All of you probably know how much I love books with dystopian societies. Last year, I dedicated a whole post to why I love dystopia and why dystopia matters, where I argued that dystopia matters because it is terrifying (and it should be), it draws our attention to important issues, and that it encourages critical thinking and raises awareness.
In the past, I’ve been asked what were some good books that had dystopian societies, especially for people who were not familiar with the genre. So today, I’ll be recommending four books that are, what I regard as, cornerstones (or just really darn good pieces) of dystopian fiction. Since I had a criteria for my previous book recommendation post on mental illness, I thought I would include a criteria for these books too. The following books:
- have a dystopian society that has a facade of a utopia
- are inherently critical and/or critique an ideology or a sociopolitical idea
1. NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR BY GEORGE ORWELL
I know I hold this book high on a pedestal, but it holds a special place in my heart: it was the first dystopian novel that made me feel… awake. Nineteen-Eighty Four may drag with its exposition, but the ending packs a punch so powerful and jarring that you cannot help but think.
Why you should read Nineteen Eighty-Four
- Delves into scary but necessary ideas relevant to today’s society: surveillance, fear politics, the insidious effects and consequences of perpetual war, nationalism and fascism, and censorship.
- Explores what a society might look like if we lost our basic, human right to freedom and liberty.
- Birthed phrases such as:
- ‘doublethink’ (act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct; e.g. we must fight for peace)
- ‘2 + 2 = 5’ (something that is untrue is made ‘true’ through control and dogma, therefore reshaping reality)
- ‘memory hole’ (to alter/remove pieces of history that are inconvenient or embarrassing to, essentially, rewrite history that fit the Society’s propaganda)
- and, of course, ‘Big Brother is watching you’.
Find Nineteen Eighty-Four in Goodreads
2. BRAVE NEW WORLD BY ALDOUS HUXLEY
I’ll admit: I need to re-read this book again. I read this shortly after Nineteen Eighty-Four, and what I wanted from Brave New World was severely influenced by my reading experience with the former. Nonetheless, Brave New World offers a very different perspective of society – one that is, dare I say it, a little more relevant to today’s culture (link opens to webcomic comparing BNW to 1984).
Why you should read Brave New World
- Explores consumerism and how it can shape and dictate society; how excessive production and consumption can make people happily ignorant and complacent.
- Examines how people are bombarded with meaningless media, making them apathetic and adverse to uncomfortable truths.
- As per both points above, the society of Brave New World is an example of a trivial and superficial society – a future that our society could lead to.
- The misguided pursuit of technological improvement, and how it can change societal values and result in a loss of empathy, art, religion, and culture.
Find Brave New World in Goodreads
3. THE HANDMAID’S TALE BY MARGARET ATWOOD
People call the society depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale as the ‘feminist nightmare’, and to an extent, I agree. Though the society portrayed in this book is ‘extreme’, it demands us to examine and speculate the ideological manifestations of the society in the book.
Why you should read The Handmaid’s Tale
- Explores an authorative theoracy in which women are dehumanized and diminished to be ‘objects’ for pleasure, reproduction, and labour.
- How Gilead uses an ‘Other’ to justify their authority and rule.
- Examines how humanity adapts to disasters and normalizes atrocities and injustice, which encourages forgetfulness of the past.
- Provides an opportunity for the reader to locate the ‘self’ within a totalitarian regime, and how the self changes under such conditions.
4. NEVER LET ME GO BY KAZUO ISHIGURO
I don’t think Never Let Me Go typically appears in most dystopian novel lists, but that’s why I’d like to recommend this book. Its dystopia themes are not very overt, but its a spectacular dystopian nonetheless. Unfortunately I have to tread carefully while talking about this book because I would hate to spoil this book for you, so excuse the vagueness! (If you have read this book, please do not spoil it for those who haven’t!)
Why you should read Never Let Me Go
- Explores how human relationships transcend in dystopian systems.
- Asks important and profound questions concerning identity and humanity when we are irrevocably entangled in a pervasive system.
- Examines autonomy, the length and limitations to rights.
- Speculates the future of medicine, science, and state of humanity.
Find Never Let Me Go in Goodreads.
The above are my top four when it comes to dystopian novels, but there are plenty of others as well, all offering different ideas and criticisms. Others that I can recommend are:
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collin
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (though I think BNW is superior)
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
(I also recommend The Giver if you want to see how a dystopia should not be written; read this review of The Giver, which I wholeheartedly agree with.)
After researching for this recommendations post, I have found a plethora of dystopian books that I haven’t read yet, so I hope to read to read other great works such as The Children of Men, The Time Machine, and Unwind.
So friends, share with me:
- What are some of your favourite books that have a dystopian society?
- What do you like about books that explore utopian/dystopian societies?
- What does dystopia mean to you?
- What do you think of this comic strip? Do you think was right – Orwell or Huxley?
Again, thank you for stopping by – all of you are wonderful – and I hope you all have a pleasant week!