So some people have read my new story, “It Brought Us All Together,” and even talked about it, which is always great. (Hurray, readers!) One of the things they’ve said is that a few people have described it as dystopian. And I am not opposed to people thinking of it as dystopian, but it doesn’t strike me that way personally, and I was trying to figure out why.
(Note that “fight about exact genre boundaries” is one of the most boring kinds of fight in the world, yes? So what I am doing is descriptive, not prescriptive. I am describing my idea of dystopia to you rather than telling you it should be yours. If you have completely other ideas, fabulous, would love to hear about them. Clear? Okay good.)
For me a dystopia is about human relationships. It can have bad government or bad lack of government, but the dominant relationship between people on average in this society needs to be exploitative, destructive, or otherwise negative. If not, I don’t see it as a dystopia.
This leads to me sounding really hard-core, saying things like, “Oh, sure, it’s about a fungus-ravaged landscape, but I just don’t see that as dystopian.” But I don’t. It’s not about fungal plagues not being bad enough, it’s that they’re on a different axis of bad than dystopic/utopic/non -topic society. I could write a utopia set in a crashed spaceship inside a volcano–if the people in that culture were on average good to each other.* I could write a completely depressing dystopia in a green and pleasant land.** Because the challenges the universe hands you feel different to me than the challenges other people give you gratuitously.
And “gratuitously” is important, because “hey, my family is dying of fungus in their lungs” is an other-people challenge! It really is about dealing with other people. It’s just…dystopia is if the government infected your family with this lung fungus on purpose. Or if an evil corporation controls so much of the world that it can withhold cures for the fungal plague that is ravaging the landscape. The bit where people just flail around and don’t entirely know what they’re doing and some of them are jerks but most of them are at least okayish…that’s not dystopia, for me. That’s life.
*Actually…if half a dozen of you want that, I’ll make a good go at it.
**This one not so much.