Dystopias with Morgan Elizabeth Huneke

We opened the day with utopias, and now we're closing out on their supposed antithesis. Dystopias. But how much of an antithesis are they really?

I have my girl Morgan Elizabeth Huneke here to delve into the fascinating topic for us. She's the author of multiple novels of varying degrees of sci-fi and fantasy, including at least one dystopia. (Though an early work of hers that she has chosen not to promote during this event.) She has works in progress of the dystopian genre that sound absolutely awesome.

Let's see what she has to say.

Morgan Elizabeth Huneke
Author of Time Captives

Dystopian has been a very popular genre in recent years. A lot of that has to do with the popularity of The Hunger Games. I didn’t realize it was cool to like dystopian for quite a while. I just plain liked it. Why? Because it’s all about fighting back against an evil government! It’s my favorite kind of story. There’s some kind of evil government exacting complete control over the people, often attempting to create the illusion of utopia, but ultimately failing. And the main character fights against it.

So what makes a dystopia a dystopia? It can be a little difficult to define, as it overlaps with both utopian and post-apocalyptic. Where it differs from post-apocalyptic is in the primary antagonist. Is it some kind of natural disaster or a force outside of human control? It’s post-apocalyptic. Is the antagonist the society, typically an authoritarian government, exacting extreme control and restricting freedom? It’s dystopian, even if the dystopia rose out of a post-apocalyptic scenario, which it often does. The line between dystopia and utopia is much fuzzier, unfortunately, as many dystopias are externally utopian, but rotten inside. The line is therefore subject to “a certain point of view.”

Even so, there are some common characteristics in the dystopian genre.

Control. Whether it’s the Capitol forcing people in Districts to serve the Capitol and send their children to die in the Hunger Games, a government that makes 3rd children illegal, a “Big Brother” that restricts individuality and controls the way you think, or restriction of freedom of speech by charging for every word and gesture, control is an important part of a dystopian novel.

The extrapolation of some vice. Often authors write dystopian to warn readers about some kind of vice. It could be an obsession with violence. It could be restricted reproduction. It could be suppressed individuality. It could be utterly eliminating freedom of speech. It could be the murder of innocent “undesirables.” Not every dystopian society focuses on a particular vice; sometimes it’s simply the result of a scientific experiment gone wrong. But regardless, there are obvious things wrong with the society, though sometimes it takes the main character a while to figure it out. And it has something to do with restricted freedom.

People living in fear. Now, the stories that come closer to fulfilling the utopian illusion have a lot less fear. But stories such as The Hunger Games are filled with it. People live in fear of the Capitol. People live in fear of the Peacekeepers. People live in fear of sacrificing their children to the Games. And so they go along with the Capitol. They obey in order to stay alive.

That character who doesn’t conform. It’s not much of a story if everything stays the same. Sometimes the character starts a rebellion by accident. Katniss wasn’t trying to start a revolution when she volunteered. She just wanted to save her sister. She wasn’t even trying to start a revolution when she pulled out the berries. She just didn’t want to play by the Capitol’s rules. Speth Jime in All Rights Reserved certainly wasn’t trying to start any kind of rebellion. She’d just seen her best friend commit suicide, and didn’t want her first paid words to be an ad for her sponsor. And so she accidentally started a movement of Silence. Other times, the main character purposefully challenges the government. But somehow, the status quo is challenged. Maybe successfully, maybe not. But there has to be something to illustrate just what’s wrong with this society, why this society is dystopic, not utopic.

There is more to dystopian. It’s a very complex, intricate, diverse genre. But at its core, it’s a genre that challenges society. It’s a genre that challenges government control. It’s a genre that challenges the restriction of freedom. And that’s why I love it.


  1. "restriction of freedom of speech by charging for every word and gesture"— what book is this referencing? I'm very curious.
    Oh, wait. You answered that question later in the post. Never mind.
    Great post!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis is a book I discovered accidentally while putting the covers on new books at the library. It was definitely an intriguing book, and surprisingly clean for secular YA. The next book comes out in August.

    2. I guessed it must be pretty clean, since you recommended it— I went ahead and put it on my Goodreads list. Hopefully I'll have time to read it this summer. Thanks for the recommendation!


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