So, 2011 has come and gone, and we welcome in 2012 with hopes and dreams and the excitement of all the cool books coming out this year. The blogging world has been awash with these lists of "must-have" books of 2012, making me realize two things.
1. There are a LOT of dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels coming out this year.
2. There are a LOT of people who think they are one and the same.
And, since I myself have a post-apocalyptic vampire novel coming out in 2012, I thought I would try to clear things up. Post-apocalyptic and dystopian are not the same. They are two different beasts; though they have similar qualities, it is wrong to lump them together. Here are my thoughts on why:
Dystopian has been the popular term of late, the catch-phrase for all novels that feature a futuristic society, a world-ending event, survivors fighting against horrific conditions, etc. However, a dystopian novel is about a SOCIETY where something has gone terribly wrong. Many times, the society's evil and corruption is portrayed as normal, as in the Hunger Games where Tribute Day was a day of celebration. Other times, the evil is hidden, though there are always hints just below the perfectly groomed facade. Dystopian is the opposite of Utopian, where society IS perfect and everyone is happy, except the utopian society almost always turns out to be dystopian, because a perfect society would make for a very boring book.
Dystopian and post-apocalyptic can be easily confused, because a dystopian society usually rises from the ashes of a post-apocalyptic event. However, a dystopian novel's focus is on the society, and everything wrong with it, rather then the event itself.
Examples of Dystopian novels: The Hunger Games, 1984, Matched, Uglies
A post-apocalyptic novel, on the other hand, is about a world-changing, cataclysmic event: floods, zombies, the super flu, earthquakes, solar flares, the moon falling out of alignment, etc. The event could have already happened, or is in the process of happening, but post-apocalyptic novels are about the survivors and how they deal with this new, deadly world. It could even have hints of dystopian in it, as new societies emerge from the remains of civilization. But a Post-apocalyptic novel is about the survivors, and everything they face after the world ends.
Examples of Post-apocalyptic novels: The Road, Life as we Knew it, The Stand, Ashes Ashes.
Is it possible for a novel to be both? Yes, absolutely. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan comes to mind. Clearly, the world has fallen to the zombie apocalypse, but the novel is also about the village and the society surrounded by the forest. So there are crossovers. But I wanted to point out the differences between dystopian and post-apocalyptic, because they are not the same. So when you do get that book you've been dying to read, you'll know what to call it. ;)
Note that this is just one person's opinion on the matter. Feel free to discuss or argue the point in the comments, though please keep it clean. I am in no way an authority on all things dystopian/post-apocalyptic; this is just my understanding of the differences between them.