Apocalyptic Fiction vs. Post-Apocalyptic … vs. Dystopian
What I write: Apocalyptic fiction
OH! I love dystopian stories.
I don’t write Dystopian stories.
I don’t understand. They’re the same thing, right?
No. Apocalyptic fiction is in no way the same as, or even similar to, Dystopian.
<sigh> I don’t get it.
That’s okay. A lot of people are confused by this. I’ll explain.
What is Dystopian fiction?
It’s easier to describe a dystopian society if you understand what a Utopia is, first.
Utopia: The perfect society as far as politics, laws, customs, norms. Think of mankind’s attempt to create a secular heaven on earth.
Dystopia: On the surface, it sees itself as a Utopia, but it’s not. It’s led by a totalitarian government, its leader is held up to be revered, its citizens are oppressed, there’s all kinds of propaganda used to control the population, individuality is seen as suspicious, dissent is a crime … I could go on and on. Think George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, or Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.
Okay, you may ask, then how come I see all kinds of things labeled post-apocalyptic, and they’re dystopias?
This is actually a misnomer because the two are actually different. However, in some books a dystopian society develops after a society has rebuilt from an apocalyptic event. But it doesn’t have to happen this way. Our characters could wake up one morning (as in The Handmaid’s Tale) and find that their government has been overthrown, and they are now in a very, very bad place.
Okay, so what is Post-Apocalyptic fiction?
This is the story of people struggling to survive after an end-of-civilization event has already occurred (Nuclear war, world-wide pandemic, asteroid strike, etc.). They’re either struggling to survive after civilization has fallen (Think Mad Max, or Cormac McCarthy ‘s The Road), or they’re attempting to rebuild society after already experiencing this period of struggle (David Brin’s The Postman).
This brings me to Apocalyptic Fiction.
This is the actual event. There has been a nuclear war, or a plague, a sizable asteroid has struck the earth, an alien invasion has left the earth in ruins, the sun has sent off a solar flare that has shut down everything on the planet that relies on electricity… I could go on and on. Apocalyptic fiction focuses on a person or group’s attempts to survive during an apocalyptic event and its immediate aftermath, as resources disappear and modern civilization disintegrates around them. (Alas Babylon by Pat Frank; Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle; the movie 2012 ; the made-for-TV miniseries The Day After – which, by the way, gave me nightmares for years afterward).
Although I might experiment in writing the other genres at some point, currently I specialize in Apocalyptic Fiction. I love throwing ordinary people into the absolute worst scenario I possibly can, and then watching how they deal with it. Only the strong survive, and sometimes the people you most thought would fail are the ones who prove most resilient.