Dystopia: The New Vampire?

With the last Twilight movies on the horizon and mounting hype over upcoming movies like The Hunger Games and Divergent, many are left wondering if dystopia is the new vampire.

For those of you who don’t know, here’s a quick definition of dystopia from dictionary.com:

a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression,disease, and overcrowding.

— n
an imaginary place where everything is as bad as it can be

[C19 (coined by John Stuart Mill ): from dys-  + Utopia ]

In summary, it’s the opposite of utopia. And its increasing popularity is more than evident on the shelves.

So in the sense that vampires are slowly going out of fashion and dystopia is building quite the fan base, I’d say that yes dystopia is the new vampire. However. HOWEVER. There is an enormous difference between the two genres that I think will set dystopia apart from the vampire craze that flooded bookstores not that long ago.

Before I go on, I want to say first and foremost that I’m not dissing any vampire novels. They had (and some still do) a huge following and it appealed to a large base of particularly excitable pre-teens and teenagers who snatched up more than a few of them. They were entertaining and people liked them, which is why they became popular in the first place.

So I give Twilight and the rest of the vampire books out there a lot of credit. They caught onto something that really resonated with people.

The only bone I have to pick with vampire novels is that a lot of them are the same. I’m not saying they all have the same plot (that would be an unfair generalization) but the vast majority of vampire books I glanced at in the bookstores went something like this: girl meets boy. Boy (sometimes girl) is a vampire. Boy loves girl but is afraid to hurt her. Girl thinks boy is mysterious and doesn’t care about the danger. TENSION.

Entertaining? Absolutely. But I got a little tired of it pretty quickly.

And that’s where dystopian is different. Whereas there was only so much you could do with a vampire story, a large range of dystopian novels are emerging. What makes dystopian different is that each story has a different society. Every novel has new challenges and new obstacles to overcome. Are there similarities? Of course, but there’s potential for a lot of variety.

For example: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (c’mon, I couldn’t write a post about dystopian novels without mentioning The Hunger Games at least twice). Basic plot involves a competition in which two teenagers from each of the twelve districts are forced to enter every year. The competition? Survival of the fittest. Last one still alive wins.

Now compare this to Wither by Lauren DeStefano. There aren’t any competitions here, initiations or factions. Wither’s focus is on something entirely different: genetic engineering gone wrong. In this dystopian novel, scientists accidently triggered a time bomb in every human so that women only live to the age of twenty and men twenty-five. As a result, girls are married off in the early teen years and forced to bear children in order to keep humanity alive.

I don’t need to go on to explicate the difference between Wither and The Hunger Games.

So what’s the point Ava? They’re different, so what?

In my opinion the end of the vampire age is coming because people got bored. The stories became repetitive and readers wanted something different. I think the vampire craze is coming to a close not because of a lack of talent or anything like that, but a lack of variety.

Dystopian is different. There can be huge variations and still fit within the realm of dystopia. Of course there will be repetition, but I think there's much more potential for variety than the vampire craze was ever able to offer.

And that will give it the momentum it needs to carry forward.

What do you think? Is dystopia just another passing craze? Will variety make a difference?


Jennie Bennett said...

I so agree, Dystopia has a greater variety. Then again I don't think that means everyone should jump on the dystopia band wagon. Anything overdone will be boring and soon more people will crave some other mythical creature or contemporary or something. The fashion will change with the high school generation. It's just the biz.

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

I agree that it'll change (as always) and probably eventually be overdone, but I've found this movement especially interesting because of the variety. I'm actually pretty excited to see what else comes of it. :)

Joseph said...

Great post! I've noticed this, but there will always be a market for vampires and there will always be a huge fan base -- and yes, it did get boring pretty quick. I think the genre needs to cool off, but there will be someone somewhere who has a vampire story that's a little bit original and hopefully without the love between vampire and human.


S.P. Sipal said...

Dystopian does seem to provide a wider range. Until some great creative mind comes around and figures an entirely new way to invent vampires. Both, as part of SFF, hold lasting power over the imagination because of their appeal to our darker nature and our fears/wonders of what if.

Great post, Ava!

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

When that entirely different vampire book comes out, I might have to check it out. :D

Also, I think that's a great point about dystopian and vampire novels appealing to our darker nature. It certainly falls under the "guilty pleasure" category.

Julie Musil said...

What a great point! And dystopian stories can play on some of our worst fears.

Dave said...

I'd expand a bit on what Julie said. Dystopia is popular because it resonates with a sense of uncertainty about the future in our culture. Dystopian novels ultimately do what good science fiction does: it paints a picture of where things could go if they continue on their present course. That is, they help us see how we get there from here, with a warning attached. In that sense, there's something much more substantive than the vampire sub-genre. Vampires entertain, but really can't point out anything serious about our cuture or, I would argue, with ourselves.

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

I wish there was a re-tweet button or something for comments here because I really love what you said there, Dave.

I haven't read (nearly enough) dystopian novels yet (though they definitely populate my TBR pile), but the ones that I have really resonated and I think you pinpointed why exactly: they aren't just there to entertain--they're a commentary on society itself.

And that extra layer makes them memorable.

Patricia JL said...

It wasn't just vampire stories doing the boy meets girl storyline. I saw plenty of other mythical creatures doing the same. It made me stop buying YA for a while because I lost faith in finding something new and interesting. The only dystopian like novel I've read so far was by a friend (and coincidentally, it did have vampires in it too! lol) So I can't comment on how different each story is, but I wouldn't shy from it if it looked interesting.

Unknown said...

(Your blog just ate my comment. *poke*)

So... I think you're absolutely right! There's lots more variety on the dystopian ship, and that's why I have incorporated my own dystopian world into my latest book... it's like worldbuilding and there's nothing I love more. ^_^

I think there can be variety with vampires too if the people weren't so obsessed with varying the love stories instead of the vampires themselves.. Oh and thanks for the recommendations! I love genetic engineering gone wrong. ;)

Jessica Silva said...

Hm. I think dystopians can be very similar, too, since there's a definition. In all of the societies, something will be SIMILAR, which ties them all together as a "dystopia." Some people might find that boring, too.

Dave mentioned sci-fi, and a few industry experts (or something like that) mentioned that they believed sci-fi would be the next big trend. I think dystopia resonates really well with sci-fi, so it seems to fit with that idea. Utopians, too, and just "futuristic" in general. I love playing the prediction game :D

Alivia said...

Interesting post, Ava, and I think you're right on the most of it.

I don't think dystopia will become the new vampire because of the huge differences between them. Dystopia follows society and battles of will, something that falls more under adventure in my mind. Vampires, in their current format, follow falling in love with a human or second vampire against all battles, which I view as romance.

That's not to say I don't like nor am I against dystopia. Divergent definitely is on my Favorite Books of 2011! I'm waiting to see what will be the next vampire though- so far it looks like either angels or trolls or werewolves. We shall seeeeee!

Sarah said...

I'm cool with it, as long as they don't make SS officers sparkly.

Ava Jae said...

Ah yes. That would be pretty horrible.

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