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How dystopian fiction can help us in our changing world

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There have been moments over the last year when taking a trip to the supermarket has felt like walking onto a set for a dystopian movie!

In March 2021 our world changed and during this time of turbulence sales soared for George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1985”. A surge of people watched the film Contagion, a film about the world’s response to a deadly virus, and there was global increased demand for dystopian stories. Why are people turning to dystopian stories during a time that feels dystopian?

Dystopian fiction can prepare us for the future

Although fiction is not real, it can help us to make sense of what is real, and about what may come in the future. Through fictional scenarios we can try to figure out how people, society, and the world might work under certain pressures. Children play out what adult life might bring in pretend kitchens, cars, and Lego cities, and teens, and adults, can use novels to figure out experiences that could potentially come. Dystopian fiction gives us the space to ask ourselves, what would I do in this situation? How will the world and others react? It can prepare our thinking.

Dystopian fiction can be an emotional outlet

One of the themes in Kolonie is that on Mars they are taught to block out negative feelings and emotions. Mental health professionals would agree suppressing feelings is not good for us, and we see in the story how much this suppression harms Eva. Eva finds a rebellion in the underground lava tubes on Mars (these tubes actually exist on Mars in real life!) and here she meets the rebels who allow themselves to feel. This is overwhelming for Eva at first as they are not even allowed books, TV, music, art, or films on Mars. Eva’s never even had a fictional outlet for her emotions.

I believe in the importance of a fictional outlet for emotions, sometimes we find ourselves crying at book, or a film, and we don’t know why. Maybe we don’t even need to know, but it’s likely that emotional outburst was good for us. During our real-life pandemic in 2020/21, feeling our fears, anger, and sadness in dystopian fiction can be a helpful realize. Fictional worlds are a safe space to let those feelings out.

Dystopian fiction can become a symbol for real-life movements

Margaret Atworth’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale was written as a warning to society about the importance of women’s rights. Throughout the world women’s rights have been violated in the past, present, and it’s most likely they will continue to be violated in the future. All over the world women’s-rights demonstrators have used Atworth’s fictional world to protest against our real one, by dressing up as handmaids in dark red cloaks with white bonnets.

Dystopian fiction can wake us up

One of the mottos of the rebels in Kolonie is “Wake Up”. They want to wake society up from this sleepwalk they are in which is killing people. This society allows their loved ones to be ‘Offered’ (sacrificed) for the ‘greater good’. The rebels want people to wake up and stand up to this human rights violation.

I write dystopian fiction in the I hope it will nudge people into standing up for their rights, planet, free press, and democracies. Dystopian fiction shines light onto the truth of how fragile society is and that we all have to work hard to make our world democratic, fair, and a healthy space for everyone to thrive. Well written fictional can help readers look at their own lives, and figure out where they stand, who they are, what they believe in, and what they’re going to do about it. 

Dystopian fiction can grow our wisdom

When I wrote Under Glass (Kolonie) I wanted the reader to think about how they might react if they were living on this colony on Mars called Eos. When dystopian fiction can merge the sociological questions with individual ones, that’s when it really hits the reader. I love how the Hunger Games Trilogy does this! 

I studied Sociology at University in London and I had an incredible professor who told me that wisdom is not about answering questions, it’s about asking the right ones. This is what I wanted to do with Under Glass (Kolonie). I weaved questions into Eva’s story that would be relevant to us 100 years ago, today, and in 100 years’ time. It’s the timeless questions that shed the most light and to get those we must look at history.

Dystopian fiction should not be the author telling the reader this is what the world will look like in the future. It should ignite the readers curiosity and encourage them to ask themselves — what do I want the future to look like and how can I be a part of that change?  

How dystopian fiction can help us in our changing world image 31

Sam Marsden is the author of Kolonie, a young adult dystopian thriller set on a colony on Mars. Published in the Czech Republic by Fragment.

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