A dystopia (from Ancient Greek δυσ- "bad, hard" and τόπος "place"; alternatively cacotopia or simply anti-utopia) is a speculated community or society that is undesirable or frightening. It is often treated as an antonym of utopia, a term that was coined by Sir Thomas More and figures as the title of his best known work, published in 1516, which created a blueprint for an ideal society with minimal crime, violence and poverty. The relationship between utopia and dystopia is in actuality not one simple opposition, as many utopian elements and components are found in dystopias as well, and vice versa.
Dystopias are often characterized by rampant fear or distress, tyrannical governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society. Distinct themes typical of a Dystopian Society include: complete control over the people in a society through the usage of propaganda, heavy censoring of information or denial of free thought, worshiping an unattainable goal, the complete loss of individuality, and heavy enforcement of conformity. Despite certain overlaps, dystopian fiction is distinct from post-apocalyptic fiction, and an undesirable society is not necessarily dystopian. Dystopian societies appear in many fictional works and artistic representations, particularly in stories set in the future. The best known by far is George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Other famous examples are Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953). Dystopian societies appear in many sub-genres of fiction and are often used to draw attention to society, environment, politics, economics, religion, psychology, ethics, science, or technology. Some authors use the term to refer to existing societies, many of which are, or have been, totalitarian states or societies in an advanced state of collapse. Dystopias, through an exaggerated worst-case scenario, often make a criticism about a current trend, societal norm, or political system.
The entire substantial sub-genre of alternative history works depicting a world in which Nazi Germany won the Second World War can be considered as dystopias. So can other works of Alternative History, in which a historical turning point led to a manifestly repressive world. For example, the 2004 mockumentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, and Ben Winters' Underground Airlines, in which slavery in the United States continues to the present, with "electronic slave auctions" carried out via the Internet and slaves controlled by electronic devices implanted in their spines, or Keith Roberts Pavane in which 20th Century Britain is ruled by a Catholic theocracy and the Inquisition is actively torturing and burning "heretics".
Some scholars, such as Gregory Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent, make certain distinctions between typical synonyms of dystopias. For example, Claeys and Sargent define literary dystopias as societies imagined as substantially worse than the society in which the author writes. Some of these are anti-utopias, which criticise attempts to implement various concepts of utopia. In the most comprehensive treatment of the literary and real expressions of the concept, Dystopia: A Natural History, Claeys offers a historical approach to these definitions. Here the tradition is traced from early reactions to the French Revolution. Its commonly anti-collectivist character is stressed, and the addition of other themes—the dangers of science and technology, of social inequality, of corporate dictatorship, of nuclear war—are also traced. A psychological approach is also favored here, with the principle of fear being identified with despotic forms of rule, carried forward from the history of political thought, and group psychology introduced as a means of understanding the relationship between utopia and dystopia. Andrew Norton-Schwartzbard noted that "written many centuries before the concept "dystopia" existed, Dante's Inferno in fact includes most of the typical characteristics associated with this genre – even if placed in a religious framework rather than in the future of the mundane world, as modern dystopias tend to be". In the same vein, Vicente Angeloti remarked that "George Orwell's emblematic phrase, a boot stamping on a human face — forever, would aptly describe the situation of the denizens in Dante's Hell. Conversely, Dante's famous inscription Abandon all hope, ye who enter here would have been equally appropriate if placed at the entrance to Orwell's "Ministry of Love" and its notorious "Room 101".