Dystopian vs Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

An update on BayCon 2023, New Denver is available for pre-order, and a the nuances between Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic books that you may not know.

An arid landscape. Purple sky and clouds. In the background, an alien city on fire.
Credit: José del Nido

It's been nice to relax! The last few weeks have been hectic for various reasons. This last weekend, however, my wife and I just chilled and played some Diablo 4. And made cookies. Did you know Diablo 4 is better with snickerdoodles? It is.

Part of the turmoil came from preparing for and participating in BayCon 2023, which ran through Independence Day. What a rush! Met lots of great people, sold some books (including early copies of New Denver), and hung out with cool authors. More about that below.

I've also begun migrating my blog from Wix to Ghost. Unfortunately, there's no automated way to do it, so it's a slow process. (Reminder: blog notifications are separate from newsletters, so if you want to be notified when a new blog is available, go here, click "Account" -> "Email preferences" and enable the "Blog" slider. You may need to sign in first, but it's a password-less system, so... easy!)

Speaking of, this month's feature is a subscriber exclusive. Ever wonder about the true difference between Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic fiction? I hadn't either until I tried to market something that straddled the line. Read on for a summary of my research that may help you decide what to read in the future, and make you sound cool to all your book friends. Or not. 😅

No updates from my publisher on the new Angels Adrift release date, unfortunately, but New Denver has no such dependencies. It's now available for pre-order on Amazon, Kobo, Nook, and Apple Books. Come Heck or high water, it'll be in your hands on Aug 15th. That's a promise!

In this newsletter

  • New Denver at BayCon 2023
  • Dystopian vs Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
  • Free Books, Sales, and Events
  • Currently Reading
  • Other Authors You Might Like

New Denver at BayCon 2023

3 books standing up on a table: Dragon Assassin, Holtondome, New Denver. A discount sign in front.

Yes, New Denver's official release isn't until Aug 15th, but this year's BayCon was so close that I couldn't resist printing a few copies beforehand. Of the six I ordered, the book in the picture above is the last survivor. Selling them as a bundle worked really well; folks were excited that BayCon was the only place they could buy Book 2. All told, I sold out of Holtondome paperbacks (most of them with New Denver attached), plus a few hardcovers, and sold all but one copy each of One Man's Trash and Angels in the Mist. Even sold a few copies of Dragon Assassin. I was so happy!

Most awesome, though, were the people. I made a point to connect with everyone who walked past the table, and got to know some fascinating folks. Also spent some quality time with my fellow authors, who made this an extra-special event that I will always cherish. (Also a heartwarming story here about an encounter I had with a new reader. So cool!)

Big thanks to Water Dragon Publishing for hosting the Small Publishing in a Big Universe table at an affordable price for independent authors.

I already can't wait for BayCon 2024. Hope to see you there!

Dystopian vs Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Confession time: I don't write to genre. I get cool ideas for some characters, imagine a unique setting, and outline an intriguing plot, then toss it all together and have a blast telling myself a story. Only later, when things like marketing and retailers demand, do I figure out which genre(s) applies. (This is probably also why agents and large publishers would keep me as far away from their profit margins as possible, if I ever decided to seek one.)

And so, it wasn't until I began to optimize marketing efforts for Holtondome that I gave any serious thought to its genre. I knew it was science fiction because of the fantastical elements in the story, which become even more fantastic in New Denver (no spoilers!).

I'd always assumed it was also dystopian because I was passingly familiar with the term, and it seemed to fit the world I'd built, especially considering the oppressive government ("The Feds") who play a prominent role.

But then I stumbled onto post-apocalyptic thrillers. The covers looked similar to mine. The worlds also sounded similar: humanity has suffered some global catastrophe that's thrown everything into chaos. Now, due to extreme resource constraints and a hostile environment, people are struggling to survive. Heck, in my story, that's why people had moved into domes!

So is Holtondome dystopian or post-apocalyptic?

The answer, I learned through too much research, is both.

To understand why, let's break them down.

Dystopian fiction

dystopian: /adjective/ relating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. As you can imagine, the above dictionary definition didn't help much. Post-apocalyptic is dystopian because people are suffering. Sure, you can have suffering and injustice without a world-ending catalyst, but there are varying degrees of world-endiness. What if society is past the "utter chaos" phase and is in the process of reforming? What if they're stuck? What if there is an organized government that arose out of the ashes to bring humanity together, but it ain't all that?

The key turns out to be "injustice." The focus of most self-labeled dystopian books is on the injustice or disparity between one or more social classes or overlaying government, often Haves versus Have Nots, but there are more creative renditions involving magic, genetics, and every flavor in between.

Protagonists often (but not always) find themselves in what they believe to be a utopia, crafted for the benefit of all, but a series of events lead them to realize not all is as it seems. The result is some great revelation that leads to a form of rebellion or revolt, the outcome of which may or may not be successful.

Some great examples of dystopian fiction are The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Time Machine by H.G. Wells, and Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.

Post-Apocalyptic fiction

post-apocalyptic: /adjective/ denoting or relating to the time following a nuclear war or other catastrophic event.

Aha! Sounds pretty clear, right? The world went ker-splat some time ago, and now we're seeing how humanity has dealt with it (or usually humanity, anyway).

Except... wait, in how many science fiction and fantasy books has some world-rocking event changed their course of history? A mutant plague? A magic disaster that split the planet in half? An alien invasion resulting in near-genocidal war? The mysterious disappearance of an ancient, advanced civilization that regressed society to a medieval state?

None of those books are marked as "post-apocalyptic." They all get fancy names like high fantasy, science fiction, dark fantasy, and cyberpunk.

So what decides when a title has earned the moniker of "post-apocalyptic"?

The answer this time was a little more obscure. Post-apocalyptic titles deal with struggle and inequity, same as dystopians, except the struggle usually involves a scarcity of resources caused by whatever made the world go pop. This almost always results in a higher level of chaos than your typical dystopian (think Mad Max or the game Borderlands).

The Debate

Great! I'd done the research. I had a clear idea of the difference between the two genres.

And, for the love of coffee, it still hadn't helped.

Deadly weather is a constant threat to the people in Holtondome, brought about by The Fall some 400 years ago that killed 95% of Earth's population. Domes are the only place plants or animals can survive, creating an extreme scarcity of food, fresh water, and finished goods such as vehicles, technology, and worst of all, medicine. Also, the protagonist repeatedly faces mortal danger from Mother Earth's wrath, e.g. acid and lightning storms.

Post-apocalyptic. Definitely. Right?

Except humanity is not currently in chaos. While life isn't all caviar and roses, the Federated Nations' strong hand—combined with willing sacrifices from its people, such as the residents of Holtondome—have somewhat stabilized the remnants of global civilization into something that isn't exactly thriving, but holds promise that maybe humanity won't wink out of existence after all. And, like any large organization, the Federated Nations has a few skeletons it would prefer its citizens didn't exhume, which becomes an issue for the protagonist in a big way.

That makes it dystopian. Must be. Um... yeah!


In the end, while Holtondome strongly resembles a post-apocalyptic novel (and post-apocalyptic fans certainly won't be disappointed), the spirit of the story is more about the dome's struggle against an oppressive government / class warfare than resource scarcity, or man vs. nature in the wake of global catastrophe. Those aspects create an interesting backdrop, but they aren't the primary conflict. New Denver makes this even more apparent, and I suspect the next (and hopefully final) book in the series will as well.

The match—by points, but not by knockout—ultimately went to "dystopian," as illustrated by Holtondome's final subtitle: "A Science Fiction Dystopian Thriller."

Free Books, Sales, and Events

Currently Reading

Gideon the Ninth

Gideon set a new standard for me as an author. I would give it 6 out of 5 stars if the rating widget would allow. Muir's writing style had me re-reading almost every sentence—not because I couldn't understand them, but because I didn't want to miss a single, delicious nuance she baked into every ounce of her amazing prose.

Necromancers in space. That may sound like science fiction, but it reads much more like fantasy. Funny and intense fantasy. With dead people.

I laughed. I cried. I'm going to read it again, because this book has so much to offer me, both as a reader and an author, that I couldn't possibly absorb it all in a single pass.

Check out my full review by clicking below. (Oh yeah, there's more.)

Read full review

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Chaos Zone is the first installment in a new space opera series full of reckless women, messy worlds, and big adventures–perfect for fans of Guardians of the Galaxy and the Mandalorian.

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