Dystopian Fiction: Has Romance Taken Over?

Dystopian and speculative fiction have long been popular genres of literature and film, yet sadly, it seems that such novels and movies are unable to become popular without the help of a romantic plotline.

The popularity of The Hunger Games trilogy is undeniable – it is currently ranked in second place in the top 100 teenage novels, with Harry Potter coming first. But what is it about this post-apocalyptic storyline that entices and entertains its readers? Is it really about the devastation that the 12 Districts of the nation of Panam has had forced upon it by the powerful Capitol resulting in an annual competition in which only one participant will survive? Or is it about the love triangle between three aesthetically pleasing characters that teenagers all over the world want to align themselves with? It’s difficult to say which of these is the case, but I find it hard to believe that the majority of fans of The Hunger Games like it for its portrayal of a futuristic, oppressive society.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go was met with varied critical reception, with the overriding opinion being a negative one, yet its 2010 film adaptation staring Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan was remarkably successful in comparison. Can we really say that the popularity of the film was due to its background storyline of revolutionary medical advances, or rather the love triangle existing between these three characters played by famous actors?

Likewise, Andrew Niccol’s 2011 film In Time depicts a world in which its inhabitants are given a set amount of time to live, which extends or depletes depending on a person’s wealth, creating a huge gulf between the classes in society. Although this would appear to be a concrete plot able to stand alone, the film’s storyline of a love affair between the two characters played by Justin Timberlake and Amanda Siegfried unquestionably caused it to be the box office success that it was. The question has to be posed as to whether a book or a film of the dystopian fiction genre can be successful if a love story is not woven into it.

When we look at hugely successful dystopian and speculative fiction novels, such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell’s Animal Farm, one thing becomes apparent: these books are purely based upon the prediction of future catastrophes in our society, with themes of love and romance hardly featuring. Perhaps the authors of these novels were more concerned with envisioning the future of our civilisation than achieving critical acclaim. Could the absence of these subject matters explain why their film counterparts failed miserably? It certainly cannot be due to their ingenious storylines that remain a part of popular culture even today.

Unfortunately, it would seem that science fiction and its various derivatives remains a genre reserved for a minority. Although some dystopian novels have had great success, the majority do not appear to succeed unless they contain romantic plotlines that audiences can try and relate their lives to. A narrative simply describing a tyrannical society does not seem to be able to triumph alone.


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