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September 29 2007

The top 50 dystopian movie of all time. Serenity comes in at no. 15 on this list (drawn from IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes ratings) beating the likes of Soylent Green and Mad Max.

I don't think Serenity is properly labeled dystopian. In fact I think the proper application of that label might have ended around the time of the novel A Clockwork Orange. I think it was a reaction to putative totalitarianisms that nobody has really believed in since. Which may explain the limited appeal of films like Gattica.

Anyway, Serenifly is about same stuff, different time.
I've never thought of Serenity as dystopian, but I suppose the setting does fit the description. In which case I think it should be higher up on the list.
I would give the #1 spot to Blade Runner, hands down. But my main problem is with Metropolis in the #1 spot. Come on people, this is a museum piece. Just because it's about a hundred years old and definitely broke ground for all the great stuff that would follow, doesn't mean that it deserves to be called "the best of all time", which indicates that everything that has come since is a step down.

My other WTF? moment came from Children of Men at #6. I thought this film was an incoherent mess (sorry Joss). And to rank it above The Matrix?
My top five, as everyone else will probably do this :)

1.Blade Runner
2.The Matrix
3.12 Monkey's
4.Brazil
5.A Clockwork Orange

Sorry Joss? I don't think Joss has commented about Children of Men, unless I'm wrong. Personally, I still think CoM is a fantastic and entirely too realistic grubby version of the future.
gossi it was just an off-the-top-of-the-head response in an interview earlier this year (can't begin to place the source) when Joss was asked what SciFi or fantasy film he'd recently enjoyed.
I don't think you can just chuck "post-apocalyptic" in and claim it as dystopian, that's a separate sub-genre all to its self though some dystopias arise from a catastrophe (which means about 6 of those films are actually dystopias ;). Seems like they mean "societies I wouldn't necessarily want to live in" rather than strict dystopias.

Dark City should be much higher IMO and 'Serenity' shouldn't be on there at all. So:

Bladerunner
Dark City
The Matrix
12 Monkeys
Brazil

and i'm gonna chicken out and say "in no particular order" ;). Honourable mentions to "Children of Men" (pretty coherent IMO, though maybe slightly bitty, as befits what amounts to a "slice of life" drama, just set on one of those days ;), "Strange Days" and "Logan's Run" (with only "Logan's Run" actually being a dystopia as far as i'm concerned).
Well it makes a change to see films not ranked by the preferences of the writers but instead by ratings from movie sites. Bit more democratic and minimises the "this list and the writer suck for not including blah de blah at number blah de blah" fanspeak (gets old very quickly).

Nice to see some love for "On The Beach" which is a fantastically depressing movie and for my money one of the best movies on the list.
I actually had to thumb through my webster for the meaning of "dystopian". It wasn't even listed, but I think I understand the muse of the word. Must admit, this movie list is spot on. The only title I can think amiss is "2001".
Simon, I meant to mention On The Beach as well. A truly timeless classic that I've never been able to get through without tears. Although I'm nor sure about the dystopian label.
Yep, again, just "a bad thing", not dystopian. I don't remember the film too well but I did like the book of "On the Beach" a fair bit (kind of the John Wyndham school of "cosy catastrophe" but with none of his essential optimism).
I don't think you can tag 2001 as dystopian. There isn't really the sense of a society corrupted by bad government or corporations in the same way as most of the movies listed.

THX1138 is over-rated. Repeated viewings just make me more convinced that George Lucas and concise storytelling will never be used in the same sentence.
Dark City definitely needs to be higher. And both Akira and Ghost in the Shell (both beautifully animated but very overrated films) are ranked too high. Same with Children of Men, which I did enjoy but felt like the parts were greater than the whole. Glad to see Brazil close to the top, though.

[ edited by Lady Brick on 2007-09-29 17:44 ]
Repeated viewings just make me more convinced that George Lucas and concise storytelling will never be used in the same sentence.

Repeated readings of that sentence convince me otherwise ;-).
Very true. I'm still absorbing the corrupted society.

Gosh, I love this room!
I'm so glad Equilibrium is on that list. I was clicking on the link, thinking, "Equilibrium better be on that list" because that's one of the best movies of the genre I've ever seen. Christian Bale's performance is amazing.
I feel like a complete film loser because I haven't heard of half of these. sigh.
Big missing: The Time Machine. If that didn't portray a dystopian future I don't know what does.

Agree with those saying that Serenity doesn't really portray a dystopia. It shows a highly disparate society, where people at the socioeconomic bottom have pretty miserable lives, and where the government does some pretty awful stuff, mostly behind the scenes, and does even worse stuff trying to cover it up, but much of the 'Verse seems to live a comfortable middle-class and up existence. In other words, pretty much like the world we live in today.

Also agreeing with those who didn't love Children of Men. Maybe it works a whole lot better on the big screen. I netflixed it and my reaction was pretty much, yeah, technically fabulous, but left me cold.

Have to rank Brazil as the top dystopian film I've seen. That one still gives me chills.
Shey...dude. C'mon, Metropolis is classic! I'm not gonna say it's better than Serenity, Children of Men (which I loved), or even The Matrix, but it's a great movie.
When I think "dystopian," I think of a society where the government is openly oppressive and cruel, and the majority of humanity lives in dispair.

I would actually call the universe of Serenity "utopian." The majority of the people under Alliance control are mostly happy, secure, and free to do what they please. The movie focuses on the dark side of that utopia, though. Serenity/Firefly shows us the cost of building and keeping control of that utopia, which is where the operatives and blue-handed people come in.

I think a lot of my view on this comes from things Whedon has said in interviews and commentaries, more than the actual show. If I had to complain about one thing in Serenity/Firefly, it's that Whedon's concept of the Alliance was never really communicated very well. We only ever saw the darker side of the Alliance, because that's the side the crew came in contact with most frequently.

Of course, getting cancelled halfway through the first season probably had something to do with this lack of well-roundedness. Grumble grumble...
Heh. It has the Will Smith I, Robot. Also, how is Wings of Desire in any way dystopian? It's a brilliant film, but it's just set in Berlin. This is a pretty silly list.
dystopia: 1: an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives. 2: Anti-utopia.

My immediate thoughts were: Wings of Desire? How is that dystopian? Unless you count angels as leading dehumanized lives. Well, duh.

And AI - I've never seen it but every description I've read said the humans are relativelynormal, it's the robots that are "dehumanized". Again, duh.

Oh, and Gattaca - all Vincent wanted to do was go into space; if he hadn't been obsessed with that, he would probably have been perfectly happy.

They certainly stretched the definition six ways to Sunday. And the definition for anti-utopia is dystopia so I have to assume the 1st definition applies to both.

Edited because I channeled smog in my WoD confusion.

[ edited by cabri on 2007-09-29 19:53 ]
I think Utopian is supposed to mean that there is no oppressed minority, and that everyone lives happy fulfilled lives. I certainly felt that one of Joss' points was that having the rich and successful living large on the backs of people like the workers at Jaynestown is definitely NOT any kind of Utopia!

I also feel that Minority Report was grossly over-rated.
Without analysis, it's not that interesting.
Shey: No. Dude, just...no. (And Unplugged, don't worry. I'll say it instead.)

Have you ever seen Metropolis? I can guarantee you haven't. Neither have I, though...not as it was supposed to be seen. Some of the original footage has been lost through the years. What was originally a 3 1/2 hour movie (yes, that's right, 210 minutes) was whittled down by time and history. What is left, however, is still outstanding enough that it could arguably be #1 even without the missing footage.

It's like Gone With the Wind, man. There's no crime in being second to that. Saying that no romantic pair can match Gable and Leigh doesn't mean all the other pairs were bad or even just okay...they were good, but not as good. Sometimes somebody early on does it so right that nobody else can compare. I'd still take Walter Johnson over any modern pitcher, Shakespeare over any modern playwright, and Metropolis over any modern dystopia sci-fi movie. And that's just the way that it is.
smog is absolutely right, a lot of these movies are actually set in the "present" in which they were written, like Kafka's The Trial that merely a fantastical variation on pre-WWI Poland. And "Wings of Desire" is the weirdest one of all, though it's amazing to think that late Cold War era Berlin does kind of seem a bit dystopic to some. The obvious conclusion: We live in Dystopia!

"Starship Troopers" is an especially interesting case because Heinlein's book is more or less utopian in the sense that Heinlein really believes the society he's writing about makes more sense than our own, and the movie attempts to spoof the book by turning things around a bit and basically painting Heinlein's vision as quasi-fascism (well, it's been a few years, but that's how I remember the movie).

Also, where's the love for the genuinely dystopic and I thought genuinely great, "Children of Men"? I mean, mileage on films will always vary, but a lot of us cinephile blogger types, at least, have rated the thing an instant classic alongside that other genuinely great genre film last year, "Pan's Labyrinth." Just thought I'd throw that in there for the benefit of those of you who haven't seen it.
I definitely agree that 'Pan's Labyrinth' is an instant classic, and maybe it is dystopian too according to this list (at least as much as 'My Life as a Dog' would be).
I won't say that I 'liked' Children of Men, because I found it hard to watch at times, but I do think it is an excellent movie which portrays that particular dystopian society with chilling realness. I found it to be a very powerful movie and came out of the theatre emotionally exhausted. I don't normally watch movies that are negative and depressing; maybe that's one reason why I haven't seen many of the films on this list - only seven, I think, and I walked out of the theatre partway through A Clockwork Orange because I couldn't take the violence.

I certainly don't consider Serenity a dystopian movie. Even though 'our' gang of characters are living on the "raggedy edge", they still have their freedom and each other. And, as RaisedByMongrels pointed out, most of the rest of the 'verse seem to be quite happy with their lives.
I'm not really sure how essential the terms in this discussion are, but I also don't consider Children of Men dystopian. The cause of the social collapse there was a natural disaster in human biology (with lots of contributing causes). It wasn't because of people trying to create a utopia through coercion, which is what I think that genre is about.

I love Children of Men and I think that much of the chilling reality of it is because of our awareness of the deadliness of those contributing causes. Frogs and possibly bees (along with many species most of us couldn't name) are dying off quickly, as are human sperm, and it may be largely or just because of the damage done by our technology and overpopulation. That wasn't anyone's plan.

Classic dystopian stories like Brave New World and 1984 have us destroying ourselves spiritually and by violence through cruel and idiotic ideologies. Nostalgia is actually possible for that world-view, since it puts us still in a controllable world, in ways that rational people now know we aren't.
Ekk! Since when did visiting Whedonesque becoming so scary? I'm going to hide under my favorite rock until the end. If anyone gets the chance, please send an IM.
Scary, Madhatter?,?? This is when it's the most fun! I'm getting bashed (quite politely, I'm not offended) :) for thinking Metropolis is such a museum piece that it's hard for me to look at it in the same light as anything else on the list. I can see the respect it gets from a purely academic standpoint, it is as far as I know, the first film that could be classified as science fiction. But entertaining? I've tried watching it three times, fallen asleep twice .... once I woke up twice in the middle, tried again to get into it & could only think "my god, is this still going on? And now I find out there's a longer version out there somewhere? I'd rather watch the premier of Moonlight again, at least it's only an hour long :)
I kind of agree that it's not exactly what you'd call edge of the seat stuff (though i'm sure the cut I saw wasn't that long - though it was at college so maybe I was just glad to be in a lesson watching films instead of working ;) but the appeal is seeing the inspiration for a lot of things, kind of seeing one of the roots of the genre (not the root though "A Trip to the Moon" from 1902 is, AFAIK, the first sci-fi film though you could make a pretty good case that it's too fantastical and is maybe more straightforward fantasy than SF).

Mentioned it before but watching 'Metropolis' for me was like reading Shakespeare or the Bible and seeing the first use of phrases you grew up with so maybe more an educational experience of historical interest than necessarily great fun.
Whoof. Ouch. And so forth. All I'm saying to counter your boredom is, if you were given a Stephen King novel where half the pages had been removed at random (so that maybe you've got a page missing here or there, and then whole sections that contain events of importance are just gone) and started to read that, I bet it would also seem long, boring, and pointless. Well, that's essentially what happened to Metropolis, which in some versions is only 80 (!) minutes long, down from its original 210.

I watched the version of Metropolis that had all the original footage that could be found, restored to something approximating its original clarity, plus a few intertitles and stills to fill in the gaps that remained. It's about two and a half hours, if I remember right. Viewed in that light, I thought it held up remarkably well...about as well as Gone With the Wind, given the various genre differences between the dystopic and the historical. That's just my take on it.
dreamlogic, it's always useful to define one's terms so we know what we're actually disagreeing - or agreeing - about. I don't think a dystopian society necessarily has to be one that has come into being through ideology. Standard definitions, and what I think of in reference to the term, is simply a world or society that is a really lousy place to live in for most people, regardless of how it came to be that way. Of course most literary (and by that I include film) dystopias are written as cautionary tales - this is where we are headed if we don't: get rid of nuclear weapons; stop experimenting with biological warfare; fight global warming; stop destroying the ozone; become less consumer-driven; get rid of our corrupt and evil politicians...etc.

I also would argue the point that the world of 1984 comes about through anyone trying to create a utopia. I think it's simply a world in which the corrupt and selfish have indeed gained political control.

More interesting to me are the questions that have come up regarding whether or not something is a dystopia simply by focusing on a particularly unhappy strata of society. If that were the case, you would have to consider every gangster movie to be a dystopia.

It seems to me that every society throughout human history has an underclass who have it pretty bad relative to others, with the possible exception of non-state, subsistence-level tribal organizations. It's a sad irony of the human race that there is the closest thing to egalitarianism in societies where every person's labor is needed to keep the group fed, while as soon as there is abundance enough for leisure, either due to wealth of natural resources or improved technology, instead of everyone benefiting, we immediately have stratified classes, with inevitably some groups suffering while others lives are measurably better off.

The point of a dystopian story is that everyone is in the same miserable boat (except for the evil power elite running things). I don't think Serenity/Firefly is a cautionary tale, in the way that say Omega Man is. I think it's more nuanced and in some sense more realistic. I think what all of Serenity/Firefly is about is the fact that in all of human history there are winners and losers, in every social struggle there are winners and losers. These are stories about what it's like for the losers - they just happen to be set 500 years in the future. (If the entire story had been set on Miranda, chronicling what happened there, then I might consider it a dystopia).

I would also add to the list of dystopias, "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Battlestar Galactica."
For me there needs to be a deliberate element to the state of the society (and it has to be something that affects the whole of society, even if unequally - so "Bladerunner" is because the replicants were deliberately created, their enslavement is artificially maintained and it's only their existence that allows the Tyrell's of the world to prosper).

"Battlestar Galactica" is just "bad" because (AFA we K ;) their situation isn't being artificially maintained for some purpose and doesn't arise out of some social requirement, BSG is just post-apocalyptic ("The Handmaid's Tale" would qualify from what i've heard of it, never seen/read it - assuming Margaret Atwood will even admit it's science-fiction that is ;).

(it's true that there's often a cautionary aspect to dystopias but then that's true of most sci-fi in general depending on how you look at it)
Margaret Atwood would definitely admit that the The Handmaid's Tale is science fiction. And she wrote another science fiction novel a few years ago, unfortunately not one of her best. She's not an anti-genre snob, if that's what you're insinuating ;)

I don't consider The Handmaid's Tale a dystopian novel. It's certainly influenced by them, particularly 1984, I think. But one thing that clearly separates it from them for me is its lack of finality. Most of the book is a first person narrative, the last part is an epilogue that explains the forgoing as a historical document. The epilogue is in the form of a speech by an academic to a conference centuries later in balmy Greenland, when the events of the narrative are no more fresh or relevant to present life than the Salem witch trials are to us.

If you compare that to the final notes of what I'm calling real dystopian stories, I think the difference is clear. They all reach a final note of ultimate despair, under the assumption that humanity is all that is required to destroy humanity.

I'm using dystopian as term to describe literary genre (or maybe sub-genre, not an expert). If it's a term describing all the examples on the list or the ones people are using in this thread I'm not sure if it's even useful.
I had no idea there was such a thing as "cosy catastrophe", Saje, but I've read a fair lot of Wyndham - who I like, but it's always been an oddish sortof like - and I immediately thought of him as I read your post, and then hit his name... yeah, that's about right.

But... speaking of catastrophes, cosy or otherwise, I believe you recently added (yet) another year to your (longish) span, and I wish you a belated-but-hearfelt Happy Birthday, Young One! I say this as one who is herself of unceasingly advancing years...

May all your... um... catastrophes be ... immeasurably cosy.

;>
Cheers QuoterGal ;-). Ah, we are all but sandcastles below the tideline of life. Or something ;). Yep yesterday was the anniversary of me being still not dead, which, on balance, I much prefer to the alternative of being not still not dead ;).

I enjoy Wyndham but mainly looking back, if i'd read him at the time I think I might have felt a bit insulted and unrepresented (his point of view, as befits someone of his background, is very "little England" i.e. deeply suburban, white and middle class though I think he still displays a humaneness in his books which redeems him). It's fairly easy just to see his stuff as "of its time" now though (in the same way I ignore the racism in Chandler for instance and just enjoy the good bits).

She's not an anti-genre snob, if that's what you're insinuating ;)

Actually, opinion is slightly split on that point dreamlogic, her position seems inconsistent e.g.
Q: It's hard to pin down a genre for this novel. Is it science fiction?

A: No, it certainly isn't science fiction. Science fiction is filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that. That isn't this book at all. The Handmaid's Tale is speculative fiction in the genre of Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nineteen Eighty-Four was written not as science fiction but as an extrapolation of life in 1948. So, too, The Handmaid's Tale is a slight twist on the society we have now.

(from this interview)

which seems to be good-old-fashioned literary snobbishness (not to mention ignorance) but in other places she's said that "speculative fiction" is a sub-type of science-fiction. She seems to be drawing a distinction based on the possibility of actually happening.

They all reach a final note of ultimate despair, under the assumption that humanity is all that is required to destroy humanity.

Hmm, not sure "ultimate despair" is necessary for dystopian fiction (though it probably is for the characters living in one, in the sense that they shouldn't have hope - or rather, hope is one of the things that's being crushed out of them). "Equilibrium" for instance is pretty clearly depicting a dystopia IMO (not least because it nicks its feel and some aspects of its premise from '1984' ;) but is *spoilers if you haven't seen it* ultimately .
Saje,
Happy birthday.

How would you qualify "A Boy and His Dog" (assuming you've seen it)? (I think you could argue in that one that the specific underground society Jason Robards runs IS dystopic in the way you mean, but the world in general is simply lawless and grim).

For me, it's the quality of life for the general society and the level of hope for beneficial societal change within the life-view of the protagonists of the story, not so much how it got to be that way. So I see "BSG" as dystopic because it depicts a way of life no one would want to live (although that may change if/when they reach Earth and/or the humans mystically merge with the Cylons to create a race which transcends both parent races.) I think the point of dystopians is "this is what's in store for the human race."

On the other hand, "Bladerunner" is an examination of an exploited class, which is set in the future, much like Serenity.

I agree though that "ultimate despair" is not a necessary qualification. In fact, one of the standard plotlines of dystopia is the individual finding a means to rebel and retain or regain their human dignity, sense of self, purpose in life etc. The protagonist of "Brave New World" are given the opportunity to go to a society that while physically harsher, is intellectually and spiritually free, Offred escapes at the end of "The Handmaid's Tale", a baby is born in "Children of Men." I don't think the happy epilogue of "Handmaid's Tale" disqualifies it as a dystopia - the novel is focused on the society that Offred lives in, not on the long-term future.

I like this discussion because it's a good reminder that words that we think we know the meaning of, may have very different connotations for other people.

Btw, I would also add Marge Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time" (novel, I don't think it's ever been into a movie, and I sincerely hope never is) to the list, even though the author clearly thinks she's describing a paradise. A world in which women have voluntarily given up child-bearing so that they can live in harmonious equality with men, cooperatively raising their artificial-womb born children, frolicking in the edenic scenery and chatting with the intelligent cows, which they hardly ever eat, because y'know what do you say to a cow before you butcher it.
Saje, I hadn't read that interview with Atwood. It certainly does call my point into question. I couldn't find a date on it, though, and I think it's old enough to reach back into the period when some of the more "literary" science fiction writers were still stumping for a new name - "speculative fiction" being one of them. It used to be a lot more ghettoized, remember. I've read all of Atwood's fiction and a lot of her interviews, and I don't think that one really reflects her attitude towards science fiction. For one thing, I know that Ursula K. Leguin is one of her favorite writers.

I'm giving up on my definition of "dystopian." I either can't explain it understandably or it's wrong.
"The protagonist of "Brave New World" are given the opportunity to go to a society that while physically harsher, is intellectually and spiritually free "

It's been a long time since I reread this novel. My recollection is that the protagonist has a shamanic crisis in a society that doesn't recognize or support it,
and goes mad.
Apparently we are both correct. Here is Wikipedia's summary of the novel's conclusion.

Bernard, Helmholtz and John are brought before Mustapha Mond, the Resident World Controller for Western Europe. The heated argument that begins between Mustapha and John leads to the decision that John will not be set free. Mustapha considers him an experiment. Bernard and Helmholtz are sent to live in Iceland and the Falkland Islands respectively. These are but two of several island colonies reserved for exiled citizens of the World State, where Helmholtz can become a serious writer and Bernard can live his life in peace. Mond reveals that exile to the islands, a frequent threat and dread to prevent unorthodox thinking, is where more freethinkers are put, rather than engage in repression.


John is the guy who has the breakdown and commits suicide. I had forgotten that part. I remembered Helmholtz being offered and taking exile in, as I recall it, a place with a harsh climate because he believes that that is better for the human spirit.

More interesting stuff from Wikipedia about Brave New World, considering our whole discussion of dystopia.
Brave New World was inspired by the H.G. Wells utopian novel Men Like Gods. Wells's optimistic vision of the future gave Huxley the idea to begin writing a parody of the novel, which became Brave New World. Contrary to the most popular optimist utopian novels of the time, Huxley sought to provide a frightening vision of the future. Huxley referred to Brave New World as a "negative utopia", somewhat influenced by Wells's own The Sleeper Awakes and the works of D.H. Lawrence.


(And youch, that should have read "The protagonists...are.")

[ edited by barboo on 2007-10-01 22:29 ]
Thanks for the bday wishes barboo ;). Hmm, i've seen "A Boy and his Dog" (and enjoyed it) but not for about 15-20 years so i'm struggling to remember details. Weren't the people in the underground society actually relatively happy in their own slightly crazy way (albeit ultimately doomed because of their reproductive issues) ? If not then it probably qualifies as a dystopian society but ABahD itself is still "just" post-apocalyptic because that was only one small, isolated aspect of the world depicted (and their - possible ;) - misery wasn't the focus of the story - in fact, the gist was anti-society of any kind and basically seemed to say that, when given a choice, we usually tend towards short-termism and primitivism because it's easier. That and 'tis a fool indeed that comes between a boy and his dog ;).

"Dystopia" is one of those words that's actually, strictly, quite broadly defined (though not as broad as this list) but which I see as a more specific thing (though i'm struggling to come up with a definition, I know a whole load of things it's not ;). "Bladerunner" for instance is on the borderline but seems dystopian to me because it's deliberate i.e. not just a result of inadvertent social inequality but a choice to oppress a group of "people" for the benefit of a few, while leaving nearly everyone else hopelessly behind (and it's artificially maintained by those few).

Saje, I hadn't read that interview with Atwood.

Yep, it seems to be from around when "The Handmaid's Tale" was released dreamlogic so about '85-ish i'd speculate (cyberpunk was really reaching the mainstream and subverting a lot of the old tropes as well as being overtly stylish and to some extent distancing itself from the SF label, might have given genre authors pause for thought) - though I guess it may have been for that edition of the book (i.e. (C) 1998 apparently)

And she does like Le Guin but the question is, does she think she's a science-fiction author ? Here for example she reviews an Ursula Le Guin collection, "The Birthday of the World" (in 2002) and still seems to want to distinguish between what she calls "science-fiction proper" which is "(gizmo-riddled and theory-based space travel, time travel, or cybertravel to other worlds, with aliens frequent)" and "speculative fiction" (which seems to be stuff she could see happening - though here at least she's accepting it as a sub-division of science-fiction). I have issues with this on several levels firstly because it's the old story that if it's good (and especially literary) it can't be sci-fi and secondly because a lot of people look at social sci-fi and think "Well, it doesn't need any fancy physics so it must be inherently more realistic" which I don't think is necessarily true (if spec-fic authors are meant to have such a great grasp on reality, where were all the books postulating the collapse of the USSR ?).

(what she actually seems to be saying to me is either "speculative fiction" is good science-fiction which we already have a phrase for, it's, err, "good science-fiction" or that "speculative fiction" is "near future and plausibly extrapolated science-fiction", which we also already have a phrase for, it's ... well you get the idea ;)
Seems to me the term "speculative fiction" was quite popular among SERIOUS scifi writers somewhere around in the 70s (I associate it with Harlan Ellison, speaking of a Boy and His Dog), but has sort of faded from use.

Or maybe, I'm just out of that particular loop.
Yeah, I think Ellison came up with it in the 70s (and he also meant "good science-fiction", specifically "not pulp" IIRC). Personally, I think it's too broad since all fiction is speculative, s'what makes it fiction. I sometimes go with SF&F to be all encompassing but that suffers from the same problem - all fiction's fantasy too. It's a veritable minefield ;).

(all the stuff about SF vs sci-fi vs science-fiction just sends me loopy anyway though, don't get the fuss. Call it science-fiction or SF or sci-fi and just use good/bad, hard/soft, far-future/near future etc. to split it further I reckon)
Somehow my birthday wishes to Saje seemed to have evaporated in all this discussion of dystopia, so I will repeat them. Hope you had a good day yesterday, Saje, and have a year filled with Whedon-ey goodness.
"Science fiction" is the box in which her work is usually placed, but it's an awkward box: it bulges with discards from elsewhere. Into it have been crammed all those stories that don't fit comfortably into the family room of the socially realistic novel or the more formal parlor of historical fiction, or other compartmentalized genres: westerns, gothics, horrors, gothic romances, and the novels of war, crime, and spies. Its subdivisions include science fiction proper (gizmo-riddled and theory-based space travel, time travel, or cybertravel to other worlds, with aliens frequent); science-fiction fantasy (dragons are common; the gizmos are less plausible, and may include wands); and speculative fiction (human society and its possible future forms, which are either much better than what we have now, or much worse). However, the membranes separating these subdivisions are permeable, and osmotic flow from one to another is the norm.

The whole quote also seems to have some relevance for me to current TV. No mention of physics and/or its fanciness. Whaa?

And happy birthday. I'm not so big on that.
I'm giving up on my definition of "dystopian." I either can't explain it understandably or it's wrong.


Actually, dreamlogic, after my little foray into the history of "Brave New World" I think I grasp what you and Saje are saying - that a dystopia is a result of social engineering. The early classic dystopias, "Brave New World", "1984", "Farenheit 451" and apparently "We" (haven't read it but read a synopsis) do share that element. So maybe that could be seen as the classic definition. Apparently Huxley was writing quite specifically an "anti-utopia", a response to what he saw as overly optimistic portrayals of the human future, particularly by H.G. Wells. I don't think the other authors were responding so directly to other literature.

Wells himself wrote something of a dystopia in the book "The Sleeper Wakes" which I tried to read many, many years ago, when I was just a little barbit, and could not get past the first couple of chapters.

However over time there have been more and more stories highly pessimistic about the fate of the human race, particularly as threats of nuclear annihilation or ecodisaster entered more and more into public consciousness, and the term dystopia itself became more widely used to describe these imagined futures - the broad use of the term. Perhaps it would be clearer to use the term dystopia (noun) to refer to the literature that embodies the classic social engineering aspect, but admit that a particular society or strata of society, real or imaginary, can be dystopic (adjective), that is the opposite of utopian, a society in which life is relentlessly grim for most or all.

At least, it's clearer in my mind that way. Which still leaves Serenity not a dystopia, although some of the worlds it portrays seem to be fairly dystopian (and a work of fiction that portrayed solely the fate of Miranda as it developed could be a dystopia).

I would have to see Bladerunner again to decide if it's a dystopia, or merely dystopian.

Thanks all. This is has been a real interesting discussion, and has kept me from much productive work over the course of the day.
Not sure about the parts of speech thing, but your attempt at a definition may be better than mine. If you find the time to get back to Bladerunner, please also read the source novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? They're very different stories, both worthwhile.

To get a last word in, I don't think either of them is dystopian.
Thanks samatwitch (and dreamlogic) ;-), hope we all have plenty of Whedony goodness this year, i'd feel selfish hogging it all to myself (but if it's that or none at all then i'll do a blow-by-blow account ;).

No mention of physics and/or its fanciness. Whaa?

Err, you know i'm not claiming that as a quote from either interview, right dl ? I'm interpreting what she's saying. Personally though, i'd call time-travel fairly fancy physics (unless it's the forward at 60 seconds per minute kind ;) as is (non-generational) space-travel and her comments about how those are the hallmarks of either sci-fi or just "science-fiction proper" (whatever that means) combined with her other comments about spec-fic being closer to our present society inspired my view.

Like I say though, not a huge thing, seems like she wants to distance her stuff from bad (or just fluff) sci-fi. Fair enough, i'm sure many authors would want to do that and snobbery about the genre is hardly new (or original/exclusive to Margaret Atwood).

For instance, I read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy a couple of weeks ago (beautiful book) and to my mind it's categorically post-apocalyptic sci-fi (it's set after a global catastrophe, seemingly nuclear) but it won the Pulitzer so i'd bet my last quid that a whole bunch of "serious" reviewers came out of the woodwork to make a case that it's not sci-fi (or just avoided any mention of genre in their review). So it goes ;).

(and despite the low chances of a global nuclear war nowadays, i'm sure Atwood would call it "speculative fiction" too)

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