Post-Apocalyptic vs. Dystopian Part II – What Is the Difference?

19 May

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 10.57.20 PMGuest Post by Ryan King, Author of the Land of Tomorrow Trilogy

(In Part I of this post series I discussed whether the difference between post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories matters. Arrow back for that.)

What is the difference between the post-apocalyptic and dystopian genres?

I found some interesting blog posts about this particular subject. Although I don’t agree with all their definitions and examples, these are three of the more helpful and well thought out blogs on the subject. The YA Highway admits to using Dystopian because it’s easier to spell although not accurate (and explains). Julie Kagawa, who authored a “dystopian saga” is emphatic about the differences, and author Rachel Tsoumbakos saw others tagging her book variously and wrote a post to clarify and differentiate based on the books relationship to Horror and target audiences (Adult vs. YA).

So, how do I personally think the categories should be defined? Thank you for asking.

Post-Apocalyptic: A story directly after/during an apocalypse. This should not be a thousand years after, but recently. One of the appealing qualities of true post-apocalyptic stories is the fact that the main characters know how bad things are. They lived before the apocalypse and truly grasp all that has been lost. Their horror is our horror.

Dystopian: A story about a reality/future that is not right. As opposed to a post-apocalyptic story, the main characters typically do not know that something is wrong with their world at first. Part of the appeal of the dystopian story is the characters discovery of how things are wrong and possibly a previous better world. Dystopian stories are frequently tied to something in our world/reality taken to an extreme. Sometimes dystopias emerge from a post-apocalyptic world, but enough time has passed that there are few reliable memories of Before.

Are there stories that fall into both categories? Certainly, but they are fairly rare. Margaret Atwood’s Madd Adam Trilogy comes to mind because the first two books are about a fully developed dystopian world that subsequently endures an apocalypse. It is only in the third book that it transitions into a post-apocalyptic tale.

Both of these fiction categories in my opinion are incredibly rich and difficult to do well. Neither category is considered mainstream, but fans of each are loyal and voracious in their reading. Nearly every reader of these categories could give you a list of the favorites and I also have those that I love best as I’m sure you do.

Keep watching for my guest posts here as I write a post-apocalyptic book review and a dystopian book review each month. I will limit these to books I would recommend others read. I’m always interested in discovering good books in each genre and hope to help others in a similar manner.

You can look over the first post-apocalyptic review here. Until later, keep reading my friends.


Ryan King is a career army officer with multiple combat tours who continues to serve in the military. He has lived, worked, and traveled throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. He writes post-apocalyptic, dystopian, thriller, horror, and action short stories, short novels, and novels.


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Posted by on May 19, 2014 in Genre Topics


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