science fiction

All posts tagged science fiction

Today, we talked about Darko Suvin’s essay on “the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre.” We worked through his major arguments and his classification scheme for SF and other genres commonly associated with SF (fantasy, fairy tale, myth). We highlighted the context for Suvin’s argument, the political upside to grouping utopia/dystopia with sci fi, and the difference between the analogic and extrapolative models of SF.
We also talked about Lyman Tower Sargent’s article”The Three Faces of Utopianism Revisited” and the ways in which it is conversation with Suvin’s article. We focused on the three “faces” that he discusses (literary utopia, intentional communities and utopian social theory) and the investment in revisiting these concepts given a prevailing opinion that utopia is increasingly possible in our contemporary world. In particular, we looked at his criticism of using the word “perfect” when defining utopia and the ways in which that particular word in the definition undermines the overall utopian project.
  1. Annotated Bibliographies are due tonight by 11:55pm to TSquare – please be sure to submit them as a Word doc or a PDF and include your last name in the file name.
  2. Read WOEVENText 10, 11, and 12 on Oral Presentations for Monday
  3. Start outlining, drafting, writing your research paper. You will want to aim to have a draft of your paper complete by next week; the conference presentation can be a very valuable exercise in helping you to distill and clarify your arguments, but you need to know what those arguments are before you can clarify them.

As a quick reminder, I made some changes to next week’s schedule on the syllabus (see previous blog post) in order to add a visit to the Communications Center on Friday, March 3. Please keep these deadlines in mind as you are working in the next few days and don’t forget that Friday’s class will be held in CULC 447.

We started class by having each of you create a “Follow Friday” tweet, where you recommend accounts for other folks in class to follow. Keep working to curate your Twitter timelines so when it comes time to research, you have a wide variety of resources available to you.

Next I walked you through some sample infographics and we talked about what infographics can do well, where some of the ones we looked at fall short, how to keep audience in mind and how to balance images and text. Hopefully some of these examples gave you some ideas and inspiration for your own infographics.

I walked you through some of the key terms from CCUL – it is important that you have a strong grasp on some of the key terminology we are using in this course (utopia, anti-utopia, dystopia, science fiction, cognitive estrangement) as we move forward into some of the assignments. We talked about the historical evolution of dystopia as well as the way the CCUL formulates the overlaps between science fiction, romance and utopia/dystopia. It is important to note that the scholars who wrote these chapters in the CCUL are asserting their arguments and definitions of these terms; you are certainly welcome to disagree with those definitions provided you can support your own argument with reliable sources.

We finished class today with some time spent working on your infographics with your partners. If you were out today you should check in with your partner about this project as soon as possible.


  1. Read CCUL Chapter 8
  2. Read “Burn with Us: Sacrificing Childhood in The Hunger Games,” Susan Shau Ming Tan, The Lion and the Unicorn, Volume 37, Number 1, January 2013, pp. 54-73 (Article). DOI: 10.1353/uni.2013.0002
    • Access the article through the Project MUSE database through the Georgia Tech library.  Use the Library Ask a Librarian feature if you have trouble finding or accessing the database.
    • Be sure to LIVETWEET + tweet a Discussion Question for this article and CCUL 8
  3. Continue reading independent reading selection – you should be at least halfway finished by this point
  4. OPTIONAL: We will be screening The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1 on Monday, to discuss on Wednesday (3rd film). If you have not seen Catching Fire (2nd film), you might want to watch it on your own.

We’ll discuss The Hunger Games pt 3 and your excellent discussion questions on Monday


The defining characteristic of a dystopian narrative is the roots of its society in a utopian ideal. We see the startling, disgusting logical end result of some well-intentioned vision. The sweet promise of industry eradicating labor turns putrid as the rain turns to acid, and crops and wildlife wither and rot. Man’s great dream of economic equality and political freedom warps into the nightmare of mass poverty and the police state. The wonder of instant, ubiquitous communication, heralded as the haven of democracy, enables the surveillance of every aspect of modern life.

Surveillance camera

Science fiction dystopias display an even more pervasive fear of technological and scientific progress. The limitations on how quickly and drastically human society, and humans themselves, can change are lifted. Science fiction makes tangible our darkest, most distant dreams and enables our wildest fancy. The revelatory draught resulting from the blending of science fiction and dystopia is uniquely dark and bitter. Dystopias in this sub-genre are able to focus all the more sharply for their enhanced capacity to warp the lens through which we view our own society.

Mars transformed

When we consider Young Adult dystopias, there is a necessary change in the tone of the genre. Whereas we chastise adults for their role in bringing about the current state of affairs, we are gentler with the youth, merely cautioning them against our mistakes. Too, our perspective shifts, highlighting the way society treats the young. We are treated to a look at the system of education, the parenting, or lack of it, a grand insight into what forces form a dystopian adult. There are definite advantages to reaching the hearts and minds of the youth, as any utopian designer will attest, so young adult dystopias may well be the most impactful tool of social change available to the modern author.

The definition of dystopia is quite complex and it is often confused with those of utopia, science fiction, horror, post-apocalypse, and several others. One online definition is “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.” This is a very negative view of a place. Propaganda is used to control the citizens of the society and the citizens do not know what the world is like outside of their society. There is constant surveillance, and the citizens are to conform to uniform expectations where individuality is frowned upon.

While dystopias and utopias are complete opposite, the perspective taken on a society can change whether something is categorized as a dystopia or a utopia. A utopia is “an imaginary and indefinitely remote place; a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions.” For the ruler or government in charge of the place, the society can seem like a perfect and ideal place, a utopia. The citizens, on the other hand can be poor, miserable, and living a harsh life and view their society as a dystopia.

Dystopias are often confused with other genres. One big misunderstanding is that dystopias and science fiction are often confused with one another. In many dystopian societies there is advanced scientific technology and they are usually set in the future so it is easily confused as being a work of science fiction. Even in my experience with the dystopias that I have read, including The Hunger Games, and The Divergent series, they all included some kind of science fiction aspect.

Dystopias are often combined with the YA genre, which creates a more relatable storyline, since it does not limit the audience to a certain age group. YA novels usually include a protagonist in their age range who experiences similar things that a young adult would, including first love, family relations, and competitions. Older people can also relate to these stories, since they were young at one point in their lives. YA dystopia makes the problems relatable to a large audience in an easy to read format for everyone to enjoy.

“Utopia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,
“Dystopia.” English Oxford Living Dictionaries, English Oxford Living Dictionaries,
“Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics.” ReadWriteThink. NCTE/IRA, 2006,

From reading The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature and participating in in-class discussions, I have determined that a dystopia can be simply defined as the downfall of a utopia. More complexly defined, they typically embody the idea of a controlling government gone wrong-often times emphasizing the usage of propaganda to brainwash people. Going along with the idea of a utopia, a dystopia is a seemingly unattainable place on the opposite end of the spectrum. Often times, the people of dystopias are convinced that their lives are indeed perfect.

When combined with another genre, the background of the dystopia is often explained. In other words, the addition of concepts from the genre usually help to unveil the origin of the society. For example, Huxley’s Brave New World uses science-fiction concepts to highlight what will ultimately result from man becoming overly invested in technology. Simply put, it presents technology as a buffer that disables man from feeling emotion. Overall, it serves as a warning sign to future generations to come as well, letting them know how government-regulated technology is capable of degrading a society.

Combining dystopia with Young Adult literature enhances the genre by making it more applicable to the audience that will most benefit from it. People tend to learn the best at a young age. Therefore, making dystopian literature relatable to this age group gives them a glimpse at what their futures may hold if they allow unregulated technological advancements to take hold. Moreover, making young people aware of this possibility has proven to be more effective than trying to sway the older population. Elders in any society typically have already developed their own opinions over time, especially in terms of government and politics. Consequently, they are much less likely to change these long-standing opinions.

Ultimately, making millennials want to care about a pressing issue is the key to preventing its occurrence. After all, the youth of today eventually will be the bosses, politicians, and leaders that society will be looking up to for guidance. In addition to being a form of entertainment, Young Adult Dystopian Fiction serves a vital role in preparing young people for the future.


A dystopia can encompass various ideas and multiple aspects of society, which contribute to the creation of an imagined universe where nightmares become reality. In order to criticize a certain aspect of society, authors create dystopias “through an exaggerated worst-case scenario” (“Dystopias”). In many dystopias, the leaders, or those in power, use propaganda to control the citizens. These rulers restrict freedom and information from their citizens. In The Hunger Games and in 1984, the government controlled all aspects of life and kept important information about their nation from civilians. One of the main characteristics of a dystopia is the concept of fear. People live in fear of the government and live in fear of changing any aspect of life. A dystopia is “an illusion of a perfect utopian world” (“Dystopias”). The citizens of a dystopian nation don’t know anything different from their respective dystopia, so they go along with the government, living in a dehumanized state.

watching you

Very often in dystopian literature, scientific innovation has led to the demise of an older society and the creation of a dystopian one. In The Giver, the government developed science to control how people think and what they see. Dystopian literature mixed with science fiction creates a world in the past or in the future in which something bad happened, so the government took over with scientific innovation. Suzanne Collins created Panem to reflect how the government has developed in science and technology in hundreds of years following the present generation. The leaders in The Hunger Games were able to create dogs from deceased tributes to eat those that remained alive. This can only happen in a dystopia affected by science.

When combined with Young Adult literature, the dystopia genre shifts to incorporate a protagonist that challenges the dystopian world he or she lives in. This character is meant to connect with young adults, rebuilding the community and making a better world for the citizens to live in as well as the readers to live in.


Works Cited

“Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics.” ReadWriteThink. NCTE/IRA, 2006, Accessed 21 May 2017.


A setting of systematic disparities and restrictions; typically exists in the future or in fictional places.

It’s difficult to concretely categorize the settings of novels/movies as dystopias, because how each citizen of that society is affected by society as a whole is unique. Take the citizens of Panem (the fictional setting for The Hunger Games), for example. If you asked a Capitol resident whether or not they lived in a dystopian society, the answer would be “no”. Everyone they come into contact with seems to be well taken care of, and all seem to be living comfortable lives. However, if you ask a citizen of the districts, their answer would be much different. Because of this reason, I use the term “systematic disparity” to describe a dystopia – not everyone must be suffering in order for their society to be considered a dystopia. Another aspect that is often associated with a dystopia is the use of futuristic technology in order to reinforce the society’s status quo. It is because of this aspect that dystopias are often combined with the science fiction genre, creating dystopian science fiction. Dystopias often exist in the future, so it would make sense for new technology to have been developed in the time between now and the story’s time period.

To me, what differentiates between the genres of “dystopian literature” and “dystopian science fiction” is how prevalent that futuristic technology is in the story. Science fiction focuses on the technology and its use, while standard dystopian fiction may include it but not make it an important factor. Star Wars, for example, isn’t often touted as a dystopia, yet it shares many elements of a regular dystopia. This leads me to classify it as dystopian science fiction.

Replace these Storm Troopers with Peacekeepers and the Alliance’s logo with Panem’s and you could easily mistake this for a Hunger Games screencap

Combining dystopia with the YA genre results in more relatable storylines. The YA genre is so popular because it isn’t limited to one age group; people of all ages can relate and enjoy the stories told in an easy-to-read YA format. Everyone over the typical age cap of the YA genre can relate to these YA storylines because they were young adults at one point in their lives as well. By utilizing universal experiences and feelings (whether it’s a first love, sibling relations, or competitions with others), YA dystopias make their more outlandish settings and problems more common and relatable. Because of this, they can reach a larger audience and have a bigger impact on the world. Utopian literature/media is made better because of its close association to the YA genre.

The definition of dystopia hovers around the idea that everything is bad. However, “bad” exists as a relative term, varying for each person and for every time period. With this being said, human fears tend to be fairly homogenous on average, like fearing death, starvation, oppression. When examining dystopias, I tend to find that utopias and dystopias are not mutually exclusive; they exist within each other. One of my favorite movies, Pleasantville, exemplifies this perfectly (no pun intended). In their society, basketballs go in baskets every time, everyone makes straight A’s, and couples sleep in separate beds. But the very idea of a society rid of thrills, excitement, and rebellion screams oppression – something heavily associated with dystopia. On the flip side, every dystopian society has a ruling party or oppressor, living their best life in power and watching the “others” as they live at their mercy. Trying to separate an ideal society from its counterpart is almost impossible as long as some peoples’ dreams come at the expense of others’ nightmares.

In making dystopian literature more interesting, it is often combined with other genres to add another dimension to the context and plot. Science fiction is what reminds me most of a dystopia, capitalizing on our natural fear of the future and what is unknown. These books show us a world we would rather live without, often taking a current issue and launching it 20 steps forward. This is seen in Fahrenheit 451, where Bradbury creates a world ruled by technology and void of the deep thought that comes with reading. People fall asleep with tiny ear buds adorning their ears, and spend their days in salons walled with viewing screens. Books and reading are illegal. Describing a dystopia in the scope of a science fiction novel does not change the definition of a dystopia, but instead relates it to the specific fear of technology, and its potential to make us lose our character by being able to do, think, and create for ourselves.

Beyond concentrating on a specific genre, the idea of a dystopia can be targeted to young adults; this implies zooming in on the relative “bad” for young adults. Oppression of character, lack of freedom, a predetermined future – these are all fears of the general population, but are especially amplified in the younger generation that have yet to experience their full potential in their lifetime. The Hunger Games is a modern classic for YA dystopian literature, encompassing all of these “bads” in the society of Panem. It is very much still a true dystopia by genre and definition, but becomes centralized on the fears of the young adult population.


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The term “dystopia” can be defined in 2 ways: as a genre and as a characterization of a fictional world. As a genre, dystopia is exploratory and speculative in nature. Hallmarks of dystopian fiction generally include the 2 R’s: Revelation and Revolt. As a characterization, dystopia has come to represent a purely imaginative world that is either 1) isolated from mainstream society, accessible by some form of travel, or 2) the actual society at large from which there is no escape.

In any literary work that has been labeled a dystopia, there are a few of the same defining qualities. The fictional world often operates under the guise of a high-functioning and orderly society. For example, in The Giver, written by Lois Lowry, there is the absence of argument, violence, conflict, and ultimately, individuality – the one characteristic that makes us inherently human. Such a society may appear to be ideal on the surface but eventually proves otherwise. Another trait of dystopian fiction is an overarching political system that exercises control and power over its inhabitants. This is especially evident in George Orwell’s 1984, which was written as a satire on the “colossal failures of totalitarian collectivism” (Claeys 108). Generally-speaking, I consider dystopian literature to be a critique on any such social, economic, or political injustice that, if not already true in some form, has the potential to become true.

As a genre, dystopia changes its meaning when combined with science fiction. Science fiction written with dystopian influences – or, another way of putting it, a dystopian novel written under the backdrop of science fiction – inherently becomes a brainchild of two genres, one that defies proper categorization. What utopia brings to science fiction is its “ability to reflect or express our hopes and fears” (Claeys 138). On a similar note, what science fiction lends to utopia “is an awareness of the effects and importance of science and technology” (Claeys 139). The two genres are not so similar as to be interchangeable, but they do share common elements, leading some books to be labeled as both.

The dystopian genre, when combined with Young Adult Literature, acquires themes familiar to a younger audience, such as love and identity. Y.A. dystopian fiction typically features adolescents navigating through the woes of growing up, while also coming to terms (or not) with the society in which they reside. Due to the harsh reality of the imperfect world they find themselves in, the characters in these novels are often exposed to violence and traumatic situations at an early age. Ultimately, a Y.A. dystopia is just as much an exploration of self as it is a critique of society – all through the lens of a coming-of-age individual.

Works Cited:

Claeys, Gregory. “The origins of dystopia: Wells, Huxley, and Orwell.” The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Ed. Gregory Claeys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 107-131. Print.

Claeys, Gregory. “Utopia, dystopia and science fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Ed. Gregory Claeys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 135-153. Print.

Image URL:,d.eWE&psig=AFQjCNFGPZEnxTOj3ihwOGNlhlvnqz9lJg&ust=1485310320534223

The term dystopia is a derivation neologism, meaning that it evolved as a variation of another word used to name a newly synthesized concept or idea (Claeys 23). Dystopias were originally created to contrast the pre-existing concept of utopia, a term coined by Thomas More that alluded to an imaginary paradise-like place that focused on non-existent social organization that is better than reality (Claeys 20). The concept of dystopia rejects that utopias can exist, discarding any possibility of mankind achieving perfect equality, stability, and peace. However, analyses of different dystopias result in various interpretations of what a dystopia can be. Many literary dystopias have very obvious negative connotations, but others may have only underlying implications of dystopian elements. Personally, I define dystopia as any place or state that reflects an unpleasant social, political, or economic tension in the way the society is structured. Dystopias may also critique contemporary societies by hiding underlying messages about current issues and events, possibly implying fault in how modern society is structured. Dystopias do not have to be a society that is completely overtaken by misery, oppression, totalitarianism, and dehumanization; they are often simply a society that highlights a few aspects of the common dystopian definition.

In addition, combining dystopia with other literary genres often opens up a new level of depth to interpretation and analysis. Dystopian scientific fiction, for example, exploits possible faults in technological advancement and scientific discovery. As a rapidly evolving civilization, innovative research is always encouraged, yet commonly feared. Dystopian sci-fi literature often embodies this fear, illustrating scientific discovery that goes wrong, with technology dehumanizing civilization. Therefore, dystopias don’t only critique current society, but they also predict future conflict between ethical morality and scientific discovery, altering the definition of dystopia itself.

The dystopian genre can also be changed when comparing adult dystopias and young adult dystopias. Young adult literature uses simpler diction and relatable examples, often alluding to parental restrictions, fleeting romances, teenage hardships, and developing a unique identity. Incorporating the concept of dystopia into a genre for teens alters the way the message is told. For example, in Brave New World, an adult dystopian novel, science molds a perfect society through a totalitarian societal structure and a caste system that eliminates class mobility. This is illustrated through the normalization of sex, the use of in vitro fertilization to control genetics, and psychological conditioning (Huxley, 1-18). On the other hand, in The Hunger Games, a young adult dystopian novel by Suzanne Collins, governmental and societal issues are portrayed through heartbreaking romance, clique-like friend groups, and young characters that are relatable to the audience, such as the teenage heroine, the heart-throb love interest, and the nostalgic friend back at home. Both of these novels exemplify dystopias and a critique of modern society, but in two completely different ways, leading to various interpretations and analyses of the intended message.


Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Chatto & Windus, 1932.