Whether we read them with a wary eye to the future, or as a reminder of the good we have today, dystopian novels have been around for ages. Here is a list of my favorites — some well-known classics and more contemporary pieces.*
10. Station Eleven — Emily St. John Mandel
A well-done novel that moves through the beginning of the destruction of society, back to before, then 20 years after a plague wipes out most of humanity. Mandel threads connections through various characters that we see before the plague and after. The book however doesn’t focus on the world, but on the individuals and how they have come to view what it means to live in this world.
9. When She Woke — Hillary Jordan
A creative novel where, in order to shame and ostracize those who commit acts society feels are morally wrong, chemically alter the skin so the person is forced to ‘wear’ their shame. Relevant in today’s world of social media shaming and religious intolerance. See: Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
8. V for Vendetta — Alan Moore
One of the great graphic novels. In an alternate, fascist style England, one chooses to fight, seek vengeance, and right the wrongs of the society. After rescuing Evey, he takes her under his wing, prepares her to fight. Another read that seems more relevant today between Brexit and the US election.
7. The Giver — Lois Lowry
An amazing dystopia written for adolescents. The utopian society Jonas is born into hides dark secrets to create the perfect society. Jonas is picked to be a receiver of the memories — the powerful truth of the sacrifices the society has made to create a better world. Lowry knows her audience and the novel is an exploration of complex ideas in a manner that adolescents can understand, all wrapped in a story that challenges their conception of story.
6. Children of Men — P.D. James
In a world where men are infertile, society falls apart and is currently run by a dictator who implements policies like mass euthanasia of elderly. The main character, Theo is convinced to join a revolution, but he has second thoughts after meeting Julian. When he discovers she’s pregnant he has a whole new mission.
5. The Road — Cormac McCarthy
Little of what has caused the apocalypse, but the story, told through the eyes of a man and the boy he is caring for provides plenty of horrifying details about what humans resort to in order to survive.
4. Never Let Me Go — Kazuo Ishiguro
Classic Ishiguro understated narrative. Little is told outright, but we learn that society has created an entire class of people whose sole existence is devoted to maintaining that of those with privilege and money. See: Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
3. 1984 — George Orwell
The classic of dystopian novels, that is perhaps more relevant today than it was when written. If you haven’t read it, now would be the time. If you have, it may be time for a re-read.
2. Blindness — Jose Samarago
What would happen if people sudden went blind? Samarago explores the rapid disintegration of society and the impact on a small group of individuals thrown together by circumstance. Samarago’s writing is brilliant, elevating this dystopia to the level of literary masterpiece.
and finally — my favorite go-to dystopian novel:
1. The Handmaid’s Tale — Margaret Atwood
Now a classic, Atwood’s tale of a theocratic US. Recently again a best-seller, Atwood’s world seems all too possible today. The story is simple but layered standing up to repeated readings (not to mention a movie, an opera, and now a new series.) Atwood plays with language and symbols, twists them in the hands of the antagonists showing how easily language can be used against freedom. At the same time, the heroine, Offred, reclaims language in small ways, building the courage to resist. Atwood has created a frightening world but also amazing characters who fight for a better future.
*links will be added as soon as old reviews are posted on Throw-Back-Thursdays