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A dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. It is the story of a culture or a world in which something wrong has been extrapolated to an extreme. It’s an imaginary society that in some important way is undesirable or frightening. The novel 1984 is dystopian, as is The Giver.

Dystopias are popular in part because we can rejoice that at least our world has not gotten that bad. We aren’t forced to fight against our friends as in The Hunger Games, we don’t have a government inculcating us with propaganda day and night as in 1984, we aren’t living in a world in which no more children are born as in Children of Men.

But how do we continue writing dystopian fiction once we know that in reality our world has descended to that madness predicted in much of science fiction? When children are torn from their parents in the name of economic progress as in China? When millions of people are displaced from their homes; when governments appear to be watching us and compiling records of all we do? When racial tensions send hundreds of citizens protesting into the streets?

Paranoid much? you ask. Well, perhaps.

But given that assumption, how can we write it, if It is only rehashing reality which is grim enough, if not for us, for many others.

I submit that the difference between real and fictional dystopias is that fiction gives us structure; it provides meaning to a world that may seem to have lost it.
We can frame our dystopian fiction to reveal a theme, sometimes even a hope. We can’t see this in reality, because reality is chaotic. There is no clear theme. We see only the back of the web being woven, only the tangled mass of knotted strings that reveals nothing.

Sometimes we get a glimpse of meaning in reality, as in the true story The Chicken Runs at Midnight. I love that story; it’s a glimpse of the reality behind the knots and tangles.

Dystopian fiction can untangle a small section of reality for us and show us that there is meaning, even if it’s not often clear. It can give us hope even in the dystopic reality we live in.

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