There’s been a definite trend over the past ten years or so. Dystopian literature is making a comeback, in a big way. From the dawning of The Hunger Games, everyone and their preteen has been eating up this stories, without spoons, like some sort of wayward wanderers on a bleak hellscape, while Big Brother plots their impending …
You get the picture.
So many people have rated these books in so many ways. I’m not going to make a dent in that. I’m also not going to tell you which books are best, because let’s fact it, that subject has been essentially exhausted.
But I will tell you which ones I prefer based on entirely selfish and subjective reasons.
And before you ask me, no, there are no YA dystopias on this list, for several reasons. First of all, because there’s too many to name. Secondly, because they inevitably turn into love stories, and there are no happy endings here. And thirdly, because I don’t want to.
But I do want to tell you where I would want to live, given the choice, between alternative dystopias. Who knows? Maybe we’ll end up in one of these scenarios before we know it.
10. 1984 by George Orwell
Totalitarian government? Check. Creepy government watch program? Double-check. Weird, media-related brainwashing techniques? Boy, don’t even get me started.
Here’s the thing about 1984: it’s the quintessential dystopia. Frankly, it’s the platform that almost every YA dystopia is built upon. But there’s nothing fun about it. There are no clever twists, minus the world-building aspects of the book.
So while I love the book, I’m going to pass on this one. I like my freedom too much, especially when it comes to writing and media. Give me my Twitter feed or give me death.
9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Another classic example of a weirdly sexualized dystopia.
This one has a few more perks than the future of 1984. We’ve got some Shakespeare books and differing views on society. In fact, instead of prison cells, we’ve got fancy islands where we exile the more irregular members of society.
Though whether or not that scenario turns into Lord of the Flies at some point is anyone’s guess.
I’ll take my chances somewhere else, thank you.
8. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Wait a minute, didn’t we already cover this one?
Though Murakami’s title mirrors Orwell’s, he shows a world vastly different from the previous novel. Alternate realities. Cults. Ghostwriters. Little People. Plus, I’m a sucker for a story that’s set in Japan.
If you like weird sci-fi, I highly recommend this book.
I just wouldn’t want to live there.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think that jumping in and out of parallel universes would feel pretty jarring. Though I prefer other worlds to totalitarian regimes, I’ll still with my reality for right now, thank you.
7. Anthem by Ayn Rand
Here’s the thing about Ayn Rand: either you love her, or you love to hate her.
She’s a bit of a one-note writer(communism = BAD), but I’ve always been a fan of this, her shortest work. With simple characters and an even simpler plot, it’s about one man’s quest to return to the concept of individualism in an oppressive and communal society.
Not a bad way to live, necessarily. Except that even when the main character frees himself from the mantle of big government, his only option is to go into hermitage, with or without a viable mate. Plus, there’s the added bonus of realization that once he has children, he will no longer be in a solely individualist society. Two generations down, he’ll have created civilization.
I don’t really feel like waiting that long to get a coffee to go(the truest mark of civilization).
6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The only reason this book is halfway up the list is because I think I’d be lucky enough to avoid becoming a handmaid.
If you haven’t heard of this novel(by the way, what’s the name of that rock you’ve been living under?), it’s a dystopian set in a society where, similar to the story of Abram and Hagar in the Bible, rich men use additional means to add to their family in a time of low fertility.
Here’s what works for me in this world: the people who are oppressed are the ones who are already judged in our current system. Rich white men are free to do whatever they like while the rest of the world suffers. Like I said, I have a feeling that I wouldn’t be in danger in this world since I feel pretty comfortable in the one I already live in.
Seems pretty similar, doesn’t it?
But I’m all about solidarity. So if everybody else is suffering, then I’m going to have to pass, whether it affects me in the same way or not.
5. The Children of Men by P.D. James
Don’t even talk to me about the movie.
We’re following a common theme here in dystopias written by female authors featuring infertility. Set in the year 2021, themes include theology, generational dynamics, and lots and lots of guilt.
In theory, it’s not all that different from The Handmaid’s Tale. But I’d rather live in James’s world because at least everybody is miserable in the fairly same way together. It’s less about systemic injustice and more about the faults of humanity in general, which is just fine by me.
Plus, I really like babies.
4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Probably my all-time favorite dystopian in terms of storyline alone.
One man’s disillusionment with his seemingly idyllic life leads to a new discovery in the written word. Plus, it’s literally a huge metaphor for Plato’s allegory of the cave.
This is one case where I wouldn’t mind being acting as a part of a rebellious faction, especially when it involves books. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s one that I think I would be able to live with, as long as I have access to a good library.
3. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Maybe this whole blog post was just a subtle brag about reading the entirety of Infinite Jest all along.
To be honest, it’s hard to critique the setting of a novel like this because it’s just so huge. I don’t even know which part of the storyline to touch on: government coups? Tennis academies? The detriments of eating mold as a child?
So the only part of the story I wanted to focus on in this arbitrary rating system is the fact that the world stopped numbering years and started letting them be sponsored by outside companies.
Please join me in celebrating the Year of the Funko Pop.
2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Hello again, my Nobel-prize winning friend. Made anyone cry recently?
In a rare turn of events for someone like me, I actually saw the movie adaptation before I read the book. I highly recommend both. In fact, my favorite thing about the plot is how you can’t even tell you’re in a dystopian future until near the end of the story. That kind of subtlety gives me metaphorical chills.
I love it so much that I don’t want to spoil the plot. Let’s just say that only a very few select group of people have to suffer at all, and enjoy a fairly normal, even idyllic, life before their time on earth ends.
And even then, it’s not really…like I said, it’s hard to explain. But rest assured, there is not the same level of systemic oppression here as in The Handmaid’s Tale. The morality is a little fuzzy, but as the only version of me, I’d be fine. Actually, I’d be more than fine, with all of their medical advances, so this one is definitely preferable.
1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
And here’s our number one choice(that will catch only a few people by surprise.) And maybe it’s a little bit of a cop-out, because most of the novel occurs in more of a utopia than a dystopia, but all of the elements are there.
Most of the story takes place after an epidemic destroys most of society and life as people know it. The plot follows several characters in different living situations featuring an airport, a cult, and a troupe of Shakespearian actors.
Now if you know anything about me at all, you’d know which one I’d choose(WARNING, WARNING: theatre nerd alert). But what makes this my number one is simple: choice.
That’s the whole point of this exercise, really. In an actual, realistic dystopia, nobody has a choice. Everything is dictated by their particular surroundings. To be even giving the choice between worst-case scenarios is not something to be taken lightly.
Remember that next time you don’t know which coffee to order, which movie to see, or which book to buy.