INTERVIEW: Carrie Vaughn, Author of “Amaryllis”

What is the appeal of dystopian fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

I think dystopian fiction appeals to people for a lot of reasons.  Many of the stories have a “hero against the system” plot that’s just basic good storytelling.  There’s a kind of wish fulfillment — our lives in the modern western world may not look as bad as the average dystopian system, but who hasn’t dreamed of rising up and leading a rebellion against everything that’s wrong with the world?

Dystopian fiction has so many elements:  the science fictional world-building.  The horror of the thought experiment that projects just how bad things can get.  The element of satire — a good satire is difficult to pull of but beautiful to behold when done well, and I’m not sure you can have dystopian fiction without satire, from Thomas More on up to the present.

I didn’t set out to write a dystopian story with “Amaryllis,” so I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer this question.  I actually meant it to be hopeful — things may get bad, but people will survive and hang on to a basic level of community.  Everyone in the story is actually working to uphold the system, and I’m not sure they’d feel that they’re living in a dystopia.

What are some of your favorite examples of dystopian fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

Well, where to start?  The classics are classic for a reason.  Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis is still beautiful and terrifying.  I love Huxley’s Brave New World for its sheer relentlessness — it has so much going on and there’s just no way out.  The sucker-punch satire of Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron.” (I even liked the movie version starring Sean Astin.)  I haven’t read a lot of current dystopian fiction, though I know there’s a ton of it out there.  Dystopia as it intersects with the zombie apocalypse trend is awfully fascinating.

I’m a fan of Paolo Bacigalupi’s work because a lot of it does what I like about good dystopian fiction — they’re cautionary tales, but the characters usually aren’t aware that they’re living in a dystopia.  Part of the horror (for us, the audience) is that they’ve never known anything different, and to them this is just how the world works.


Read more about the background of “Amaryllis” in Lightspeed Magazine‘s Author Spotlight on Carrie Vaughn.