Post Apocalyptic vs.
Dystopian fiction

I have an odd confession to make. While I am a sci-fi enthusiast, I’m more the Space Opera type, with a great love for everything Asimov and followers. I don’t dwell much on the nuances between sub types of different kinds of science fiction.

Anyways, as I was planning Sci-Fi Fantasy reads, I copied some genres from online retailers, I added some genres that I thought were pertinent, and I also removed some genres, which I considered would be better represented by elements or themes. One of the genres I removed was Post-Apocalyptic. And now comes the confession: I thought post-apocalyptic and dystopian would be redundant!

I only realized there was a difference between post apocalyptic and dystopian fiction when Project Nomad‘s Dakota Caldwell wrote to me explaining that he had chosen Dystopian Fiction for his book, but that it was actually post apocalyptic. I was like “What? Is there a difference?”. Of course I didn’t ask, but I went on to research, and think.

And yes, there’s obviously a difference! While both genres may talk about really, really bad futures, the difference is in what exactly this bad future is about. Dystopian fiction is about society, humanity. Post-Apocalyptic deals with the aftermath of a cataclysm. To take a famous example, Hunger Games, for instance, is dystopian; it takes place in a screwed up society, but there’s no sign that this society is the aftermath of an end of the world type scenario. In fact, if we are to be cynicals, we could say that dystopian fiction is just a projection based on our present, already screwed up society. In Dakota Caldwell’s Project Nomad, in contrast, life as we know is torn from existence. So yes, there’s a difference there. Now, yes, an apocalypse can also be just a projection of our poor treatment of the planet and penchant for wars. Still, it’s different.

Now, if we want to get a little pickier, there’s apocalyptic fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction. In apocalyptic fiction, the world as we know ends. In post-apocalyptic fiction, the world has already ended or the novel deals with the aftermath of this end. And yes, it can often happen that we have both at the same time. Still, in some purely post-apocalyptic novels, there’s no description of how the world ended, just the aftermath. Picky as I am, I named the genre (post) apocalyptic, in order to deal with both genres.

Now sure, dystopian and apocalyptic can overlap. Americus: High Road Cross is both dystopian and post apocalyptic. It takes place in a warn torn America. Not only the world as we know ended, apparently society is not doing well either. That sounds like an excellent backdrop for a novel, or, in case of Americus, a series.

Anyways, so there is the difference between post apocalyptic and dystopian. If you think about it, it’s rather obvious, but sometimes it’s easy to forget and get confused with those things, especially when there are so many genres…

If you want to take a look at the (post) apocalyptic novels at Sci-Fi Fantasy Reads, check this page: http://scififantasyreads.com/post-apocalyptic/ . Dystopian fiction right now does not have a dedicated page but you can find it on our search. More books are coming soon!

Denise Marques Leitao

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Leave a comment



Cynthia V

5 months ago

I also discovered this fact not quite long, even though it took me lots of resistance and argument before I finally accepted the truth. However, even at that, I still find the two genres very confusing sometimes as I get both completely mixed up. I think I need to do more reading again to fully get this logic well. Thanks.

Francesca Jake

5 months ago

Wow! I have always assumed these two genres are the same. Really they both talk about bad and washed down futures, but I never thought of taking the time to differentiate them base on what really happens in the bad future. Thanks for this post; am adding more knowledge to my knowledge shelf today.

Melda Spencer

5 months ago

This is all new to me. I have never been a sifi person and fantasy is new to. I will be eighty in July. I don’t know if I can adapt.

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