I did not deliberately select my sample reading for simplistic high concepts, but wow, did I get a lot.

A high concept is a plot which can be easily and representatively summarized in a short sentence. If doing so would misrepresent the actual experience of reading the book, then the book does not have a high concept. “Snakes on a plane” gives you a good idea of Snakes on a Plane; “A bus is wired to explode if it drops below 50 mph” gives you a good idea of Speed. Those are high-concept movies. If you like the concept, you’ll probably like the movie. “Nine people go on a quest to drop a ring into a volcano,” though technically correct, does not give you a good idea of the experience of reading Lord of the Rings.

The majority of the opening chapters of YA dystopias I’ve read have been so monomaniacally focused on their high concepts that they reminded me of the panel of the “Life in Hell” comic strip about the nine types of college professors which depicted the “One Theory Explains Everything Maniac” as a rabbit shaking his cane and shouting, “The nation that controls magnesium controls the world!”

Individually, some of them show promise. Collectively, they are tedious and one-dimensional. I was not especially impressed with the worldbuilding in The Hunger Games, but the first few chapters did show a world in which people had problems and apart from the Hunger Games, committed small crimes and often got away with them, and had personalities and relationships dictated by personal concerns rather than bizarre socially mandated rules.

In most of the books I’ve sampled, the first chapters are about little but the one-note concept, the characters think about little but the concept and speak about little but the concept, and the government is absurdly fixated on peculiar things, like the food individuals eat and the colors they’re allowed to wear, and, except for the obligatory Resistance, completely effective in controlling every moment of every person’s day. The heroines are naïve but spunky girls, unconvincingly ruminating at great length about how their societies came to be and how they function. It’s a paper world, sketched on the back of a sermon.

The Water Wars, by Cameron Stracher. Dystopia is drought. Water is strictly rationed, and the Water Allocation Board runs everything. Everyone is always desperately thirsty. The heroine is fascinated by a hot boy whom she sees… shock horror! …wasting water. Not badly written, but it didn’t grab me.

Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy), by Lauren DeStefano. Dystopia is all the men dying at 25, and all the women at 20. (Why such exact ages?) This is attributed to a virus, though it seems more likely to come from genetic defects, as this occurred to the children of the first post-genetic engineering generation. The result, which I don’t think logically follows, is that girls are at constant risk of kidnapping and forced marriage. I would think it would be much more likely that people would simply start marrying in their mid-teens. Not badly written, but it didn’t grab me. I was also a little put off by two separate vomiting incidents in two chapters.

Bumped, by Megan McCafferty. Dystopia is enthusiastically encouraged teen pregnancy. This one is different: it’s a satire, and it’s actually kind of funny. None of the others had any deliberate humor whatsoever, so this came as a very pleasant surprise. The targets are more wide-ranging than “teen pregnancy,” which suggests that it may be able to sustain itself for the length of a book. The slang is believable, and there’s a plausible teenage voice. I’ll probably read this one eventually, as the first few chapters were nicely written and amusing.

Birthmarked (Birthmarked Trilogy), by Caragh M. O’Brien. Dystopia is the government confiscating a percentage of all babies born. In the chapter I read, about a teenage midwife, it was not made clear why, or if she even knew why. Something about the writing style and storytelling of this one did grab me – while still closely focused on baby-snatching, it allowed a small amount of breathing room for individual relationships and emotions. I’d try this from the library.
zvi: self-portrait: short, fat, black dyke in bunny slippers (Default)

From: [personal profile] zvi


There was an interesting interview by Bitch with the author, which you may or may not want to listen to. It did make the book sound interesting, and there will be a sequel, but not a trilogy.
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)

From: [personal profile] holyschist


These book descriptions remind me of this awful SF story I was writing in high school with the premise that menstruation is murder, so women are kept constantly pregnant. HEAVY-HANDED DRAWERFIC SHOULD STAY IN THE DRAWER.
boundbooks: Zhang Ziyi (blue tea cup)

From: [personal profile] boundbooks


This is totally why my favorite dystopian future ever is Mana Francis's The Administration series. It seriously took me about half the entire first book to realize that she was writing a dystopian future. The characters simply recognize things as 'the present' and live their lives, therefore it isn't until one consciously steps back and looks at their motivations that one sees the entire horrifying picture.

It isn't until two or three books in that one rapidly realizes that it's not just their country, but all of Europe, and that the lack of info about the rest of the world is due to some kind of giant information/military blockade around Europe/possibly most of North Africa. You can't tell until the second or third book, because since it's not part of our characters' lives, they don't think about it. It's bloody brilliant writing.

From: [identity profile] coraa.livejournal.com


One of the things I was thinking, about implausible dystopias, is that it's pretty well impossible for me to believe the degree of control they have. I mean, I just can't believe in a government that is so effective that literally nobody gets away with anything ever. A society where punishment is so frequent and severe that most people are afraid to try anything? Sure. A society where the idea of breaking the government's rules is TOTALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE, because it's never ever ever ever happened (except by the resistance that nobody knows about)? Eh. I have trouble buying it. That's why, as you said, the society in The Hunger Games rang more true than most of these: the people of District 13 bent or broke the rules in small ways all the time, and got away with it (up until Katniss drew the attention of the Capitol directly to them, but that's a slightly different scenario). It was a totalitarian oppressive government, but not a superhumanly effective one.

The other thing that always strikes me odd is the way that the one-note totalitarian governments are so unrelentingly one-note. Certainly here in the real world we have seen oppressive regimes of various kinds with a fixation on some facet of life—but they also paid attention to other things, like taxation and multifaceted squashing of dissent and so on. Whereas the one-note dystopias seem to focus only on their note, as if you never have to worry about taxes or dissent or national defense or whatever so long as you make sure that you've assigned the correct food type or breed of dog to each individual and nobody has the wrong meal/dog.

From: [identity profile] coraa.livejournal.com


(And also, as I said before, there's the fact that it seems to be nearabout impossible to create a one-note dystopia without giving in to the urge to be didactic. We Will Now All Learn A Very Important Message About Why Teen Sexual Activity/Forced Marriage/Nanny Governments Are Bad. Yawn.)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


And the more focused the setting, the more specific, and therefore more obvious, the message is.

Tell a story about a realistic oppressive government - say, one which enslaves clones but also does other stuff not related to enslaving clones, and in which the clones are enslaved because they're a convenient source of free labor - and yeah, there will be a message that slavery is bad, people should be judged on their character, etc. But hopefully there will also be a story. There could be a lot of different stories in that setting, from something about the psychology of slaves and owners (Cyteen) to a straight-up adventure about a clone who steals a spaceship and runs.

Tell a story in which clones are enslaved because Things Which Are Duplicated Are Bad, and in which all duplication is banned, and the government monitors kindergarteners to make sure they don't draw the same thing twice, and it will be very difficult to tell any story about anything but exploring exactly how the government represses duplication. It also becomes difficult to have anything going on but a giant message about how Enforced Originality is no better than Enforced Conformity.

spoilers for Uglies series

From: [identity profile] coraa.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-19 07:12 pm (UTC) - Expand

Re: spoilers for Uglies series

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-19 07:15 pm (UTC) - Expand

Re: spoilers for Uglies series

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-19 07:49 pm (UTC) - Expand

Re: spoilers for Uglies series

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-19 07:55 pm (UTC) - Expand

Re: spoilers for Uglies series

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-19 08:07 pm (UTC) - Expand

Re: spoilers for Uglies series

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-20 12:03 am (UTC) - Expand

just finished it

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-20 12:55 am (UTC) - Expand

From: [identity profile] ellen-fremedon.livejournal.com


A society where punishment is so frequent and severe that most people are afraid to try anything? Sure. A society where the idea of breaking the government's rules is TOTALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE, because it's never ever ever ever happened (except by the resistance that nobody knows about)? Eh. I have trouble buying it.

This. It's a subset of the second-order idiot plot [tvtropes link omitted]-- these societies wouldn't function with anything approaching the level of subversion, lawbreaking, or just general cussedness of any real-world society in history.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


You really only get such tightly and successfully controlled societies in situations in which they are small sub-sets of larger societies, and the inhabitants are there voluntarily and understand why the discipline is so tight. For instance, West Point. But even in West Point, people break small rules, or fail to fit in and drop out.

When people aren't there voluntarily - for instance, jails - people rebel constantly.

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] coraa.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-19 07:07 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-19 07:09 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-19 07:51 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] ellen-fremedon.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-19 08:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(deleted comment)

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] bemused-leftist.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-20 08:32 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] slashmarks.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-20 04:32 pm (UTC) - Expand

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


A society where punishment is so frequent and severe that most people are afraid to try anything? Sure.

Those societies, in real life, also function because what they crack down on is limited. Like, everyone is terrified of criticizing the government because you will get shot by the secret police. But, say, bootlegging liquor is unlikely to get you in trouble, and if you do get caught, the consequences are more like the regular police beating you up and confiscating your still (and drinking the liquor.) So people don't talk about the government, but they do bootleg.

The situation in the first Hunger Games book was indeed like that, and I bought it. (Or at least that part of it.)

It wasn't till Mockingjay brought in the government that controls everything that it became impossible to buy anything:

- If 13 has such good technology and high degree of control that it can automatically tailor individual portions of food to individuals' needs every day at every meal, why are they so lax about Katniss sleeping in supply closets? And why don't they have better weapons?

- If they're so terrified of being spotted by Capitol that they can't go outside to catch the abundant game that they desperately need to feed themselves, why are they exercising outside?

From: [identity profile] coraa.livejournal.com


Yeah: one of the (many) reasons I was disgruntled with District 13 in Mockingjay was that it did start to feel like a one-note dystopia. Possibly because Collins needed to try to make us hate it as much in half a book as it took us two prior books to hate the Capitol, in order for Katniss' "dilemma" to work, but still.

From: [identity profile] janni.livejournal.com


it's pretty well impossible for me to believe the degree of control they have. I mean, I just can't believe in a government that is so effective that literally nobody gets away with anything ever

This.

Depending, I can sometimes go along for the ride and the thought experiment, but in any real-world oppressive regime that has ever existed, as far as I know, there've always been people who broke the rules and slipped through the cracks and got away with it. Resistance doesn't only or even mostly happen in big ways, and it isn't always about bringing down the whole system--it's about an extra bit of bread at dinner, an extra bit of oil to work by in the evenings.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Go ahead! The other "Kindle sample" posts have more context, including "Dystopia is teenage girls having sex" and "Dystopia is a society based on personlity quiz results."

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] james-nicoll.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-19 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand

From: [identity profile] spectralbovine.livejournal.com


I haven't read (or even heard of) any of these one-note dystopias you've been talking about, but I'm finding your posts interesting and amusing, for the record.

From: [identity profile] shalanna.livejournal.com

That's what they ASK for


>so monomaniacally focused on their high concepts that they reminded me of the panel of the “Life in Hell” comic strip about the nine types of college professors which depicted the “One Theory Explains Everything Maniac” as a rabbit shaking his cane and shouting, “The nation that controls magnesium controls the world!”<
>the first chapters are about little but the one-note concept, the characters think about little but the concept and speak about little but the concept<

I think I can guess at an answer. My books are rejected because "you digress" and "you wander off on tangents and forget what the point of the story is." I have gone through many workshops where normal readers have understood that I am building to something larger, but most agents and editors reply like this. I have now surmised that they want the "cat chases ball" story with NO OTHER STUFF INTERFERING. They like the book that starts with a cat seeing a ball roll past and having the cat chase the ball past people's feet, under the sofa, across the kitchen, and so forth--and then someone picks up the ball and throws it again and the cat follows it--and then the cat catches the ball. Success! The End!

They do not like a story that begins with a cat watching a ball roll by . . . then seeing someone pick it up and throw it . . . and then having the ball land in his bed . . . and he decides to check it out . . . or whatever. If you imply that there is anything at all going on other than the quest you stated in the first line, you are "digressing." Never mind that you are hinting at a development that is going to take place, and that most readers will pick up on that and have a tingle of anticipation. It is all about "you are forgetting the ball that you are supposed to be chasing."

The reason you see these books is that these are the ones editors or agents give a chance to. They tell the rejectees to concentrate on the throughline and forget distractions and "things that do not advance the story." This is why you see those single-minded ones only.

The industry is not giving readers enough credit for being able to put two and two together. My books aren't straight throughlines, so they're out of style at the moment. And I can't "change them" to fit that mold. There must be others in the same dilemma.

If this isn't what you are talking about (and it may not be--perhaps the cough syrup has made me misread even more than ever), please excuse the digression.

From: [identity profile] katie-m.livejournal.com


The result, which I don’t think logically follows, is that girls are at constant risk of kidnapping and forced marriage. I would think it would be much more likely that people would simply start marrying in their mid-teens.

If I'm dying at 20, why bother getting married in the first place? It's not like 'til death do you part is going to be much longer than until you get bored with each other anyway!

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


I assume because, despite all the hoopla about "you can do anything in YA now," non-marital sex is still difficult to get away with. Especially if it's your main character having it. Especially if it's consensual and nothing horrible happens afterward.

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] sarahtales.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-20 04:12 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-20 05:07 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] sarahtales.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-21 04:59 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-21 05:02 am (UTC) - Expand

From: [identity profile] tavella.livejournal.com


And it's all so creepily conservative. Sex is bad, government is always evil, and corporations are mostly ignored.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Yeah, it's strange. I assume that not all the authors actually are conservative.

I think "evil government" rather than "evil big business" is caused by a failure to question the premises of the culture at large as applied to worldbuilding. That is, they might vote for government programs, but when constructing something powerful and evil, they automatically think "government!"

Or, I expect they're not trying to be anti-sex, but pro-love. But what do you actually get? Chaste longing is not only good but revolutionary, sex is a weapon of the oppressor and leads to very bad things, and only heterosexuality even exists.

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] coraa.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-20 05:26 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] slashmarks.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-20 04:38 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] bemused-leftist.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-20 08:57 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-20 05:09 pm (UTC) - Expand

From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com


I found Birthmarked initially compelling, but I wound up being very frustrated by the following:

1. All those kidnapped babies and so few cows / goats.
2. Hemophilia is an X-linked disease.
3. The evil government seemed to be holding the idiot ball too often.

I really like a well-done YA dystopia (I LOVED the Hunger Games, I loved the Uglies books, I was a huge fan of H.M. Hoover back in the 1980s when I was an actual kid) but far too many don't seem to grasp #3 and give us a government that is oppressive in stupid and impractical ways for mystifying reasons. To be fair, the quintessential real-world dystopia is North Korea and they are, in fact, oppressive in stupid and impractical ways. But reality is under no obligation to be plausible.

(Incidentally, there's a really fascinating graphic memoir about the artist's time in North Korea: http://www.amazon.com/Pyongyang-Journey-North-Guy-Delisle/dp/1896597890 )

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


North Korea is also pretty unusual - it's almost one of a kind, as opposed to the many existing oppressive governments which just do stuff like suppress dissent, hold prisoners without giving them trials, etc, as opposed to banning random things like underwear and the color blue for no logical reason.

I wouldn't mind so much if the seemingly random stuff had logical reasons. For instance, India used to ban Coke. Reason? They wanted to give local soft drink manufacturers a chance. Also, no one was busting down doors to arrest people who'd smuggled in Coke. It just couldn't be legally imported or marketed. (All this IIRC.)

Can you elaborate a little on what was up with hemophilia and cows/goats in the book?

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-20 02:59 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2011-05-20 03:03 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com - Date: 2014-03-06 04:27 am (UTC) - Expand

From: [identity profile] mme-hardy.livejournal.com


The best treatment ever of a water shortage is Urinetown.
.

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags