The Unaddressed Issues in YA Dystopian Fiction

written by Maria Isabelle

The future of mankind is dark, desolate and generally pretty frightening. At least, that is what dystopian fiction like The Giver and The Maze Runner would have us believe. Dystopian fiction pictures a future world where many of our current problems are escalated to extreme proportions.These fictitious works are set sometime in the future after we have continued down our current path of destruction and the end result is a world overrun by violence, greed and sometimes even a creepy monster or two. There is an overarching presence of oppression by some sort of political force in all these works of fiction, and it is when citizens of these dystopias realize the system they live in isn’t the one they want to live in, that the story typically begins.

This is not a new genre of fiction, but it has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, especially in the growing young adult market. While there may be many reasons for this rise in YA dystopian fiction, the fact that many of these stories feature an oppressed hero ready to fight for freedom speaks directly to the oppression many teens feel as they grow up. Unfortunately, this oppressive feeling also highlights what is really lacking in many dystopian works including the minimization of racism, sexism and a number of other issues plaguing modern society.

While issues such as technological dependency, government control, and environmental destruction get A-list exposure, real problems teens (and adults) face on a daily basis are mostly ignored. Right now, there is a big discussion happening on the role both racism and sexism play in YA dystopian fiction. Hit properties like the Divergent series actually go right for societal separation, which one would think is the perfect place for a discussion on racism and equality. Instead, Divergent (and its sequel Insurgent – streaming info for both here) avoids all of that messy real-life drama and instead chooses to base its separation on virtues instead of race, which is unfortunately far more likely the way our evil future-selves would run things.

Along the same thinking, The Hunger Games features a predominantly white world with little room for race issues. Sure, there are some minority characters in the film, but not too many fans likings. During casting of The Hunger Games, it was announced that Willow Smith may play Rue, a young girl that was written as a minority in the books, and the internet went wild.

All over Twitter, blogs, and forums fans of the series were coming out in droves to bash the casting of an African-American girl as Rue. These comments varied from the downright hateful to the more passive-aggressively racist, but the general sentiment was the same. Following the movie’s premier, the comments continued and even though Smith did not play the role of Rue, Amandla Stenberg put forth a sensational portrayal of the character even the harshest of critics couldn’t ignore.

It comes as a surprise to many that in comparison to other dystopian fictions, and actions movies in general, the main protagonists in these films are strong female characters. Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley have been dominating screens in these films for a couple years now openly challenging gender stereotypes. The underlying tone of female empowerment present in these series is great for the young girls that are typically fans of the genre. But rarely are the serious issues many women face on a daily basis like discrimination and harassment addressed.

While most dystopian fictions feature some element of racism or sexism, they barely scratch the surface of the issues and their repercussions in the real world. By tackling these major issues in young adult fiction, we are encouraging the youth of today to openly discuss the real-world problems they face now and will in the future, possibly opening up the genre to a whole new reading and viewing public. Ignoring these real-world issues are akin to simply saying they do not exist or are not important, and we all know that is not the case.


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Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. 

The Five Best Realistic Science Fiction Films in the Past Five Years

written by Maria Isabelle


There was a time when science fiction films consisted of more fiction than science, but as mankind grows more intelligent about the scientific forces that control the universe, our need for more believable science fiction also grows stronger. Here are some recent and realistic depictions of science and technology in film:


Gravity (2013)

When their shuttle is destroyed, a medical engineer and an astronaut must work to survive in space as they are adrift in orbit. This has become one of the most famous movies in recent times to be completely picked apart by modern rock star scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The physics is a little hit-or-miss, but there are times when Gravity did capture the zero gravity feeling, according to Buzz Aldrin. Other realistic additions include special props used by astronauts, correct alignment of buttons and controls, and the growing problem of space debris in Earth’s orbit.


Her (2013)

In this sci-fi dramedy, a man falls in love with an intelligent operating system named Samantha. Not the only film on this list to deal with man falling in love with a machine, Her is steeped in something a little closer to reality. More recently, humans have developed a growing trend of being attached to our technology at all times. How many people never leave the house without their cell phones or take them to bed with them? For some, it also seems that communicating remotely via email or messaging could make it easier to form more personal bonds. Perhaps in the future, when more sophisticated technology is developed, the prospect of relationships with artificial intelligence won’t seem so crazy.


Interstellar (2014)

In a far out scenario, a team of space explorers must travel through a wormhole to save mankind. Even though the premise is a little insane, there is a lot of sound science fact in this film. Using all available information, most scientists agree that the black hole and wormhole in the film are as close to real as we can imagine right now. Another fascinating aspect of correct science is the different aging rates of the cast. The gravitational pull of the black hole would, in theory, slow down time on the planet closest to the black hole.


Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina sees a man falling in love with an AI robot. Unlike Her, the AI machine here is an actual robot with a very realistic human face. The entire film is centered on the Turing Test, a way of testing AI against the realities of human intelligence. It seems that we may be way off until the technology depicted within the film but we’ve still made some small but great strides in advancing it: smart lights and appliances, remotely controlled home security systems, and even software that actually passed the Turing Test.


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

In a far off dystopian future, two people fight to restore balance and order. This film made the list, not for its great technology, but for its realistic depiction of our bleak future. After global climate change and increasing worldwide violence, the Earth is now barren and devoid of any similarities to our modern society in this film. There has been a breakdown in our culture and things such as water and gas have become the top commodities. It isn’t pretty, but close to our reality if we aren’t careful.



Although sci-fi films can sometimes be a bust, they key is to depict relatable and realistic stories in an imagined world. Let’s just hope the tragedies and violence surrounding these technologies and science in film never make it to real life.


Prof Pic 1Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy.

Robot Movies You Should Watch in 2015

written by Maria Isabelle

ChappiePosterEver wonder if your microwave has feelings? What if it felt imposed upon every time you nuked a burrito inside of it? What if the microwave started conspiring with the rest of your kitchen appliances? Would there be any hope left for any of us? Are you also craving a burrito now?

The point that I’m laboring towards here is that machines are becoming pretty sophisticated — so sophisticated that it’s slightly worrisome. There are a number of films slated for release this year that tackle this very issue issue: Chappie, Ex Machina, and the latest installment of the The Avengers franchise. And while there is much chatter about this year as a “good year for robots,” the truth is that robot movies have been around for about as long as robots themselves…or movies, for that matter. One could perhaps make the case that our aversions toward technology are, in essence, the very basis of science-fiction itself. And there are a lot of ways that the newer films will likely echo thematic elements of classic science-fiction films.

Chappie, for instance, will tell the story of a future dystopian society that has come to rely upon a robotic police force. “Chappie” is a police robot that is stolen and reprogrammed so that “he” is sensitive to external stimuli in much that way that human children are. In other words, he is capable of learning and feeling, and his experiences and observations inform his behavior. On the one hand, you might think of it as some bizarre synthesis of Robocop and Kindergarten Cop. You might also see it as a modern day nod to classic sci-fi films like The Day the Earth Stood Still, wherein the robot is merely a foil to expose how cruel and irrational people can be, and the notion that people are not born to be hateful or violent — societal conditioning plays its part.

Ultron takes a slightly different approach. The film will feature the Avengers crew squaring off against Ultron, a robot that is hell bent on destroying the human race. This narrative treatment is perhaps a little closer in substance to the tech paranoia present in something like 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the robot itself is a danger because it has been given the agency to make decisions even though it lacks the capacity for empathy, even though “he” is a somewhat sympathetic character “himself” — disturbed even, to borrow a phrase from director Joss Whedon. Ultron is a not a cutesy foil — no part of him is Kindergarten Cop derivative.

Ex Machina is notable for its thematic integration of gender politics. The film revolves around a young computer coder named Caleb who gets the unique opportunity to spend a week in the sprawling estate of Nathan, the head of the tech company that Caleb works for. Within the home, we meet “Ava,” a feminized cyborg who is endowed with remarkable wit and an uncanny facility for verbal communication. Caleb, we learn, has been brought to the sprawling estate on false pretenses: the real reason he has been recruited is so he can perform a Turing test on the robot. Nathan, we learn, has a whole ward of female robot servants that he routinely mistreats. Of the three films discussed in this article, Ex Machina promises to be the most somber and thought provoking.

For everything that’s advantageous about modern technology, there are many risks. And while other people ultimately pose a much greater threat against people than robots pose against people, it’s difficult to completely suppress one’s occasional discomfort with the thought that, in a few decades time, the machines could rise from the kitchen to enslave us all.

These are all tropes well-rooted in Cold War era science-fiction. In the aftermath of nuclear weapons dropped in Japan, the entire planet was left to ponder about what could happen to the world if scientists were allowed to run mad like those kids in that one sequence from Kindergarten Cop. This doesn’t negate all of the wonderful things that contemporary technology has brought us. Automated home security systems are obviously pretty useful (more info here) and so are robotic surgeries (details here). But when you read about technological devices that are used for the sole purpose of harming people…it’s hard to think of that as progress.


Prof Pic 1Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy.