Is dystopia becoming formula?

For the past two years I have been reading tons of dystopia. After reading Hunger Games I have been grabbing any book I can that has dystopic elements and voraciously tear through them. However lately while there have been some real Hunger Games style gems. I am mostly inundated with the same plot different characters over and over again.

The case of the mistaken branding

When I read Matched I realized immediately it was not dystopia it just played one on TV. Many of the negative reviews I read for Matched stated all the things that made it not a dystopia as their reason for not liking the book. (Not that Matched wasn’t a success, just an example of wrong branding)

Matched is a negative utopia. I am thinking Crossed will be more of a dystopia but I haven’t read it yet. You see the citizens in Matched including your protagonist are happy. They are fed, given everything they need and they are content with what they have. Cassia is excited about being Matched and is contented with who it is until she sees a flash of another boy. Only then does she begin to question her world and even then she does so reluctantly.

Which brings me to:

Kick ass girls only kick ass after meeting the boy:

In a lot of the books I have been reading lately the girls are content or scared or reluctant but they hold one thing in common. They generally don’t break the rules, or only break them a tiny bit. What’s allowed without getting in trouble. It isn’t until they meet the boy that they can’t live without are they willing to risk everything.

Why do the protagonists need a boy in order to kick ass? Or not even a boy why does it have to be ‘true love’ that inspires them? Is there nothing else to bring these girls out of their shell enough to fight for what they believe in?

I am the first to admit I don’t embody feminism completely. I don’t know enough about feminism to say that but I don’t like the fight for the boy, for love, I do however like fight for the freedom to love but can the girls not do that without first finding the boy?

YA dystopia is starting to feel like formula fiction:

I don’t know if it is still like this because I haven’t been reading but do you remember when Romance was formula? Things had different settings, different names but the main plot motivators stayed the same with a slice of HEA at the end for good measure.

I feel like I am reading the same plot over and over again with different faces and different Fascists. Is this due to the genre or are the plots unimaginative? It can’t be that I tire of the genre itself. For years I have read dystopic fiction by the masters of the field and have loved every minute of it. Orwell, Atwood, and Huxley.

There are dystopian YA books I am waiting on with bated breath that I think will breathe new life for me into the genre. Lenore’s Level Two sounds riveting and I want to see if Crossed is more of a dystopia and how Cassia evolves.

So I am asking you dear reader, am I just over indulged in the genre and need to take a break or are you also seeing formula and less imaginative worlds?

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19 Responses so far

  1. Gravatar

    Why thanks!

    I am still seeing a lot of premises that excite me, but I’m starting to avoid the ones that look like cookie cutter doom and gloom. We are just so spoiled now for choice in my favorite sub-genre!!

  2. Gravatar

    I’m dystopia-ed out. A year ago it was my favorite genre and this year I’ve read a few books that were so similar that I found it frustrating. It seems like dystopia’s the big trend, and when that happens, those formulaic books tend to sneak in.

    About a month ago I began another ‘meh’ dystopia and I just decided to take a break from the genre as a whole. I still like the sub-genres, like zombie dystopia, but as for the general run of the mill dystopia, I’m passing-for now anyway.

  3. Gravatar

    I had to take a step back and stop reading the popular YA dystopian books for a while. I was completely dystopia-ed out like Tara. I’m now much more selective about which ones I start because I get annoyed really fast. I can’t wait to see how Crossed develops though!

  4. Gravatar

    When I was growing, I was obsessed with anything post-apocalyptic or dystopian. I couldn’t find enough to read. Now it is everywhere, which was awesome at first, but it does get dull after a while.

    I just finished reading Blood Red Road by Moira Young and was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the heroine kicks butt as soon as trouble starts, it’s got kind of a weird western feel to it (I was obsessed with weird western short stories when I was a teen!), and there is no love interest introduced until later in the book. Plus she doesn’t really rely on him. Okay, okay. I’ll stop before I ruin anything for anyone.

    Basically, I think there are still some great things being published, but there are plenty of books that are definitely cookie-cutter types.

    Of course, I’m a glutton and will probably keep on reading most of them!

  5. Gravatar

    My big eck with the genre is the love triangle so common in so many YA books these days. I’m really, really tired of it.

  6. Gravatar

    I love dystopian and futuristic fiction — it’s actually my favorite genre. However, I haven’t read a lot of YA dystopians out there. I rarely read a book because of its genre, but rather because of its premise. A lot of YA dystopians sound the same from the summary, lessening the likelihood that I’d pick up a copy.

    LEGEND by Marie Lu coming out later this year is one that I’ll definitely pick up, because the summary sets it apart from other YA dystopians being released.

  7. Gravatar

    I am reading Legend now :D

  8. Gravatar

    I haven’t read nearly as much into the genre as you have and I’m noticing a formula. It’s more about the love triangle than anything else. I’ve been horribly disappointed by some books because the world was just crap. Super lazy writing that only focused on the MC (pretty much always a girl) and her love interests. Delirium was utopian as well, now that you spell it out like that. The MC was happy until she met a boy that sent her world spiraling (although I really liked Delirium).

    That’s one of the reasons why I loved ASHES by Ilsa J. Bick so much (yes, I will pimp this book wherever I can). It’s apocalyptic but the heroine is strong from the beginning, boys need not apply. A couple come into play later on but at different times and their involvement with each other is barely there. It’s all about the world and about this girl surviving. It’s fantastic. I think you’d really like it if you’re looking for a breath of fresh dystopian air.

  9. Gravatar

    Brave New World is my favorite book. Full stop. So it’s almost a given that my favorite genre is dystopian (and speculative fiction). I do agree that there are either a lot of very similarly plotted YA dystopians or there are books out there that have a somewhat original idea but it overall isn’t cohesive and ends up not working for me.

    My favorite dystopian of the year so far is Moira Young’s Blood Red Road – original and so well written. I also loved Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Crossed is something I’m looking forward to, but I’m curious to see where it goes.

    There also have been books that I’ve given up reading mid-synopsis because it outright says something about a girl meeting a boy and girl changes her mind and thoughts completely after the (brief) interaction. I love a good relationship, but I like people to be able to stand on their own two feet, as well. I want to see a relationship not as JackAndJill but Jack. And Jill. As to separate individuals that happen to to be together.

  10. Gravatar

    The dystopias just keep rolling in. I needed a LOOOONG break after Possession. I don’t think that they are all formulaic but I feel like the pacing and the writing is similar. It’s all the same tone, the same characters and that’s what’s boring me.

  11. Gravatar

    Great points! I definitely agree with the whole girls only seem to do something after they meet a ‘hot’ boy.

    As I was reading this I thought – I have to mention Blood Red Road – that has one stubborn kick ass heroine (in fact it has a whole band of kick ass women!!) who doesn’t rely on a man, and takes matters into her own hands long before one comes along.

    But I see other posters have beaten me to it :)

    Definitely give that one a read – I think you’ll like it!

  12. Gravatar

    We definitely think you have a point. That dystopias have become so “hot” in YA that a lot of writers are just jumping on the bandwagon, which means that just due to volume, we’re not seeing as much originality as we’d like.

    One way that we keep things “fresh” for ourselves is just to not read too many books in the same genre in a row. It doesn’t solve the problem in the system, but it does fix things for us.

    The “strong female character” problem is a whole post/comment in itself. :P

  13. Gravatar

    [...] ~ Bookalicious: Is dystopia becoming formula? [...]

  14. Gravatar

    I’m coming from the opposite angle, as a fan of dystopia, who is just now getting on the YA dystopia bandwagon. If you want things that are less formulaic or a little different, I would highly recommend…
    Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart — which is absolutely hilarious; set in a near-future Manhattan

    The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson — with a strong female protag who does not need a boy to fight for

    We by Yevgeny Zamyatin — written in 1921, it was probably as source text for 1984

  15. Gravatar

    Ooh… I almost forgot…

    The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi — set in Bangkok, about 200(?) years in the future, post-oil. New York and Mumbai are under water. Genetically engineered crops have led to plagues that decimated the populations of much of the world. Some plants are only found in the Kingdom of Thailand, and American big agriculture firms want to steal the seeds.

  16. Gravatar

    I love the dystopia sub-genre! The Hunger Games series certainly made the YA dystopian genre popular, but may not satisfy the adult reader who loves the social commentary that is often lost in YA novels.
    My dystopian thriller Against Nature is about a global pandemic (a fatal disease without a cure) caused by an extraterrestrial dust mite. It was just released by Wild Child Publishing. It’s geared for the adult reader. The book starts in the present and takes the reader to a dystopian world.

    What I found missing in The Hunger Games and Cormic McCarty’s The Road was the “road signs” that led to the dystopia. I think you should see your own society reflected back in the dystopian society…. Brave New World and 1984 do this very well.
    I tried to do that with Against Nature.

  17. Gravatar

    I’ve been chewing on this post for quite a while (as you can see from my very late comment!). I absolutely love the dystopian genre, adult and YA, and didn’t want to even THINK about any of my beloved stories becoming formulaic or being formulaic now! No, they are my precious dystopian worlds, and do not tread on them, because you tread on my dreams!

    And yet…

    I read a YA dystopian book that was a disappointment recently. And it had some of the formulaic factors that you write about here. As much as I don’t want to admit it, there is truth in your post. I knew this when I read it, but needed time to think about it and let your words stew. I’m glad you wrote this post, because it’s helping me to make more critical decisions about the dystopian books I value most.

    And my dreams are still intact. :D

  18. Gravatar

    I think the dystopian novel is a cautionary tale that gives the reader road signs indicating how the present could become a dystopian future. You should see your own society in the reflection of the dystopian society. In my novel (e-book) Against Nature I start in the present and take the reader into the dystopian world. The catalyst is a global pandemic; a disease without a cure. I consciously put the road signs and reflections in the book. It’s what makes it a dystopian novel.
    I think recent YA dystopia lacks the reflection of our own society. Hunger Games is a great example. Though an entertaining read, it lacks any social commentary. How did we get to such a society? Who or what does the “capital” represent? Is it a critique of reality TV where we watch groups of people emotionally tear each other apart and this is the progression of our current popular culture? If so, the reader will never see the (non-existent) road signs (especially the younger reader.) I also found Cormac McCarthy’s The Road lacked any hint as to how we got to the post-apocalyptic world. It too was a good read, but it didn’t have the elements I look for in a dystopia. I didn’t learn much about our present social condition from either. Brave New World, 1984, It Can’t Happen Here, and Animal Farm do that very well. I tried to emulate that with Against Nature.

  19. Gravatar

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