Young adult writers, dystopian fiction, and communism

Thanks to the success of The Hunger Games (which I’ve neither read nor watched), novels about dystopian futures are the “in” thing for young adult readers.  My daughter enjoys these books a great deal.  Yesterday, having read one, she said to me, “You know, Mommy, all of these dystopian books that take place in the future, are always communist.”  Further questioning revealed that none of these books involve futuristic scenarios in which people scrabble alone in the wild or are under the thumb of aliens.

Two comments:

Wow.  First, yes, she did use the word dystopian.  And second, she’s absolutely right.  The only way authors are able to imagine a future world that’s sufficiently bad to qualify for a Hunger Games style revolution is to posit a world of scarce resources, with a tyrannical government controlling the population by meting out small portions of remaining resources to the masses, while preserving most of the resources for the apparatchiks — in other words, communism.  Communism is the very worst form of government that literary minds an create.

Labels are often used to obscure meanings.  Sometimes, though, they can be remarkably clarifying.  This one, straight out of the mouth of a teen (dystopian future = communist world) falls into the latter category.

Incidentally, I’m willing to bet that large numbers of these writers are liberals who know little about the reality of communism.  They probably think they’re imagining a never-before-seen world, rather than one we’ve seen all too often in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. Robert Arvanitis says

    Chaos and scarcity breed strongmen, from Gilgamesh of Ur, to the warlords of early 1900s China, down to the “Mayor” in Walking Dead.

    Centralized, not necessarily communist.

    And interestingly, doesn’t communism always devolve to strongmen, anyway?  Or pigs, in the case of Animal Farm.

  2. SADIE says

    “You know, Mommy, all of these dystopian books that take place in the future, are always communist.” 
    Wow! Enough to make a good mommy kvell.

  3. says

    From what little rumours I’ve heard. The Hunger Games is originally inspired by Battle Royale, a Japanese movie in fact. The premise is similar, but not quite the same.
    Dysfunctional Systems, one Japanese novel game, is a pretty good look into various ways human systems don’t work.
    As for the problems in our modern society, one should read this for a description of social cog jams.


  4. says

    Two novels, both written at almost the same time, projecting very different views of human nature and society…”Lord of the Flies,” which just about everyone has read, shows a bunch of kids on an island quickly degenerating into savagery. OTOH, Robert Heinlein’s “Tunnel in the Sky” puts a group of high school students (slightly older than the protagonists of LOTF) on a distant planet from which they cannot expect to ever be rescued….and they establish a viable society.
    In the Heinlein novel, the protagonist (Rod) initially becomes the leader of the group more or less by acclamation…after they have to suppress a rebellion by a small subgroup of thugs, an irritating student-government type (Grant) persuades Rod and the others that despite their situation they need to hold regular elections and establish a formal government structure. 
    In his electioneering speech, Grant asks: “What is the prime knowledge acquired by our race? That without the rest is useless? What flame must we guard like vestal virgins?”  Members of the group give various answers: fire, writing, the decimal system, the wheel. 
    “No,” says Grant, “none of those. They are all important, but they are not the keystone. The greatest invention of mankind is government. It is also the hardest of all. More individualistic than cats, nevertheless we have learned to cooperate more efficiently than ants or bees or termites. Wilder, bloodier, and more deadly than sharks, we have learned to live together as peacefully as lambs. But these things are not easy..”
    Would be interesting to have high school students read the two books together.

  5. says

    Modern US juveniles and teenagers would be rather surprised at the enormous power student councils in Japanese high schools are given. The students themselves are expected to police themselves, much as the US public opinion thought the same for crazy violent Iraqis. What’s amazing is that it works, even with the exceptions.
    A world where you are treated as a junior adult, not a child but not yet an adult with freedom/power, would be a surprising wake up for those being worked as slaves by the Leftist indoctrination system.
    A world where your individual value is promoted, especially because real society is harsh and demanding of conformity to social norms, is an excellent one when you can rely upon good mentors, peers, and seniors to show you the way, just as an apprentice expects from their master.
    Great Teacher Onizuka, would not be allowed to be seen by US children. Not because it would teach the students the right things, but because it would teach the teachers not to suck up to the Left so much.

  6. Libby says

    That’s an insightful observation, Book. My son recently informed me that he no longer wanted to watch any kids movies because they’re all basically the same story: learning to overcome our fear the other (though he didn’t put it that succinctly).
    You see this a lot in sci-fi, too, with Firefly being a prominent example. Creator Joss Whedon is a socialist, yet writes such wonderfully Libertarian themed stories. I wonder if it bugs him that his Firefly dialog is so often used by Tea Party and Libertarian types.

  7. Robert Arvanitis says

    Whedon, like all true artists, cannot lie in his art, no matter what he may say away from his craft.
    Remember “Guarding Tess?”  Nicholas Cage must protect a former First Lady.  When she’s kidnapped, he shoots the toe off of a bad guy to save her.  And the screenwriter, director, and actor were all rooting for him to do it.
    Those same characters would cry bloody murder to the media over far less in real life.

  8. says
    Firefly and Serenity are good examples of true creative vision unrestricted by somebody’s ideology cum profit motives.
    However, judging by his direct comments, and not the ones interpreted by Leftist news writers, Joss Wheldon is part of that group in America that thinks the Left just wants to fix America. He’s not alone. A lot of Republicans think similar things at times. The Tea Party also agrees that they just want to work with Democrats to fix social problems.
    The truth is, the Left doesn’t give a damn about fixing America, but breaking America first, for their goal requires totalitarianism. If Wheldon is against totalitarianism as he says, then he should be against the Left. Then again, 93% of DC peeps voted for Obama, so…. Leftist illusion controls a lot of slaves, so to speak.
    Wheldon, like many people on the Left, can be converted if you can capture their hearts. Conservatives have little power in terms of emotional communication, however. But if anything did cause a Leftist to convert or defect, the amount of heretical punishment in store for any traitor to the Left’s Utopian Vision would permanently seal the deal on defection. They just have to start, at the heart. Andrew Breitbart is very similar to Wheldon in some respects, except Breitbart was just a little bit too curious for his own good.

  9. Spartacus says

    Hmm.  K-Dub over at NRO covered a different angle of this a few weeks back in “Hey, Where’s My Corporate Dystopia?“  As his sample set seems a bit more dated than your daughter’s sample set likely is, this may possibly indicate a trend away from capitalist dystopias in favor of government dystopias over the past few decades.  Anecdotal though it may be, that would certainly be an encouraging trend!

  10. Midknight says

    Aside from the aforementioned Heinlein Juveniles (The science re: Venus and Mars are of course REALLY dated) and a few other ones like Podkayne of Mars that he wrote in part “for girls”, it’s worth later digging into Citizen of the Galaxy (sort of-retelling of “Kim”) and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (the last is NOT a good intro due to the oddball first person and extensive use of multi-lingual slang, but possibly his best and leaves you a LOT to think over.)
    Also, look up authors like Sarah Hoyt (often showing up at other sites ) and David Freer and Michael Flynn who are considered (some self-descriptively) as human wave (or at least pro people and not pro dystopia).
    Terry Prachett is, of course, excellent. I recommend starting with the third or fourth book and going back to the first few once you’ve gotten a grasp on the world. My kids, not big fantasy readers, nevertheless liked the movie version of Hogfather. 
    Neal Stephenson’s work is often really really geeky and his earlier books (Snow crash, with a main lead named Hiro Protagonist… yes, you read that right) get a bit over the top with the wordplay, but he’s also very pro people and big ideas.
    On the fantasy side, some of the topics get fairly adult, but as she gets older Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” have sucked in a lot of readers. Brandon Sanderson (finished off the Wheel of Time for Robert Jordan – not a fan of the series – and wrote the Excellent “Mistborn” trilogy) is also worth reading.

  11. Midknight says

    Side note – not really dystopias, but Gene Wolfe’s work is very dense and heavily informed by his Catholicism. Check out the “Book of the New Sun” (series in a future earth where the sun is becoming a nearly dead red dwarf) and “Book of the Long Sun” series about a colony ship where the main character is recognizably based on Catholic priests.

  12. says

    Note that ships, aircraft, and spacecraft are all under the command of one individual whose responsibility and authority is clearly established by law and precedent.
    Does conceptualizing the earth as a “spaceship” tend toward a belief in dictatorship?

  13. says

    Anti-corporate propaganda by the Left is only targeted at enemy corporations they want to take over. This is clearly seen by the fact that porn movie corporations, production houses, Hollywood film production corporations, and Leftist green economic fat cat corps selling CO2 emission rights, are immune from such propaganda.
    It’s often a case of convenience to think Leftists, or just Democrat members of the Left in general, seek to “fix” the system and thus take their propaganda at face value. People cannot imagine how wrong they are when they do so.

  14. Michael Adams says

    The author of Hunger Games is the most famous graduate of a boarding school in Birmingham, also attended by a friend of my daughter. The school probably sees itself as an island of liberal sanity in the conservative Alabama Sargasso. I know that the young friend and her mother see themselves that way. However, the government officials and media spokes people sound like Democrats, at least to me, with all that spin, all that smoothage. (If you eat a high fiber diet, your digestive system works as designed.  If you eat a lot of smoothage, you become full of it, or rhymes with, it.) Collins is also a Navy brat, FWIW.

  15. says

    Strange enough to say it, but hobbyists and people who play online life simulation games like Eve Online, will have a better chance at creating workable local governments than anyone else in a position of current day power.

  16. cerumendoc says

    The beauty of your daughter’s comment is the Capitol/District dichotomy has been commented upon in comparison to modern day Washington DC and the non-elites sweating it out in this depression.

  17. jj says

    I don’t read them either, which may render me completely off base, but: is not the point of many of these things precisely that the collective/society is insane, dangerous, and needs to be outwitted and defeated?  That doesn’t seem to me to be an endorsement, if your hero – or heroine – is fully engaged in a life-or-death struggle against the strictures of the machine, or society, or collective or what-have-you.  From all I hear – admittedly not a hell of a lot – these heroes and heroines are determined individualists, willing to fight dirty, and be as wily, devious, clever, and tough as is required.
    That’s not a vote in favor of the collective, or central control, is it?  What am I missing?

  18. Spartacus says

    According to the hypothesis, jj, you aren’t missing anything: libs fantasizing about being conservatives, but within the safe, structured environment of the pages of a book, and daring not to call it that.
    An analogy comes to mind.  How many times have we seen the following?
    In the penultimate scene of a movie, after a long and protracted duel, the hero has thoroughly defeated the villain, who lies prostrate at his feet.  The hero spares the villain’s life, and foolishly turns his back, whereupon the villain rises up and treacherously attempts to repay honor and magnanimity with murder.  Either the hero spins around just in time, and can only stop his own murder with the demise of the villain, or sometimes the villain’s demise is conveniently taken care of by gravity or some other fortuitous force.  Regardless, the hero has demonstrated his fundamental decency, and adherence to the values to which we as a culture pretend to aspire, but at the same time, the audience’s natural bloodlust is satisfied; theoretical virtues are all well and good, but the ending just feels better if the badguy gets snuffed.  Very convenient, very cliched, and very common.
    Similarly, it’s not unreasonable to assume that these liberal writers might be thinking, “In better times, of course, my protagonist would naturally be a good socialist… but under proper socialism, all needs would be met, and we would lack the conflict necessary for a good story.”
    Both are examples of a little cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy, but the proper formula for entertainment — the hypothesis seems to fit.

  19. heather says

    You might like them.
    I read all three and quite enjoyed them.  In fact, I plan on reading them again.  Not interested in seeing the movies.  Too violent for me.  A lot to ponder.  Don’t think it’s much about communism, though – for or against.  The government makes no attempt at convincing people that everyone is treated equally – quite the opposite.  The second book gets a bit bogged down in teenage angst, but the third is better.  

  20. says

    Democrats and in particular some other people that are in the same alliance, have a sort of heroic mythology they commonly participate in. In this mythology, they are the hero on a quest to defeat the great evil. Whether that evil is Islamophobia, corporatism, Republicans, Sarah Palin, conservatives, religions like the AMish or the Quakers or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or government being observed by pure journalists even, it all serves the same function in the end. They are on a quest to vanquish evil. Only they have the power. They are the ones they have been waiting for. The odds are against them. Dissent is patriotic and they will speak truth to power.
    In reality, they bend their knees to power so much that they need this kind of heroic fantasy to keep their conscience clean as they participate in ghastly for profit abortions and persecute minorities in immigration, homo sexual identity groups, education, unions, the US, Kenya, Democrat fiefdoms like Detroit, Chicago, and New Orleans, etc. What people often times underestimate about the Left is that the Leftist alliance really think you are evil and need to be defeated, using whatever means. People underestimate the Left in this venue because non-Leftists themselves find it absurd to think the same about anybody else, except for purely foreign “Others”. But the Left are their countrymen, they don’t like thinking of them as the “Other”, an enemy to be annihilated.
    Unfortunately for people in this world, evil exists and those lacking the imagination to fight it, are probably the first ones to fall in the end. Remember, it’s not mass murder when Leftists do them. IT’s not “rape, rape” when Hollywood directors do it. Sarah Palin, however, will make women pay for their own rape kits. Republicans are on a war against women. They must be fought and destroyed. For we are the heroes we have been waiting for, so thinks the Left. People are not dealing with a secular philosophy here. This is a religion.

  21. pst314 says

    David Foster: I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve heard that Heinlein wrote “Tunnel in the Sky” in response to “Lord of the Flies”.


  1. An Interesting Observation On Today’s Dystopian YA Literature…

    It is, when one comes right down to it, fundamentally anti-Communist! The only way authors are able to imagine a future world that’s sufficiently bad to qualify for a Hunger Games style revolution is to posit a world of scarce resources, with a tyranni…

Leave a Reply