Guest post - On genre by S. Elliot Brandis, author of Irradiated
I'd like to welcome S. Elliot Brandis, a fellow member of the KBoards thread on Speculative Fiction.
S. Elliot Brandis is the author of Irradiated, the first novel in The Tunnel Trilogy. He lives in Brisbane, Australia, and often sets his stories there, too. He loves hearing from readers, and can be found at many locations across the internet.
The second book in the trilogy, Degenerated, has just been published.
On Genre: Apocalyptic, Post-Apocalyptic, and Dystopian Fiction
My new novel, Degenerated, was just published. It’s the second in a trilogy of post-apocalyptic novels. Or are they dystopian novels? Heck, what’s the difference, anyway?
Allow me to explain.
First, let’s break this into three broad categories: apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian fiction. All are sub-genres of science fiction.
Apocalyptic Fiction– the world is ending.
Apocalyptic fiction is set during a cataclysmic event. Commonly, at the start of the story everything is normal. People are going to their jobs, seeing their families, and living regular lives. Then, an event occurs that changes everything. The world begins to crumble. These story detail the catastrophic event, and usually follows characters as they struggle to survive.
The event itself varies wildly between stories. It can be an alien invasion (The War of the Worlds), environmental disaster (the film 2012), disease or outbreak (World War Z), or war. In some cases, the reader might not even know the true cause of the catastrophe. In The Day of the Triffids, people go blind after a strange meteor shower, and strange venomous plants appear from nowhere.
The key feature is: the world is in danger, and it’s happening right now.
Post-Apocalyptic Fiction – the world has ended.
As the name suggests, post-apocalyptic fiction occurs after the cataclysmic event. It is not about people struggling to survive during a disaster, but how they learn to live after it. It may be set in the immediate aftermath of an event (The Walking Dead), or occur long after it (Wool). Society may have been re-established (Sand), or it might not ever recover (The Road).
These stories usually take one of two forms. They may be a story of survival, often in a harsh and desolate world. In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a man and his son spend every day scrapping for food, shelter, and safety in a world destroyed by an unexplained event. On the other hand, they may detail life in the ‘new world’, human or otherwise. In Planet of the Apes (the original novel and movie), human civilization has been gone for years and a new ‘ape’ society has been established.
The key feature is: modern society has collapsed, and this is the after.
Dystopian Fiction – society has gone wrong.
In dystopian stories, there is no need for a ‘world-ending’ event, but civilization has become undesirable. It may be that our own society has steered down an unwanted path (1984), or it may be set in a fictional world, not quite our own (The Hunger Games).
Dystopian stories often serve as cautionary tales, or seek to highlight flaws in our current society. In 1984, people are constantly monitored, fed misinformation, and manipulated severely. It acts as both a warning and a critique of modern governments, and remains as valid today as when it was written. Others, such as Brave New World, explore ideas such as genetic manipulation, and warn of the risks of technology.
The key feature is: society still exists, and it’s not so good.
So why the confusion?
Well, there’s often a lot of overlap between these categories. A series can start as an apocalyptic story, before becoming post-apocalyptic. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the beginning of an apocalyptic story. It’s recent sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is both apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic—it has shades of both. The world is still ‘ending’, but in a way society has already collapsed. It is both about the world-ending event, and the way people have adapted to it. The next movie, I presume, well push even further into the post-apocalyptic.
Other stories are both post-apocalyptic and dystopian. My own series (first Irradiated, and now Degenerated) is both post-apocalyptic and dystopian. The world has long-since crumbled, and a society of people lives underground in a series of repurposed road tunnels. People are controlled by a ruthless leader and an army of beings known only as Shadows. Life on the surface, meanwhile, is harsh are dangerous. Every encounter is fraught with danger.
So does sub-genre matter? It can be a good guide, but don’t get too caught up on it. Instead, sit back with a book and delve into these worlds. They carry some rather important messages.
You can read more about Elliot and his work, The Tunnel Trilogy, on his web-site here: S. Elliot Brandis