Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dystopian books

Yesterday, we told you about two of our favorite dystopian books. But we also mentioned that a large chunk of our favorite books of all time are set in dystopian worlds, so we wanted to tell you about more of them. (Many of these have been covered before, so I'll be brief.)

Uglies series (Scott Westerfeld)
I mentioned this one in my all-time favorites post, and we also discussed it when we introduced you to the author, Scott Westerfeld. This dystopia was caused by a virus that ate oil (basically). This - among other things - caused widespread panic, lots of people died... and then the cities were built. The cities in Tally's world are self-contained and self-sufficient. Tally's city has very strict rules. Kids are called Uglies because they are pre-ops. Once you turn sixteen, you get a mandatory (and coveted) operation to make you into a Pretty. This rids everyone of the need for emotions like jealousy, because everyone will get the surgery and then they'll all be treated exactly the same.

Feed (M. T. Anderson)
I also mentioned this one among my all-time favorites. In this world, everyone - almost - gets a feed installed in their brain, which allows them to connect to everyone else with the feed. (It's the internet... in your head.) It advertises to you, teaches you, helps you run your life, and facilitates social interaction. But, you find out through the course of the book, it isn't perfect.

1984 (George Orwell)
This was Cassy's pick for "favorite assigned reading." This setting is all about Big Brother watching you. Sure, everyone's needs are provided for and everyone can - and does - work, etc., but at the cost of their privacy and freedom of expression.

The Giver (Lois Lowry)
This dystopia focuses on equality (much like Uglies does). Everyone has converted to "Sameness" which means they don't really experience emotion. The story really embodies the idea that ignorance is bliss, because Jonas is given the task of being the one person in their society who remembers things. The Giver gives him memories and knowledge, and Jonas has to decide whether people are better off being blissfully ignorant or if he should share his newfound knowledge.

I Am Legend (Richard Matheson)
We touched on I Am Legend in the "Vampire Fiction" post. On one hand, it's hard to call a society of one man a dystopia, but on the other hand, [spoiler I can't mention that makes it so that "dystopia" is a more logical label]. This is your typical infection novel basis: disease is unleashed, wipes out almost everybody and turns many of them into monsters who want to kill the remaining living.

Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
In the world of Fahrenheit 451, firemen exist not to put out fires (we've advanced enough technologically to have houses put out their own fires) but to start them, to burn any reading material they find. Reading is illegal. People should be satisfied with the mindless drivel available through their wall screens (floor-to-ceiling televisions, essentially) and not think too hard. It's another "ignorance is bliss" story, combined with warning of the dangers of book burning and censorship.

Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
This was the first favorite I listed on the blog, for Banned Books Week. On the surface, this is a utopia: people are specifically bred to belong to a certain caste (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, or Epsilon) with the Alphas being capable of higher levels of thought and function, and the Epsilons being barely functioning dolts who do menial work. Everyone is taught from birth to love the caste they belong to and the work they are meant to do and their station in life. The words "parent," "mother," and "father" are taboo, dirty words, because nobody has parents; they are all grown in test tubes. Socialization is vital, and anyone who is standoffish or solitary is considered unusual and potentially dangerous. Change is bad, difference is bad, and thinking is definitely bad.

Bonus dystopia:

Divergent series (Veronica Roth)
Neither of us have actually read this series yet, so we can't say much about it. But it didn't feel right leaving it off the list, because it sounds really good, and everyone we know who has read it, loves it. From what I have culled from synopses and reviews, teens in this world compete to belong to one of a number of factions, each dedicated to a particular characteristic. Our protagonist has to choose between following her family's tradition or being her true self.

Player Piano (Kurt Vonnegut)
I also haven't read this one, but my sister gave it to my brother for Christmas and said it's one of her favorites, plus I like Vonnegut in general, so I thought it was worth mentioning. This dystopia covers the mechanization of labor (eliminating the need for humans in that field) and the chasm between upper class and lower class created by this development. It has also been published under the title Utopia 14.

Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
(Cassy has read this one; I have not.) This is a little different from the other dystopian settings, in that this one is more of a microcosm. Typically, dystopian fiction discusses humanity or society as a whole, but Lord of the Flies focuses specifically on a group of boys who are stranded on an uninhabited island. (It does take place during a nuclear war, so these boys' situation is connected to world-wide problems, but that isn't the focus of the book.)

The Running Man (Stephen King)
This is a dystopian story about the huge difference between the upper and lower classes. No matter how much you want it to be, it is not about the dangers of reality television. It does employ reality television as a tool for exploiting the lower class for the entertainment of the upper class, but reality TV did not cause the problems in this dystopia (no more than it does in the Hunger Games universe, where it is, again, a method of using the pain of the lower class to provide entertainment to the upper class). I'm not defending reality TV, because I think it is just awful, (like most popular television programming) but it is created by people, just like these fictional dystopian settings are caused by people (albeit fictional ones).

This is, by no means, a complete list of dystopian fiction (or even a complete list of all the dystopian fiction we highly recommend). It's just a sampling. If you have further recommendations, we would love to hear about them in the comments, or tweet them @ReviewMeTwice!


  1. I forgot about "Lord of the Flies." I would absolutely put that on my favorites list as well. For some reason I never really thought of it as Utopian/dystopian fiction, but it totally is. I forgot about "Running Man" as well. I saw the movie (with Ahhnold)several years ago but I've never read the book. I had no idea it was written by Steven King.

    1. You know, I had the SAME thought about Lord of the Flies. I didn't really think of it as dystopia, but then Alex pointed out how it was.

  2. There's another good dystopian series I've just read called "The Maze Runner". It's story is spread over 3 books (which aren't terribly long). I just wanted to suggest them to you guys, if you haven't read them yet. I wouldn't say they're on my favorites list, but they are certainly entertaining. :)

    1. The premise looks really good. Alex will put it on the list. :)