deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
[personal profile] deborah
So [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman and I have an expression, "killing the baby." For us it means that moment when an interesting thought experiment ceases to be interesting because there is a clear moral choice. (It comes from the moment in Lois Lowry's The Giver when, in my opinion, no reader can continue to think that there's a moral option in not destroying the protagonist's society. Although I have definitely learned over years of teaching the book that for many students that moral decision comes much earlier. Never seems to come later, though.)

One of the things I find frustrating about most dystopian novels is that, well, they are clearly dystopian. We don't have a word for Potential Utopia, Sort of Dystopia, Chetzi-Chetzi Dystopia/Utopia. By definition they are Bad Places™.

Yet for me, they're more interesting, not just as philosophical thought experiments, but both aesthetically and viscerally as stories, if it's more complicated than that. I don't want the dystopia to hold my hand and show me why a certain societal structure is wrong, I want the story to make both me and the story's own protagonists think about trade-offs. Is the society in The Giver one that has benefits that might offset its costs? Is the Empire really that much worse than the decadent final days of the Old Republic?

Of course usually the answer to these questions are easy. Usually there is some disastrously evil act the dystopian society participates in: infanticide, having a comically ugly evil dictator, secret slavery. But all this disastrous evil does is prevent us from having to consider the pros and cons of the two structures. All it does is make reading too easy.

I've talked about this before when I addressed my feelings about the difference between The Hunger Games the novel and The Hunger Games trilogy, how after book one I still thought the trilogy might be the dystopia I had been waiting for, the one that shows contemporary American society's dark mirror without requiring a cackling evil overlord.

Can you think of any dystopian societies where it's not that cut and dried? Ones where, ultimately, there's not a correct moral answer? And are any of them created for young audiences?

(What I think might come closest that I can think of is The True Meaning of Smekday, which isn't a dystopia at all, it's an alien invasion story. But within that alien invasion, there are constant reminders that what is the right versus wrong way to run a society is complicated. But alien invasion stories have their own genre conventions, and finding complication in your relationship to the other is, well. It was thinking about Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," that made make this post, but now I am inclined to think about her "The Word for World Is Forest" as an example of the alien-is-us trope. My first exposure to it was probably Enemy Mine. It's different, is what I am saying.)

Date: 2013-02-28 10:25 pm (UTC)
cathexys: dark sphinx (default icon) (Default)
From: [personal profile] cathexys
Not children's lit, but yes, I think the alien theme often gets to the impossible situation scenario. i'm thinking of Xenogenesis or even The Sparrow, where there's a tradeoff, a moral complexity that goes beyond this is evl.

Then again, wouldn't your complex moral dystopia just be...a realist novel??? :P

Date: 2013-03-06 12:29 am (UTC)
cathexys: dark sphinx (default icon) (Default)
From: [personal profile] cathexys
Nono, I was joking that reality is as dystopian as it gets...so you don't need sff, you just need a documentary... :D

Date: 2013-02-28 10:46 pm (UTC)
lo_rez: young girl bent over a codex, staring at something out of frame (girl with book)
From: [personal profile] lo_rez
Maybe William Gibson's later two trios: Idoru/Virtual Light/All Tomorrow's Parties and Pattern Recognition/Spook Country/Zero History.

They're not specifically for the young, though I think certainly readable by same.

Date: 2013-02-28 10:58 pm (UTC)
amaebi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] amaebi
Wow, your response to The Hunger Games after the first novel was mine-- and I issed your earlier essay, which I'll now go read!

Of course, we are currently more and more obviously living in a dystopia, in my view and yours-- but you want literature. :D

I suspect that the best dystopias are, like Smekday, not actually written as dystopias....

Date: 2013-02-28 11:04 pm (UTC)
amaebi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] amaebi
(Oh, by gum! I did read it, and commented But I'd forgot, and am glad to have reread. :D )

Date: 2013-03-06 03:06 am (UTC)
amaebi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] amaebi
Yes, I'm feeling the same way-- with the shivery feeling that people who like misery and death are blocking off all routes to pleasanter places, with the help of the dismally myopic.
Edited Date: 2013-03-06 03:33 am (UTC)

Date: 2013-03-01 05:00 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] diceytillerman
I think you should read Earth Girl by Janet Edwards.

Date: 2013-03-01 05:46 am (UTC)
vass: Jon Stewart reading a dictionary (books)
From: [personal profile] vass
Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed is like that but for utopia.

Date: 2013-03-07 09:49 pm (UTC)
rantingnerd: Earth-Moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] rantingnerd
I second The Dispossessed.

Date: 2013-03-20 11:08 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] yendi
(Yeah, I'm way behind on DW/LJ.)

Have you read Karen Healey's latest (When We Wake)? One of the things I really enjoyed about it is that the future Australia is filled with awesome stuff on some fronts (aside from just generally cool technological advances, religious and gender intolerance has mostly been overcome, there's a strong focus on the environment, and safe, regulated recreational drugs are legal), and horrible stuff on others (nationalism is a huge problem, the north-south economic divide is much worse, the environmental push came too late, and other nations are much further behind on the social side of things). It's the sort of mix I really enjoy, and while there are definitely villains on at least two fronts, both of them are genuinely working for what they think is a better world (no matter how fucked up that belief might be), and neither is an overlord figure.

That said, I still liked The Shattering a little bit better.
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