Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Untold Secret of Great Dystopian Fiction

There's a secret to writing great dystopian fiction.  They don't tell you about it in writer's books, but someone needs to spill the beans.  Are you ready for it?  All right.  Here it is:  The crucial ingredient for dystopia is a society populated with weird and unusually named occupations.

You don't believe me?  Let's take a look at a best-selling novel or two.  We'll start with The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

Track-Hoe, Med-jack, Blood Houser, Slopper, Runner, Bagger.  Ever heard of these?  (Okay, for that last one you might be mentally picturing the friendly boy at the grocery store checkout; but, trust me, you're wrong!)  In the Glade -- the isolated society where Dashner's characters reside -- a Track-Hoe is a trench digger and garden weeder.  Med-jacks are teenage kids who work as paramedics without medical licensing.  A Blood Houser slaughters the other Gladers' evening meal, and a Slopper is the "shank" who cleans toilets and scrubs down the slaughter house at the end of kill day.  (I've had that last job.  Believe me, kill day is a sight better left unseen.)

Where were we?  Oh, yeah!  Runner!  These boys run around a giant maze all day trying to avoid "Grievers."  And don't forget the Bagger.  This has nothing to do with groceries.  He's the creepy dystopian version of a teenage undertaker.

Here are a few more strange jobs from Allie Condie's Matched, Philip Reeve's Fever Crumb, and Lois Lowry's The Giver:  Sorter, Skinner, Giver, Receiver.  You won't find these listed at Work Force Services, but they might pop up in a government-controlled future near you.

To practice, I've decided to predict a few dystopian occupations from the year 2113.  Check out my top five picks for the weird jobs of our great-grandchildren's dystopian future:

  1. Mediocrity Monitor:  This will be the government official responsible for making sure no self-motivated individual rises above the norm.  It's kind of like the "bucket full of crabs" philosophy.  Any time one crab gets too close to the bucket's top, the other crabs take the wind out of its sails by quickly pulling it back.
  2. Opinion Setter:  If you want to keep people in line, it's always good to remind them about what they're allowed and not allowed to think.  After all, dystopia can't afford to have an opinionated and potentially rebellious citizenry.  The Opinion Setter will be the official liaison between the government's Department of Belief and Thought Control and the general public.
  3. Problem Adjuster:  There are bound to be a few people who slip through the cracks and manage to spread dangerous ideas.  The Problem Adjuster will "adjust" these misguided people to help them repent of their erroneous ways.
  4. Genetic Match-Maker:  Because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, this official will ensure no bad genes slip into the genetic pool.  "Big Brother" will carefully screen and select marriage partners in an ongoing effort to eliminate disease, French mimes, beatnik poetry, and other "undesirable" outcomes.
  5. Education Officer:  The youth of today are tomorrow's leaders.  Any dystopian government worth its salt needs a zealous individual who spends all day (even on holidays) ensuring the "proper" government agenda filters into young people's brains.  As you can see, it takes hard work and dedication to keep a dystopian society truly dystopian.
There you have it.  The secret to an excellent dystopian novel!  (Bonus points if you can say how many times "dystopian" or any other form of the word was used in this post.)