09 May 2012

The World Ends on Wednesday #4 - Battle of the Sub-Genre

If you know anything about me, you'll know I have a slight obsession with post-apocalyptic books (and movies, and TV shows!).  So when I see someone call a book 'dystopia' which is clearly 'post-apocalyptic' to me, I wince a little.

But what exactly IS the difference between the two?  Well this is completely my definition, so feel free to disagree with me ;-)

Post-Apocalyptic: A world changing event (either natural or man-made) occurs, or has occured in recent history.  There are food shortages, no electricity, massive-scale destruction and most of the human race has kicked the proverbial.  A lone survivor, a couple, a group or a community are fighting to survive and/or rebuild either the whole human race, or their little part of the world.

Dystopia: The government has gone all a little bit megalomaniac, and have decided to bring in some dodgy laws about class distinction, big brother overkill or simply treating people like garbage either intentionally (the majority of the time) or unintentionally (as they just can't cope with the changes).  A dystopia can be caused by an apocalyptic event, but focuses more on exploring the new regime or people rebelling against the regime.

Both are connected - almost all dystopia's are formed in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event, but the focus is different.  Here are some of my favourite examples of both genres.


Ashfall by Mike Mullin

Why post-apocalyptic?  It's about a super volcano and how two characters survive, meet and move around.   There are parts that hint the government/military will go all dystopia on their backsides, but it's not the main part of the story.
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

Why post-apocalyptic? The vast majority of the focus of Earth Abides is rebuilding a small survivor society after a virus kills almost the whole human race.  There's no formal government to speak of - the characters form their own mini-society.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Why is this dystopia?  Because the focus is on the changed society - there's information on what happened to cause the change, but the majority is about how society functions.
1984 by George Orwell

Why is this dystopia?  One of the classics in this sub-genre, it's all about the government, the lengths they have gone to control their citizens, and what happens when people try and move outside the box....

There's also a whole bunch of books that fall between genres, but that's a topic for another Wednesday.

What do you prefer, post-apocalyptic or dystopia?  Is there a particular reason why?

(Oh, and what do I prefer? Guess!)


  1. obsession?nah...:-P

    I don't know why people puts in the same sac dystopia and post-apocalyptic but sometimes it seems confusing.(I have to change my shelves because I made the same mistake in some books)

    Thanks for the definition. I will do the same on my blog (maybe I will take some information here and name you as source)

    Do you think Pure as dystopia or Post-Apocalyptic?I think the second one but I am not sure because the publisher here sells the book as dystopia. They have people that survived a big world changing event. But they have malformations and the don't have enough food to all. They need to survive and meanwhile there is a dome where people is safe and didn't suffered the malformations during the world changing event. In the dome they have rules but outside not :S.

    I think I love the two of them but maybe I like more Post-apocalyptic

    1. It's sometimes hard to know exactly where a book fits, and I'll have a post on this in the next few weeks!

      Pure is one of those books - it's PA in that the world has been changed by an apocalyptic event, but it's set a few years after, and the government has gone a bit crazy!

  2. I'm sure I'm one of those people that's pissed you off in the past, because I just label them both if I think it's post-apocalyptic, because that's what people expect.

    That said, I really love your description of the difference. :)

    I love both equally, I think. Not to be indecisive or anything.

    1. LOL! They are closely linked in most cases, or even overlap, so it's always hard to classify a particular book.

      Even though I prefer PA, I do love a bit of dystopia too!

  3. I'm always glad to see people working to keep genre distinctions clear. I've found there are far too many contemporary readers who don't even know what goes into a good dystopia--and just as many who would redefine the term to suit their own views. I've found it surprising just how many people will rate a dystopian novel below four or five stars because it doesn't have a happy ending (when the classic dystopian structure calls for the profound and provocative over the happily-ever-after).

  4. Kat, I am sooo glad you've bought this up.. It also grates me a little, especially when some people here a zombie book, and automatically label it Apocalyptic, grrrr!... that's not always the case.

    Dystopian books are easy to spot, if people are ruled over some bad ass capitol,it's totally dystopian, regardless of what events kicked it off. I think readers/reviewers should be aware of genre. I was at my local library yesterday and it was shocking! They had YA mixed in with Adult Fiction (which I removed and took to the librarian and said so lol) and Audlt Fantasy mixed with YA.. tut tut lol!!

    Great post Kat! Shannon at Giraffe Days did a similar post lasy year, it's worth a read.. http://www.giraffedays.com/?p=7607

  5. Yeah, I agree with your descriptions & I've seen people mixing them up, and that's annoying.

    And I prefer post-apocalyptic, especially if it's with zombies ;)

    Oh, I've added Earth Abides on my list, I'll have to read it :)

  6. Love this post! I cringe a little when something is categorized as one when it should be the other, too! I thought about writing a long comment response yesterday, but instead I decided to write my own post about it, inspired by your post plus a post about lots of different genres and their definitions by Isalys at Book Soulmates. Here's my post, if you'd like to check it out: Discussion: Genre Definitions. Thanks for the inspiration! ;)



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