While in both my writing and reading I gravitate toward historical fiction and sci-fi/fantasy, I firmly believe in reading and writing in other genres. Why limit yourself? You never know when you might discover a new author or genre. Or, as a writer, your words guide you to a genre you never considered.
Though I have certain preferences, I try to keep an open mind. Yet there is one genre, and it’s one that’s quite trendy, I absolutely cannot stand: dystopia. Every book I’ve ever read in this genre leaves me either depressed or angry or both. While having some kind of emotional reaction as a reader can be a sign the author has done their job, when I consistently feel angry or depressed it’s a sign this is a genre which doesn’t work for me.
My reasons for despising the dystopian genre go beyond the emotions it leaves me with. I have read highly regarded dystopian novels such as The Book of Joan and The Deadlands, amongst others, as well as upstart dystopian novels. None of them, absolutely none of them, have been interesting. From the characters to the setting to the message, none have ever resonated with me.
I find the dystopian genre utterly depressing, which is the point. Some BIG BAD EVENT happened to destroy the world. BAD PEOPLE are in charge and DOING BAD THINGS. There is NO HOPE. LIFE SUCKS AND NOTHING CAN BE DONE TO CHANGE IT. The overall message is always the same: IF MAN DOESN’T CHANGE ITS WAYS NOW, THIS IS HOW THE FUTURE WILL BE.
Note: I all capped everything to express how much this genre beats the reader over the head with these themes.
The reader goes into this genre knowing what they are about to read is going to be full of horrors. It’s not that I want to read about everything being a happy, clappy fairy land. But I get no joy, no insight, nothing but an urge to drink myself into oblivion after reading anything in the dystopian genre.
Which leads me to another reason why I hate this genre. I truly don’t understand why anyone enjoys this genre. Is it because no matter how dire and horrible the present is, reading a future where things are unimaginably terrible it’s a sigh of relief one won’t be around to see it? Do people like being depressed and disillusioned? As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, why the hell would I want to use my time, a time to lose myself in another world, to read about bad shit? Sorry, I don’t feel like being a masochist.
One of my biggest gripes is I’ve yet to read a dystopian novel where a main character is likeable or relatable. I also find very little character development. People who were bad at the beginning are usually worse by the end or perhaps only marginally better. I’m usually pretty good at empathizing with characters, both hero and villain, regardless of the genre. In the dystopian genre, I find this is not the case. It’s not that I can’t imagine the strain and stress of daily survival. I very much can. It’s just difficult to care about a cast of characters who all pretty much act the same regardless of what side of the fence they are on.
I also find the setting in dystopian novels to be the same. Either the world is a barren, radioactive wasteland, or a cramped, overpopulated city. Boring. It’s also annoying reading virtually the same descriptions. All the colors are muted or various tones of brown. The sun, sky, and moon don’t look the same. The air is heavy with oppression. Why can’t a shitty future be set in a lush jungle to provide a contrast? Or a future where there is more food than there are people and things look “normal”?
Real life is scary enough, so I don’t know what purpose a dystopian story serves. It would be one thing if out of the books I’ve read in this genre there were at least one or two where a glimmer of hope existed. But though some have had a hero character fighting against the evil oozing from every corner, they always lose. Again, it’s not necessarily bad if a hero loses. Hell, that’s something which I find refreshing as in real life the hero sometimes doesn’t win. Yet in this genre it’s a trope, an expectation. How is this enjoyable reading?
You may be wondering why I continue to read this genre when I clearly can’t stand it. The answer is a rather lame one. The book club I’m in focuses on sci-fi and fantasy books and dystopian falls under the sci-fi umbrella. Though I enjoy most of the books we read and the group, I am considering excusing myself from attending the months we read a dystopian novel. Part of me still thinks maybe, just maybe, I’ll find one book which breaks all the tropes and conventions of the genre and I’ll like it. That being said, to save myself an eye twitch, a headache, and a few hours of my life, I’m just going to skip these books.