty happy with the lives they lead. Sometimes, this happiness is because the people in charge tell you how lucky you are to live in this society, although brainwashing isn't necessarily required. Now, if you happen to live in a normal or even utopian society, you're probably pretty happy too, so contentment with life isn't a good sign of dystopia by itself.
2. Your leader isn't someone you (or anyone you know) elected.
No, I'm not talking about people who always vote for the Independent Presidential candidate in elections and never see their candidate win. I have a feeling that Katniss's family didn't vote for President Snow in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games. District 12 didn't strike me as having much voice in the decisions made in the Capitol. Whatever the form of government is, even if it's called a democracy, chances are that you didn't have much voice in choosing the people in charge.
3. Medicine is advanced, but someone else is in charge of your health choices.
Becoming "pretty" sounds great (Uglies by Scott Westerfield) and so does seamless body part transplants (Unwind by Neal Shusterman), but not if you have no choice in becoming pretty or having your parts harvested. Maybe technology has even made it possible to “cure” people of love (Delirium by Lauren Oliver), but that's probably not a good thing either. Dystopian societies often hold medical advancements we only dream about today, but that doesn't mean its citizens are better off because of them.
4. You live where you live because your surroundings are uninhabitable.
More often than not, dystopian societies arise in the aftermath of a worldwide disaster, either natural or man-made. This leaves a good deal of the world uninhabitable, or perhaps only inhabited by zombies, mutants, or other unpleasant creatures. If you find yourself confined inside a city, perhaps with a wall or dome surrounding it (like Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky or my Beyond New Eden), or living underground (Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember or Ann Aguirre's Enclave), you probably also live in a dystopian society.
5. Your parents are suspiciously hush-hush.
"Father Knows Best" wasn't just a TV show that aired before my time. It can also describe a phenomenon in dystopian societies that pertains to any parent or older citizen. Parents can act strangely for a couple of reasons. They are older and wiser and perhaps naturally more cynical of the world and its leaders. Additionally, if the apocalypse that led to the dystopian society occurred earlier in their lifetimes, they may know something important that younger citizens don't. Regardless of what they know or think, however, your elders are also likely to have a healthy fear of the government, so they will keep their secrets to themselves.
6. The first rule of Fight Club, I mean, dystopian societies is...
In dystopian societies, you're likely to have to fight for your survival. Or the survival of your family, or your district, or whoever it is you care about. For some reason, people just can't work things out peacefully in dystopia. There's always a fight involved, sometimes for entertainment purposes and sometimes to survive the zombie hordes, but it’s usually to the death.
I hope you found these signs of a dystopian society to be helpful. What happens if you discover that you’re actually living in a dystopian society? I wish I could help you there, but I’m afraid you’re on your own. Good luck, and as Effie Trinket would say, may the odds be ever in your favor.
About H. S. Stone:
Even before he could read, H.S. Stone wanted to write a book. Fascinated by the stories that seemed to leap from his kindergarten teacher's books, he went home and wrote his own book, with illustrations and bound by staples. Of course, since he didn't know how to read or write yet, the book was full of gibberish.
Undaunted, H.S. eventually mastered the ABC's and continued to write throughout his grade school years, adolescence, and into adulthood. Despite earning a degree and working in a field not related to writing, he continued to pursue his writing passion.
H.S. Stone's publications include novels aimed at Young Adult and Middle Grade readers as well as several short stories. He currently lives with his family in the San Francisco Bay Area.