I have been thinking about dystopia fiction vs. sci fi fiction while reading Maria Snyder’s Inside Out, a dystopia book with a sci fi bent. It’s funny but I was having a recent discussion with some friends about how I don’t read traditional sci fi books, yet I have such a passion for dystopia books. They both have imaginative world building in common, so why are my tastes so clearly in the one camp and not the other?
I guess it boils down to the fact that in dystopian novels, despite an event that changes the world or society dramatically, the settings in these stories are still recognizable as similar to our own civilization even if they have been distorted by an apocalyptic event. This can be true of the sci fi genre, but the very nature of science fiction allows for unrecognizable technology or creatures. Anything the author can imagine goes and that’s probably what fans of this type of fiction love. Me, I like reading about a world that our current one could become if dangerous events come to pass. It’s that grain of truth in the world building that appeals to me and the way a good author builds on that grain and extends it to the extremes.
In sci fi books, there is too much focus on technology for me…technology for weapons, space travel, communications etc. and the liberal use of these devices can be what assists or saves the characters. In dystopia fiction often technology has been lost or at least reduced, and the characters must rely more on their own inventiveness, willpower and strength to survive situations in their world. Maybe because I didn’t have smart phones, tablets and ipods as a child, I relate more to characters who can take action without relying on technology. Recently I was in Portland, Oregon and needed some directions and was amazed that no one seemed able to provide them. Even people who hadn’t grown up with so much technology whipped out their phones instead of just telling me where to turn left or right to get to my destination. I was both fascinated and a little horrified on how quickly people have become completely reliant on a gadget for such a basic skill. Maybe it’s just me, but I much prefer Katniss’s bow to a computerized weapon…
In Inside Out Trella is a scrub who lives on the lower levels though her job cleaning the pipes of Inside gives her glimpses of the world of the uppers. The scrubs are menial workers who live in overcrowded conditions without any choice as to career, having a family or any control over their lives. Trella, like the rest of the scrubs, resents the uppers and the chip on her shoulder even alienates her from the rest of her fellow scrubs, with the exception of her friend Cognos. It’s because of her fondness for Cognos that she is pressured to see the latest Prophet who spins stories of hope and a world of other possibilities. Because Trella wants to protect Cognos from falling for the Prophet’s message, she sets out to prove that he is lying, but then discovers there may be more to what he says. This leads her on a journey to discover the truth, the truth about the uppers, her fellow scrubs and even herself. Although there were elements of tech in this story, they were secondary to the characters and the plot which was a mashup of Attica, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Anthem and Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Read it and see what I mean.