Dystopain Novels: Top 10 Dystopias
Dystopian Novels - An Introduction to Dystopia
Dystopian novels are some of my favorites. There's just something about the idea of dark and disturbing futures that really makes for some intense reading. There are many different types of dystopia, from the feminist dystopias that Margaret Atwood constantly visits, to the neo-medieval post nuclear wastelands made popular by hundreds of books (and the Mad Max movies), or the police state/false utopia. It's interesting to note that there are so many different ways to get to these frightening worlds. My personal favorites are the post-apocalyptic dystopias, as there is just something about a story where the entire world and unknown history are as much characters as any living breathing human being in the text. Aside from being a brilliant genre that can teach you how to be a sucessful writer, these many different unhappy worlds offer literally hundreds of visions of how the world can (or will) go wrong, and often offer some seriously chilling food for thought as we go about our "normal" lives. The following is my list of the top ten dystopian novels currently out there.
Top 10 Dystopian Novels
The Making of "The Children of Men"
Clip from "The Running Man" - Okay Movie, Book is Amazing
Great Dystopian Novels
#10 The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
This is probably the most famous example of a "feminist dystopia," and this story comes from the first person point of view of Offred. Offred is a maid in a time when fertile women are forced to be breeding machines to keep the human population going. This novel takes place in a world that exists because this is a post-nuclear world where many women can't have children. This is a very theocratic society, and this dystopian novel tends to be very pro-feminist and anti-religious, which causes it to often be protested. This is a great dystopian tale that is frightening because the logic of how the society became the way it is portrayed is a very believable manner.
#9 Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)
Most of William Gibson's novels revolve around a dystopian future society, but Neuromancer may be the best of them all. This novel won the sci-fi "triple crown" for writers by winning the Nebula, Hugo, and Philip K. Dick awards. Neuromancer takes place in the seedy underground of a Japanese city where a computer hacker is hired to work on the ultimate hack. In a world flushed with AI, virtual reality, genetic engineering, and corporations overpowering nations, the adventure follows. Gibson beat many modern sci-fi writers to the punch, and this dystopian novel is one of the most influential in modern times. Many common terms like "surfing the web" originated with this book.
#8 Iron Heel by Jack London (1908)
Iron Heel is an excellent dystopian novel about the rise of a tyrannical corporate oligarchy in the United States. In Jack London's dystopia, he doesn't pay attention to technology the way most future dystopian science fiction novels do now. This work stressed changes in society and politics, with the oligarchy formed by robber barons whom bankrupt all the middle class and seize power before enforcing a "caste system" of workers. This was a fantastic dystopian novel that was far ahead of its time and seems to be more of an accurate warning as the wealth difference between rich and poor continues to grow.
#7 The Running Man by Richard Bachman (1982)
Written by Stephen King under the pen name of Richard Bachman, "The Running Man" is a fantastic dystopian novel about a frightening future where ratings and entertainment takes form in a man hunt, and where even the "winners" are losers. "The Running Man" as a dystopia is even more terrifying seeing how extreme reality television is becoming, and the influence it has. This novel is far superior to the movie, and in my opinion is one of the best novels written by Stephen King. "The Long Walk" is also an honorable mention, and also qualifies as a Richard Bachman dystopia. Because this was written before people knew Richard Bachman really was Stephen King, a first edition paperback is still valuable as an antique book, as well, making this among the great list of books to collect for beginners.
#6 The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955)
This dystopian novel is another example of a post-nuclear world. This time the dystopia comes from a societal "need" for purity. As humans are being born with increasing levels of mutations and deformities, the state decides for the "greater good" of everyone to execute anyone who isn't "perfect," meaning even one extra toe can be a death sentence. This attempt at forcing perfection in a post apocalyptic world is disturbing and effective, and has spawned many imitators.
#5 The Children of Men by PD James (1992)
Most people will know about the film with Clive Owen and Julianne Moore. The movie was very good, but is far different from the book. In this world, for reasons unknown, all men's sperm count plummeted to zero, and without reason or explanation, mankind now faces its own extinction. The fear mongering during this time has allowed governments extraordinary powers to keep the peace, and when a woman becomes pregnant, the implications are enormous. The government's reaction to this challenge of hope, as well as the political implications in this world are astounding, making for an incredible read (and the movie isn't half bad, either).
#4 The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)
"The Time Machine" is one of the best science fiction novels to ever be written. This novel is the story of "The Time Traveler" who builds a machine that allows him to travel to the far distant future. While this might not seem dystopian at first glance, but a seemingly gentle and happy society is plagued by predators who harvest people for food...if that doesn't qualify as a crappy dystopian society, I don't know what does. The hero tells his story to a man of his time, grabs weapons, and goes back into the future never to return. This novel is where the term "time machine" even came from, and is an incredibly depressing look at the far future of humanity.
#3 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
This isn't the most well written novel, but it is one of the big three of the dystopian science fiction novels. This could very well be the most recognizable of the big three, as "1984" is synonymous with tyrannical governments, fascism, and dystopian science fiction. Even the phrases "1984" and "Big Brother" are now part of the common culture. Orwell's detailed novel shows how a government can manipulate the people by manipulating the truth and manipulating the news. This book is the source for arguing against a far right government getting unfettered power through group think and constant supervision of the masses.
#2 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
Guy Montag begins this classic novel as a fireman: meaning he is a man society calls on to burn all books, which are outlawed. Unlike "1984" or "Brave New World," "451" doesn't speak politically against the left or the right, but speaks against the dumbing down of society, with a very specific focus on how Hollywood pop culture slush and TV entertainment can create an entire nation of people who are not only incapable of fighting for their rights, but who don't even realize the importance of doing so. This is a brilliant novel that shows Guy going from soldier of the state to an independent free thinker who must go on the run to survive, and was written almost 50 years before these concerns became wide spread.
#1 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
While this dystopian masterpiece and "Fahrenheit 451" could be interchangeable as the top two, "Brave New World" gets the nod because the writing itself is the best. This novel is incredible, showing a society where left leaning thinking and self hedonism is taken so far to the extreme that one person's utopia turns out to be an appalling place where the irony of a peaceful existence has caused society to lose all concept of art, honor, religious beliefs, or anything that often defines culture. The "utopia" has people who have no sympathy, no empathy, and this instituted "heavenly" vision of a future is as chilling as any other on this list.
These are ten of the best dystopian novels out there. This is a great genre of fiction, and if you're not familiar with these works, you should definitely take a look at the many great works of dystopian fiction.
Photo by rekanzie from Flickr
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