Dystopian vs. Apocalyptic Fiction: What’s the difference?
Much has been written that crosses the boundaries between dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction. To me, the biggest distinction is the conflict. Remember back to your high school English literature days… Remember when the teacher would ask you to identify whether a story was “man vs. man” or “man vs. nature”?
Dystopian fiction tends to focus on character vs. society, whereas post-apoc often leans toward character vs. nature or character vs. character.
Common Themes in Dystopian Stories
- what it means to be human
- abuse of power
- class system
- freedom and the price of freedom
Examples of Dystopias
These examples go from the more top-of-mind to less so. I also included a quick summary, though it’s hard to summarize such great and classic books!
- The Hunger Games: A corrupt state controls the populace through fear and annual Hunger Games
- The Giver: Tightly regimented society with only a few who remember the old ways
- 1984: Classic police state and an oppressive government
- Brave New World: Totalitarian state creates caste system and drugs to control the populace
- Fahrenheit 451: Totalitarian state controls populace through censorship (books)
- Little Brother: Controlling government misuses technology to maintain power
- The Handmaid’s Tale: New republic controls procreation and women’s access to knowledge
- V for Vendetta: Authoritarian government controls news broadcasts
- Maze Runner: Kids are put into a maze and forced to find a way out, similar to Hunger Games
- Matched: Each person is paired with their “ideal mate”
Common Themes in Post-Apocalyptic Stories
Certainly, many of the above dystopian novels can be deemed “post-apocalyptic” as they’re literally “after the apocalypse,” but books that sit solidly in the PA genre generally use these themes:
- what it means to be human
- rebuilding civilization
- starting over
- learning from our mistakes
Examples of the Post-Apocalypse
- Mad Max: After the end of the world, people struggle to survive
- The Walking Dead: Zombies show up and most people turn into the worst versions of themselves
- The Road: A man and boy struggle to survive vs. cannibals
- The Stand: People struggle to reorganize into societies and find meaning in this new world
- World War Z: Eyewitness accounts of the zombie war
- Seveneves: 5,000 years after the apocalypse, the survivors return to Earth
- Station Eleven: A troupe of actors and musicians keep the remnants of art alive
- One Second After: A patriot survives the end of the world and struggles to keep his daughters safe
- Wool: The survivors of the apocalypse confine themselves to old silos
As with most things fantasy and science fictional, it’s not always easy to draw a hard line between dystopian fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction. My next post explores what happens when one is the subgenre of the other. Certainly, many of the above dystopian novels can be deemed “post-apocalyptic” as they’re literally “after the apocalypse,” but books that sit solidly in the PA genre generally follow a few themes. While you’re waiting, check out this awesome dystopian vs. post-apocalyptic flowchart. (Though I don’t agree with everything on it!)
Right now, you can get my post-apocalyptic adventure novel, The Last of the Ageless, for $2.99.See More
Thanks for reading this post. Let me know how you differentiate dystopia from post-apocalypse in the comments.