{DISCUSSION} Post-Apocalyptic vs. Dystopian

You really think post-apoc and dystopian are the same thing?

Man, this misnomer is right up there close to saying science fiction and dystopian are the same thing (which we already covered), but not quite. It’s a bit lower and a bit more muddled, but still a very valuable discussion to have. So, let’s chat, shall we? πŸ˜‰

Dystopian: a corrupt society

Post-Apocalyptic:Β a destroyed/obliterated society (often because of an environmental cause [footnote: sometimes zombies])

Why do these two get so muddled together?

Well, to be quite frank, I can understand how these two get mixed up because they both often involve some breakdown of society. However, the key difference is that dystopian requires a society in the story and post-apocalypse is post-society, meaning there is no semblance of present-day society in the story. It also often involves loss of technology, and modern conveniences that developed worlds are used to. Thus they cannotΒ possibly be in the same genre.

But… what if society has re-established after the apocalypse?

Lovely question random person in the crowd! That is no longer a post-apocalypse. Why? Because life has restored itself. A post-apocalypse is meant to be the aftermath of an apocalypse, a time period when society and humanity must determine how to survive and return to the way life was before the apocalypse. If a society has returned and maintained functionality, then the story is past the ‘post-apocalypse’ phase. At least, in my mind.

I don’t go looking for a post-apocalypse book expecting to have technology being reinvented, to have electricity and gas mainstream again, and have a government returned. That would suggest the people have both survived and recovered from the apocalypse as if it didn’t happen. Maybe not entirely, but to a point that they can move on with their lives and the apocalypse is no longer the biggest thing on people’s minds. Thus it is NOT post-apocalypse.

Of course, you’re always going to get the people who say: “Well, it’s still after an apocalypse, therefore it’s a post-apocalypse.”

Okay. Okay. I see your point and counter with WWII, the Crusades, the Roman spread across Europe. For many, those were apocalypses. Because while most fictional apocalypses require an environmental cause, they don’t have to have one. An apocalypse can take many forms and there have been plenty of actual, real-world apocalypses throughout human history. Thus, by your definition, good sir, humanity is perpetually in a ‘post-apocalypse’ and that would make the term completely invalid and useless.

But what do you think?
Are post-apoc and dystopian the same?
Leave your thoughts below!

And check out my discussion from last week:
Muse or Force


16 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} Post-Apocalyptic vs. Dystopian”

  1. I think one of the best examples where these two get blurred into each other is the Wool Trilogy by Hugh Howie. There’s a society, though limited, but they have sheriff, mayor, mysterious overlords, but the apocalypse is still very much a thing in the background. It was so well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One thing you have to remember is that for the 50 years from 1946 to 1995 post-Apocalypse typically meant post-nuclear-Apocalypse. When I think of P-A, I typically think this way because it was what I was brought up on. As a kid any day and every day could be the last day civilization existed. It was a fact of life and always in mind. Later they came out and said there were dozens of times when the finger was on the button and we were minutes away from total destruction.

    Some dystopias from this era were about half-civilizations created from the ashes of the nuclear war. Sometimes the lines were blurred. The handful of survivors would find themselves in this nightmare world of destroyed cities, mutants and ruthless governments. There were elements of both in a lot of stories. It was about survival of the post-nuclear-war age but also about a society gone bad.

    All of the being said, I agree that for the most part, particularly in the modern day, there are lines between the two. The Apocalypse that created the society of a dystopia might still be talked about, and the influences might still be there, but the survival phase is over. A true P-A is about survival.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah. I can totally understand how the definition of PA was different sixty/seventy years ago as our fictional worlds are framed by what is going on IRL. And I could definitely imagine PA being nuclear. However, the newer generations definitely find themselves less convinced of a nuclear apocalypse and more likely to have a zombie apocalypse (which is hella unlikely, but you know. Crazy millenials and such.)

      That being said, PA has broadened over time to be a menagerie of things. Though the conventional definition is still much closer to nuclear, there are a DOZEN different types of PA and some of them will definitely lead to a dystopian government because power-grabbing is what happens when civilization explodes.

      Still, if society has somehow established, I have to imagine the apocalyptic event isn’t having THAT much of an impact on them any more as it did when it had JUST happened. They aren’t struggling to survive in the same manner they were during/directly after the event.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “sixty/seventy years ago” I’m not -that- old πŸ˜‰ Seriously, I do know what you are saying. P-A is about survival. Dystopia is about what comes next (sometimes – it can have other sources, like who we voted into office leading to a dystopia).

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes, I did say 40s, but I said the 50 year time span from 1945 (end of WW2) to 1995 (fall of the Soviet Union, give or take a couple of years). So 1995 is only 23 years ago. And yes, I know, for you that is long time…. πŸ˜‰

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Someone emailed me their comment (I think by accident as they filled out the comment form above), so I am posting it below and responding to it here. If someone would like to claim the comment, please do. I have no record of who emailed it. :/

    I like your thoughts on this – to me post apocalyptic is a state not a time thing otherwise society could always considered to be post apocalyptic. So it has to be immediately after the event and before society has re-established.

    Dystopian is less clear to me, I thought it could include an anti-utopian state not necessarily just a corrupt society or we could all consider ourselves in a dystopian society. Dystopia brings visions of Blade runner, Alien and such like. Basically where the story is set somewhere not very nice, kinda shitty and below expected living standards or where society generally is struggling to survive.

    I’m sure you’ll put me right πŸ˜‰

    Thank you for your comment (whomever this is.) You bring up some very good points. πŸ™‚

    Post-Apocalypse is definitely a state, but it is often remedied by time. The recovery from post-apoc is like a wound healing, it will not happen overnight (unless you’re some magical being that heals instantly. πŸ˜› ) But the actual recovery needs to be a re-establishment of society, as you stated.

    Well, when you look up ‘anti-utopian’ the definition is actually dystopian. However, a dystopian is characterized by a corruption in society (often government) or a place where society is simply… broken. A not nice place to live is not really appropriate because anything below a utopia could be considered as a ‘not nice place to live.’ Dystopian is a step below that. It needs to be somehow worse than just normal, ‘this is okay.’ If society is struggling to survive, but there is a HUGE divide between them and the wealth of the government/upperclass, then that is a CLEAR sign of a dystopian. But dystopian is honestly a very vague term. Many different aspects can make something a dystopian so it’s a bit more difficult than just post-apoc, but they are definitely not the same things no matter how you classify a dystopian. πŸ™‚


  4. Maybe for a simpler argument, “WW2 happened after the fall of the Roman Empire, but you wouldn’t call a WW2 novel ‘post-Roman empire’.”

    I think for me where the lines get blurred is that dystopian novels often occur after said apocalypse, and society rebuilds itself in a bad way. I mean, clearly there’s still a difference, but that might be why I might get some language wrong when talking about a book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, you definitely wouldn’t be the first person to mix the names up and there is definitely that instance where an apocalypse happened and now society has re-built and every assumes it’s both post-apoc and dystopian, but it ain’t. πŸ˜› And I think because the two have such a high tendency to be close to each other in time during a story, that many people don’t know when one ends and the other begins, not that there is ever a hard line when a society is building itself. It builds slowly, but at some point you realize that ‘yes, there is a society here.’ πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I definitely think this is misconstrued and mingled together by both readers and writers. Sometimes they want that grungy, post-apoc feel but still want the plot of a society, which i can totally understand. I love being able to build a world from the ground up. Much more interesting, but a book can’t be EVERYTHING. We genre them so people can understand what they’re going to read and thus the stronger aspect wins out. πŸ˜›

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Well I always said that I read dystopian but I guess I was right for Divergent, Hunger Games, The Selection as there always was society and technology. Now for Moon Chosen and Sun Warrior with societies but without technology would it be dystopian or post apocalyps?

    Liked by 1 person

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