The Problem With Dystopian: Defying Logic

Fantasy and Science Fiction often go hand in hand as far as a genre is concerned. For some, the two are interchangeable words, for what is science fiction but a fantasy, albeit one rooted in some kind of science. For me, dystopian books fall right in-between. Often set in the future, but dark fantasies that take one piece of society and twist it to its darkest extreme. I will never grow tired of dystopian sci-fi. I have loved it since the moment I picked up a book by H.M. Hoover when I was twelve. However, over the years I have read some truly terrible dystopian fiction. Books that I felt were so lacking in any redeemable qualities that I wouldn't even blog about them. (although they do spawn posts like this) The reason the "bad ones" don't work though, isn't because people are tired of them or because they are dark and twisted, but rather because they have one thing in common--they do not follow an internal logic. 

Like with any world building, it is imperative that your world, whether it be fantasy or reality, have consistent rules and logic. In almost every fantasy book I have read, magic has rules and boundaries that allow the reader to understand the world and the limits of the people within. I have read very few fantasy books where I felt like the author wasn't following a consistent internal logic. However, that is not the case with Dystopian. I have pinpointed this problem down to something very simple that it is almost ridiculous. What is the one thing that all dystopian books have in common? 

They are supposed to be our future, a dark and twisted one, but our future nonetheless. 

The breakdown appears to happen when authors forget about all the things we currently have in our world that would not disappear easily and would not result in humanity returning to some kind of stone age. Although I understand there are extenuating circumstances, let me point out a couple of "modern" inventions that would not simply disappear should the gas prices start soaring, or the moon gets closer to the earth, or the government moved most of the population into bubble cities.

1. Solar Powered Anything In the book Empty the teen characters spend a good portion of the book running around trying to charge their cellphones due to rolling blackouts. Let me first point out that there are people all around the world, living in areas without electricity 90% of the time, who manage to have and keep their cellphones charged. It is absolutely ridiculous that none of these teens would have a single solar-powered charger of some sort. Here's the thing though, we have a ton of solar powered things. Solar powered lights, phone chargers, backpacks, houses, fans, birdbaths, wind turbines, watches, calculators, and even airplanes. Sure, these things have to be manufactured, but I still have my solar powered calculator from twenty years ago, so at the very least, I don't think bankers are going to have to go back to using abacuses.

2. Tools It is believed that the axe was used as early as the Neolithic period ending in 4,0000 to 2,0000 BC. In ancient Egypt, unframed saws were documented as early as the Early Dynastic Period around 3,100 to 2,686 BC. Blacksmithing is just as old a profession. Yet, I am constantly reading books in which the characters are living in shacks or dilapidated towns after the fall of civilization. Suddenly people can't figure out how to build proper houses or fix the ones they have. Our American ancestors marched across American and built places like San Francisco and Seattle and Denver in just a few decades. Sure San Francisco's streets were unbelievably muddy as it took a bit to figure out how to fix that mess, but if you keep things up, a house can last a good century or more. The people who can't figure out how build themselves a proper shelter, those are the people who would die off. The survivors in your dystopian world are going to be tough and smart and will actually know how to use an axe.

In 1835, Englishman William Richardson erected the first independent homestead in what is now San Francisco. Sixteen years later in 1851, this is what San Francisco looked like.  
3. Windmills When William Kamkwamba was a teenager, he created a functioning windmill that powered some electrical appliances in his family's home using materials from a local scrapyard. Since then, he has also built a solar-powered water pump that supplies drinking water in his village and two other windmills that have given his entire village power. He did all this with one book and ingenuity. As long as we have an atmosphere there will always be wind and wind can be harnessed to create electricity. So what if the government shut off the power? This doesn't mean that your characters suddenly go back to being cavemen with no way to take care of themselves beyond scavenging. I get that there is a certain period of anarchy that may happen after the decline of civilization, but we have seen civilizations fall throughout history and those people eventually settled down, rebuilt, and started a new world for themselves.  

4. Science Okay, so it isn't exactly an invention, but it counts because thanks to modern science we understand and can create things like medicine, anesthesia, telephones, electricity, light, airplanes, surgery, photography, cars, trains. Not to mention all the other countless things that we have learned over the past 150 years. Now, unless every single book was burned or destroyed and all the scientists, doctors, and inventors died at once, there is no way that all this knowledge would suddenly disappear. Sure, it may resemble more of a third-world country when it comes to medicine, but we wouldn't go back to an era when we think mercury can cure people, that bloodletting works, or using dirty tools to operate on people is in any way safe. 

5. Bicycles I get it. Gas is getting kind of expensive. However, does anyone really believe that people would be driving around if gas was $30 a gallon? By the time gas prices rose that high, people will have already switched over to smarter forms of transport. You would see bicycles everywhere. Public transportation, especially hydrogen powered buses like they have in Boston, would become extremely popular. People would move in closer to one another in order to be nearer to goods and services. More and more cities would convert to becoming more bicycle friendly. How do I know? Because it is already happening. Washington D.C. has been looking for alternative public transportation for decades now. Look at pictures of other countries where bicycles and mopeds are the main form of transportation. That is what a city would look like, not a bunch of kids scrounging their dollars in order to get gas to drive across town for a party. No, you would see a huge pile of kids on bikes heading to that party, perhaps wearing some glowsticks.

And what if the book you are writing doesn't have one or all of these things? Fine. That's okay. But it better make sense. Tell me why? Why is that banker using an abacus instead of a calculator? Is it so far in the future that all those solar powered calculators broke and no one knows how to make one anymore? If medicine isn't available it needs to make sense. That is the bottom line here. If this is our world, only in the future, then it is important for the reader to know why these things that already exist aren't being used or at the very least, why they have been forgotten