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On The Edge of Civilization - The Categories of Dystopia

By Edited Nov 8, 2015 5 5

Dystopia has come to be known as a fictional society in which the  condition of life is downright miserable. It is essentially the converse of utopia, which is a perfect society. Over the years, dystopian media has gone through a boom as people see the society around them starting to form cracks. However, like ever genre of media, there are many different forms of dystopia. Usually books and movies do not tend to stick to one genre of dystopia, they mix and mold several genres together. Like with Blade Runner for example, there are about four different dystopian genre molded together in the vibrantly depressing world captured in that movie.



Probably the most recognizable and popular genre of dystopia. Like the name suggests, it focuses on a future in which totalitarian societies demand total control and commitment from its citizens, hiding behind a usually thin veil of ideology of some kind. Like true totalitarian states, they are ruled by bureaucracies which are backed up by secret police and/or armed forces. The citizens of the nation are almost always afforded no freedoms and closely monitored. The stories in this world usually focus on the desperate struggle of isolated dissidents.

This genre is so popular because of the real examples of such a society through Hitler's Third Reich and Stalin's Soviet Union.

However, fictional examples of this genre included Nineteen Eighty-Four, We, and Fatherland


The cyberpunk genre of dystopia is essentially our own society, but drastically exaggerated. Usually, technological evolution has vastly accelerated and advanced, which leads to an imminent environmental collapse of the world around us. Due to the limited levels of livable land, urbanization has increased beyond control and crime soars beyond control. However the key element in which truly defines the cyberpunk genre is the concept of cybernetics, which are artificial enhancements of both the body and mind making people stronger or smarter than ever before.

Fictional examples include Ghost in the Shell, Neuromancer, Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Matrix, and Strange Days

Tech Noir

The tech noir genre contains all the fun technological advancement of the cyberpunk genre but has the air of a dark gritty hard-boiled crime noir. This is considered to be primarily a cinema genre, and just like film noir it can be hard to demarcate and define. It can also be confused with the cyberpunk genre, making it easily overlooked. However, things to look for in a tech noir include a much more psychological and existential approach to everything, especially technology. The atmosphere, like true film noir will be dark, gloomy, and on occasion very threatening.

Fictional examples of this include Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Dark City, The City of Lost Children, and Brazil.


Technically, there are several subgenres for dystopias that occur in space, but this genre pretty much combines them all. In these off-world dystopias, man's foray into space was not the happy peaceful adventure that people thought it would be. Our societies natural need to colonize other planets leads to interstellar war and genocide.

Fictional examples of this include Alien, The Forever War, Outland, and Ender's Game.


Crime dystopias can have many different settings, however one commonality is that an exorbitant amount of crime has become common place and the authorities are either about to lose control or already have. This crime is more commonly street crime or organized crime, but can also corrupt governmental crimes. To fight this decay in civility, you will often see authorities resort to cruel and inhumane measures to try and quell it. This is usually the kind of dystopia you see before the media it is shown in becomes a totalitarian dystopia.

Fictional examples of this genre include A Clockwork Orange, The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse, and The Escape from New York.


In this dystopian world, the population of humanity has swelled well beyond what the resources of Earth can handle, leading to a dramatic exhaustion of food, space, and water. Usually this is shown through a large gap between the wealthy and everyone else, leading to the wealthy living comfortable lives while the military and police try to quell the starving, rioting normal masses below. The depiction of this particular genre is rather rare and underutilized, this could be because it may be a problem not so long into the future.

Examples of this include the novel Make Room! Make Room!, Soylent Green, and Stand on Zanzibar.


A leisure dystopia is best defined as a utopia, be it natural or engineered, going awry. In a society where all problems have been solved, the citizen live wealthy and happy lives. However in an effort to do so it led to a suppression of individuality, art, religion, intellectualism, basically all things that cause problems. This leads to things like designer drugs, conformity, and consumption to combat the inevitable existential misery that the citizens would incur. Of course, the government governs by strongly encouraging or enforcing conformity, but there will always be free thinkers who break free from the bonds. This genre was once very popular, but has faded away since as people have realized the flaws of the utopian societal concept.

Examples of this include Brave New World, Demolition Man, The Joy Makers, and Things to Come.


When people think of dystopias, post-apocalyptic dystopias are what they think of. In fact, in many minds, this is the only kind of dystopia. Post-apocalyptic worlds are those that have been ravaged by nuclear war, environmental collapse, or ravaged by a deadly pandemic. Due to these causes, governments are overrun by anarchy and occasionally feudalism. Most of the media that depict these world are usually simple action-adventure type stories with few depths, making it one of the more relatable genres. Common plots usually include an anti-heroic lone wolf who reluctantly aids a small group of people trying to rebuild a stable and safe civilization, leading to them fighting with the cruel groups of savage bandits and raiders.

Common fictional examples of this include Road Warrior, Waterworld, The Omega Man, Warday, and A Canticle for Leibowitz.



Aug 16, 2013 12:15pm
As usual a very interesting article Amerowolf
Sep 6, 2013 1:09am
Interesting and informative. I enjoyed this. :)
Sep 6, 2013 9:55am
Great article. I have thought of writing fiction regarding a combo of dystopian types, but seeing them all laid out like you have is very interesting and informative. +1
Sep 6, 2013 4:12pm
Awesome reading. I'm fascinated with dystopian themes!
Sep 9, 2013 8:24am
Great article...but did you realize that "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" and "Blade Runner" are two versions of the same work? The film is based on the novel.
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