As a writer of “dystopian noir” or what my friend Martin calls “noir-wellian” novels, I was excited to see that this week is noir week at tor.com. You see, my second novel, Scorch City, will be out on August 30 and this provides me with the excuse to talk about creating a noir-tinged dystopia.
What is noir fiction, exactly? Most people, I think, have a sense of the basic elements: tough, cynical protagonists, bleak settings, femme fatales, an atmosphere suffused with threat and violence, and so on. Another critical element that is often overlooked in the haze of the atmospherics is the sense that the protagonist is in over his head against forces that are bigger than he/she is and indifferent, if not actually hostile. To say there’s an existentialist streak in noir fiction is probably understating it. In other words, to begin with, noir fiction is not that far removed from a type of dystopia.
Good dystopian fiction allows an author to explore some theme by creating a society in which certain societal qualities or traits are exaggerated. The classic example, of course, is Orwell’s totalitarian dystopia in 1984. Because dystopias are so dependent on “world building,” they tend to be set at some point in the future, allowing the author more-or-less free reign in their creation. But the past can be seen, to me at least, as equally fertile ground.