A dystopia is any society considered to be undesirable, for any of a number of reasons. The term was coined as a converse to a Utopia, and is most usually used to refer to a fictional (often near-future) society where current social trends are taken to nightmarish extremes.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term was coined in the late 19th century by John Stuart Mill, who also used Bentham's synonym, cacotopia, at the same time. Both words were based on utopia, analyzed as eu-topia, for a place where everything is as it should be; hence the converse "dys-topia" for a place where this is certainly not the case. Often, the difference between a Utopia and a Dystopia is in the author's point of view.
Dystopias are frequently written as warnings, or as satires, showing current trends extrapolated to a nightmarish conclusion. In this, they frequently differ from utopias; idealistic utopias have no roots in today's society, being in some other place or time, or after some major discontinuity in history (e.g. see H.G. Wells' utopias, such as The World Set Free).
A dystopia is all too closely connected to current-day society. A considerable number of near-future science fiction stories of the type described as 'cyberpunk' use dystopian settings of a high-technology corporate dominated world where national governments are becoming steadily more irrelevant.
The genre of post-apocalyptic science fiction often features dystopias.
Some famous dystopias are:
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
- Anthem by Ayn Rand
- Angelwings and Finerthings by Paul M. Jessup
- Battle Royale
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (This could perhaps be considered a utopia, as the people in that society are certainly happy, but it is more generally regarded by critics as a dystopian satire, as they actually have no choice in whether they are happy or not.)
- The urban nightmare depicted in Terry Gilliam's film Brazil.
- Candide by Voltaire
- The Children of Men by P.D. James
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
- The Domination by S. M. Stirling
- Erewhon by Samuel Butler
- Equilibrium by Kurt Wimmer
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- A Friend of the Earth (2000) by T. C. Boyle.
- The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
- Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
- Island by Aldous Huxley
- Level 7, a novel by Mordecai Roshwald
- Neuromancer (and other cyberpunk novels) by William Gibson. (Indeed almost everything in the cyberpunk genre.)
- Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
- Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
- Soylent Green by Harry Harrison
- The Running Man by Richard Bachman, a pseudonym for Stephen King.
- The Shockwave Rider and The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner
- This Perfect Day (1970) by Ira Levin
- We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
- The Wind That Came From Nowhere and practically the entire fictional output of J. G. Ballard
- The Giver by Lois Lowry (Again, perhaps a Utopia, however it is at a cost)