Life at the Dystopic Tipping Point



I’m midway through the much talked about Legend by Wendy Lu. She’s gotten a lot of press on her YA adventure, where the state of California goes rogue. It’s some near future in Lu’s world, a period after an apocalyptic flood and the arrival of a military regime. All 10 year olds in the city of LA must submit to state run testing which results in either promotion to  (s)he-man uberfighter status or a one-way ticket to West Texas. However, in between LA and the Lone Star, there’s a notable lack of atmosphere, and not just in Legend, but in many of the futuristic cities I’ve lately read about. Like in Suzanne Collins’ Panem, Lu has no middle ground in her California Republic and no citizenry beyond the uniforms and the people of the street. I’d like to think there is something left of a middle class in the future. I mean, someone still has to teach school in 2056. But again and again in dystopia the only humanity left are the uber rich and the astonishingly poor.

To my way of seeing, the average places of human interaction are still great spots for story telling. Thees include bus stops, ATMs, pharmacies, the post office. Of course we love to read about where the hero gets her eyelashes digitally enhanced, but there’s more opportunity for character development alongside that school teacher, I’d argue, than with the rock and roll makeup stylist.

This is what I’d like to build into my own dystopic saga, one I’m building in a totalitarian Washington DC after takeover by a Chinese fashion tycoon. 

I like the idea of what happens to a society with the mashup of class. Like what we’ve done with high brow meets low brow in current entertainment. Though we don’t like to admit that our New Yorker reading is being dumbed down by our kids’ cartoons, sorry, it is. The merger produces The Simpsons and 30 Rock. And secretly we love it.  I gotta hand it to the guy who writes Big Nate, an elementary school graphic novel series that every 4th grader is tearing through. It’s a wildly successful hybrid of the smart and the dumbass. 

Can the same be said of dystopic fiction? I don’t think so. Instead, I’d call it sci/fi light. In dystopia we get it’s an underdog overcoming odds. Big surprise, right? I’d argue that dystopia is also the place where a hero backtracks in time to an earlier, more reasonable era, when people DIDN’T assassinate their boss or torch the DMV.

Meanwhile, dystopia also requires a body count, I think that’s implied, daily violence (martial art seems best), something soothing/zen/spiritual that conquers all, and a love interest. Beyond that, I think it’s lost a bit of science, to be honest. 

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