Dystopias and Depression

I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian novels, lately. I’ve a long way yet to go on my list of dystopian (and utopian) fiction to read before tackling writing my own. Already I’ve realized that there was a poor decision somewhere along the way which set me upon this path and this task; I am depressed. I am prone to, and have lately been in the throes of, “major depression”, as it were. (And yes, I believe I’m going to begin consistently switching to “logical punctuation”.) A major characteristic of good dystopian fiction is that the settings, the characters’ lives, and often the outcomes and resolutions, tend toward the sad, the grim, the dark, the painful, the depressing, and the destructive. Reading one dark, depressing book after another, after another, on and on, even “for research”, is probably not a good idea for someone prone to depression and thoughts of suicide.

They’re not all terrible. Sometimes the world is terrible and the protagonists aren’t much bothered by it. Often, especially in the recent crop of YA dystopian fiction, the worst of it isn’t particularly grim and then the protagonist successfully changes the world for the better, leaving you with a happy ending and a belly full of warm fuzzy feelings. Several times I’ve read one which walked the line between terribly grim and reasonably hopeful, but then veered off at the last moment into non-sequitur, totally free of any meaningful resolution.

Some of them, especially the pair I read by Olivia Butler, were little more than torture porn in written form. Having read The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents made books like Soft Apocalypse and Super Sad True Love Story, which cover some of the same apocalyptic dystopian ground (the former more than the latter) seem light and fun and easy to read (psychologically, I mean) in comparison. Of course, being a soft-hearted romantic lent Super Sad True Love Story a bit more punch; it really is a super sad love story. Poor Lenny.

Still, while this ongoing dystopian fiction backdrop has certainly colored my mental outlook of late, I think the darkest place I’ve found myself (emotionally) lately has been in direct concert with the season finale of House, MD. Gregory House may be the character I most identify with, across all the TV and books and films I’ve seen in quite a while. Wilson (House’s only real friend on the show) and other non-crazy persons may look at him and have no idea what’s going on in his head, may see him behave in extreme, apparently irrational ways and have no insight into why, into what would make someone want to behave those ways, but I’ve been right there with him, for years, wishing I knew some way to explain to people like Wilson what’s going on in our heads. (Mine and the fictional character, House, I mean.) I guess it’s like one of those things “regular” people understand but can never explain to me; this experience, this brokenness, is something difficult to relate to those who have never tasted it. After watching that episode in particular, I felt just about as broken and hurt and self-destructive as House, but I don’t have the means to simply disappear… except in a more final way. There’s a dystopia for you: being Greg House.

It’s been a tough week for me.

I’ve noticed some interesting granularity of emotion, though. I can feel distinct differences between wanting to kill myself and wishing I were dead. Between wishing I were dead and not wanting to be alive. There are countless gradations and unusual intersections between them, none of them happy and shiny and smily and bright.

Still, I’ll try to persevere. I’ve been getting a lot of good ideas, good insights, for my own novels. Though… I have found that I have a lot of excellent, important, character-building, gripping, torturous, terrible, painful things for the protagonist of the-book-which-is-supposed-to-be-a-utopia to go through, and I’m worried it won’t come across as utopian as I was hoping for. I know that part of the point of the pair is that it all depends on your perspective, that what is torture for one person might be paradise for another and vice versa… so as long as she fully believes that the world is beautiful, that all the terrible things she’s going through are for the best, it should work… and maybe I need to make the protagonist of the other book have a really easy-going life for contrast; she definitely thinks things are bad, terrible, and need to change. That might balance things out alright.

Lots left to work on. I want these to be my best books to date. The best I can do.

(…and then I’ll re-write Dragons’ Truth as a formulaic YA adventure story… Next year…)

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