Why We Need Dystopian Fiction

Lately, watching the news feels a little bit like reading a near-future dystopian fiction novel.

As a writer, I find this fascinating. As a citizen, well, let’s just say that hurricanes are fascinating, too, in their destructive power, but that does not mean I want to live through one.

Speculative fiction has always lurked on the edge between present and future. It can address contemporary issues in a way that contemporary literature simply can’t, and with good reason. This is the stuff of imagination. We can’t see into the future, and so by definition, we imagine it, projecting our fears, hopes, and dreams in the process.

Since the future is an inherently tainted lens, it tends to look familiar.

This is why I love dystopian literature. From the improbable to the all too plausible, it resonates with our increasingly complex and fragile world. It doesn’t matter what your political views are or where on this small, blue planet you call home. When life as we know it could end with the push of a button, of course we are a little tense.

Dystopian literature has historically acted as a sort of warning (think 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale), but there is a more important narrative thread woven through the pages of these stories, especially more recently (I’m looking at you, Katniss).


Despite corrupt politics, nuclear winter, global warming, zombies, pandemics, asteroids, and the host of other disasters large and small that shape the fabric of these fictional worlds, people generally get on with things. They live, they laugh, and they love much in the same way we do. They have heroes and heroines, villains and sidekicks, and some of them even have really cool hair, despite what I can only assume is a dire lack of available hair product.

So why does this matter?

When we imagine the future, we shape it. Science fiction has always been good at this, from space travel to artificial intelligence. Social justice advocates know the power of narrative better than most; who is included and who isn’t, and how they are cast in the narrative thread, can have a lasting effect on real life. Today, when so much of our daily lives is shaped by conflicting narratives, these stories are more important than ever.

If we can imagine our worst-case scenarios, and then imagine ourselves overcoming them, that has to mean something. We are nothing if not resilient. The future might be bright, or it might be dark, but by naming our fears we ready ourselves for the next step: facing them.


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