Who loves dystopias? Me, clearly, because I wrote one, but still. A good dystopia story is totally cathartic, the ultimate act of schadenfreude.
Holy crap. Too many big words. To review:
Dystopia: a “negative utopia,” i.e. a supposedly perfect world gone horribly wrooooong.
Schadenfreude: A German word meaning “happiness at the misfortune of others.”
…Anyway, dystopias. I’m sure you were forced to read one or two in school, if you went to school in the US…in any case, here’s a few of my favorites, in no particular order (with Amazon links for your convenience):
Utopia by Sir Thomas More
This is worth a read for sure, even if it does mean putting on your Literature Hat and slogging through some archaic language. A traveler is describing this perfect land of Utopia that he’d visited. I was interested in what parts of the society actually seemed like a good idea (women working) and what sounded like utter crap (people will stop caring about gold is we make our toilets out of gold and don’t use gold for money).
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
This is a rebellious book. It was first published in Russia in 1921, and immediately banned. While it was available in other countries, Russia kept it banned until Glasnost in 1988. I think anything worth strict government quashing for 67 years is worth reading! Really, We is a Classic Dystopia, in the vein of 1984 and Brave New World. The society in We is authoritarianism complete with names-as-numbers and lack of emotion. It wrestles with the question “How do you break out of your own mental prisons?”
Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
I admit it: I have never seen the movie. While I intend to, I think I’ve been putting it off because film can never capture the voice of the book. The story is told in first person from Alex’s point of view. For those who aren’t familiar, Alex is an insanely criminal 15-year-old in a dark future England whom the government tries to “fix” with mind control. The entire book is written in dialect, a strange Russian-based language to which you don’t know all the words and have to pick up as you read along. The language removes you a bit from the visceral violence of the plot, and allows you to read with more of a cold, Alex-like mindset. Whether or not you liked the movie, the book is absolutely worth reading.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Yes, you probably had to read it in middle school. Here’s what I appreciate about The Giver: While most dystopias are a conservative or authoritarian society gone wrong, The Giver is a liberal society gone wrong. When I read it again recently, I was a little embarrassed to admit that I really liked a lot of the things in their society…the lack of cars, the open sharing of emotions, the coherent role for young adults… of course, there’s a lot about it that is Horribly Wrong as well. Lois Lowry actually wrote two sequels, Gathering Blue and The Messenger. They were good, but not as genius as the original. I think the ambiguous ending was one of the great things about The Giver, and its sequels make it a little less ambiguous. Nevertheless, they’re interesting enough to read and draw your own conclusions.
Y: The Last Man (series) by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, et al.
In 2002, a mysterious plague wipes out any animal, embryo, and sperm with a Y chromosome. The only survivors of the plague are a man named Yorick and a male capuchin monkey…and, of course, all of the females in the world. Perhaps this series is a little more “post-apocalyptic” than “dystopian,” but in either case, its vision of what the world would look like if all the men died is pretty damn fascinating.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
I’m about a third of the way through this so far. I am reading it in small doses, because it’s depressing as hell. I think it’ll actually have a redemptive ending, but good lord. I have to be in a masochistic mood to read it; it’s set in a grim and horrible future America where crime and corruption are so rampant that people live in these little walled enclaves, growing their own food and trying not to get robbed/raped/shot.
In another post, I’ll touch on dystopian film, which is a delicious subject too big to be broached here. Lately Mikeatron and I have been doing double feature movie dates, where each of us rents a video that the other one hasn’t seen. So far I’ve managed to pick out weird and disturbing movies (Cube, eXistenZ), and he’s managed to get heartwarming 90s films (Enemy Mine, The Professional). I don’t know what this says about our respective personalities. Perhaps he is a big softy at heart. Perhaps I am not. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence.