Monday, April 9, 2012

Mormons and Dystopian

What do the following have in common: Partials by Dan Wells, Possession by Elana Johnson, Matched by Ally Condie, The Maze Runner by James Dashner, and Variant by Robison Wells? If you need a hint the answer is in the blog title. I will also add The Alliance by Gerald Lund to this list.

Let me do my best to define "dystopian". So, I'm not sure why this word is so difficult to define. I heard that there was a panel at LTUE last year that discussed this. (For those that don't know, LTUE is an annual conference in February. For more info, go to The funny thing is, the panelists had to agree to disagree on the definition of dystopian.

According to, dystopian is defined as:
a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.

Well, I think there's an error in this definition (guess that goes back to "agree to disagree" again.) But I think the conjunction here is "or" not "and". (Did you just start singing "conjunction junction, what's your function?" I did.) My reasoning against the "and" is that not all dystopians remind me of China and India.

In Gerald Lund's The Alliance, there isn't any overcrowding that's being fought. Nor is there disease (except for pride, which is a whole different type of malady). But most certainly there's a society that is all about controlling others.

Here's what I believe people are missing from this definition that is blatantly obvious to me. Nowhere is the term "post-apocalyptic" in existence in the definition. Partials, Possession, Matched, The Maze Runner, and The Alliance are all post-apocalyptic societies. Variant is not, however, it's still dystopian.

See, it's easy (well, at the base of world-building) for an author to say "The world as we know it is gone and now it's controlled by complete idiots." In Rob Wells' Variant, the world is normal. Nothing is obviously different. But his main character's world is not normal as he enters this secret school without any teachers. There is a control factor over this school's society. And there are other things that I could say, but that'd give away a key plot twist.

Something that's more fascinating is to look at why so many books in this genre are by LDS authors. Something that I find fascinating is how some of these books apply Christian and/or LDS principles into their story (whether or not they realize it.) Possession, Matched, The Maze Runner, Variant and The Alliance all have pieces of free will being attacked. There are various versions of "stand up for truth" and "believe" in them as well.

Now, "dystopian" wasn't that popular a few years ago. You had things like 1984 and Mad Max. Waterworld also fit dystopian in a way.

Just like Harry Potter made Young Adult - fantasy a relevant genre, The Hunger Games helped make Young Adult - dystopian what it is today. There are many dystopian novels out there, and their popularity rose in part to the Hunger Games. Even if they're not as popular as Suzanne Collins, James Dashner and Ally Condie have been on the NYT bestseller lists. Dan Wells, Rob Wells, and Elana Johnson all have national contracts. And Gerald Lund is one of the most popular classic LDS authors there is.

Well, that's it from me. I could delve more into this subject, but I don't want to bore the heck out of ya.


  1. Dystopian settings seem to be pretty popular. Although they have showed up before the Hunger games. Sadly, all I can think of are video games with dystopian settings. Final Fantasy 7 could fit. Final Fantasy X could fit with a bit of stretching.

    That aside, I loved the Hunger Games and Variant. I recommend reading them.

  2. I've always thought of Dystopian as opposite of Utopian. Utopian is the idea of a perfect society--a model for our society to attain to. Dystopian, like the book Brave New World, is the idea of a very flawed society that approaches perfection at a very terrible cost--a model of a society we should seek to avoid. Dystopian societies usually have amazing technological advancements but moral numbness.

    Good post. Good stuff to think about.

    Hey, what are everyone's favorite dystopian stories? (Can be anything from video games to movies to comic books)

    1. My favorite dystopia is from Fallout 3. I have spent hours wandering around the Capital Wastes fighting rad scorpions and mutants.
      If you want a real brain twister though, read the last part of the Book of Mormon and tell me the big Nephite/Lamanite war isn't a dystopia. :)

    2. I also thought of dystopian as the opposite of utopian. And about Brave New World. Huh. You'd think we were related or something. Weird. ;)

      This is a movie, but Gattaca is something that I think of as dystopian. Even though it LOOKS perfect, the structure of society is sooo wrong. Also, it has Jude Law and Uma Thurman! LOVE it!

      ((And yes, I did start singing "Conjunction junction, what's your function?" lol!))

    3. I really enjoy the Giver Trilogy by Lois Lowery. The weaving of all three lands together in the last book is absolutely amazing as well as the concepts of each of the books.

    4. Another great series is the Cyber Chronicles by TC Southwell. This series consists of 9 books that are extremely riveting and addicting (although at times I did shout out that I wanted the running around to stop so that my favorite characters could have a happily ever after already).

      This series starts on medieval-esque planet where a cyborg is placed to help aide a spoiled princess in her escape from suitors (including a womanizer and an extremely old man) as they wage war against her kingdom for her hand in marriage.

      After the first book the science fiction aspects really come out as we find out that this backwater planet is actually the result of a nuclear war that destroyed all the technology in the planet.

      It is interesting to watch the development of a Princess becoming more tech savvy as well as life savvy as she has to travel to rescue her former rescuer, whom she realizes she has fallen for. It is also interesting to watch the development of the Cyborg once he has become free of his headband (control unit) and has the ability to think and act for himself.

      I'm not one for romance novels but this story has just the right amount of romance, action, sci fi, and underhanded plot twists that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through all 9 of the books.

  3. Along these same lines, Orson Scott Card wrote a dystopic book called "Folk of the Fringe" all about a Mormon theocracy in post-apocalyptic Utah. It may not qualify as a dystopia, since it is about LDS people trying to establish a utopia of sorts, but it certainly is an interesting take at Mormon life in some extreme future.