The Paris Review

How to Live in a Dystopian Fiction

Albert Robida, Le vingtième siècle, ca. 1880.

A curious feature of most dystopian fiction is that it begins in medias res. It’s a stylistic convention of the genre, and it applies to most dystopian lit that comes to mind, from Nineteen Eighty-Four to Brave New World to Never Let Me Go. As pure narrative strategy, it makes sense. After all, novels in general must hook a reader quickly, and there are few things hookier than unfolding disaster. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, for example, begins with twenty utterly gripping pages of the first hours of a superplague wiping out Toronto (and the world). There is something compelling about this type of introduction—it carves narrative down to a brutal logic in which the only two options are survival and death.

The TV adaptation of ’s , which will wrap up its second season in July, is the most recent popular example of this phenomenon. The viewer is dropped, from the

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