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Why is 1984 ranked as the top dystopian science-fiction novel? Because everybody knows that Big Brother is watching you! This novel from the 40s is so popular that even morally ambiguous reality television models itself on this fictional world. The ideas in this novel were so fucking terrifying, yet amazingly vivid in a brutal, ugly, yet beautiful way, that a generation of creatives -writers, film producers, television producers, artists - have been creating novels, movies, television shows, and artwork that is inspired by Orwell's creation.
If you haven't read 1984, it should be on the top of your "to read" list, if not for the most clinical and unappealing sex scenes you will ever read (Winston and Julia's sex acts more like a contraceptive than sexual napalm), but for the eerily predictive discourse on the surveillance society and media controlled by the government and altered by the government to suit its political purposes. Winston lives in Oceania, previously known as Great Britain, and works for the government, "the Party", at the Ministry of Truth, altering the published past to ensure that the Party never contradicts itself.
Winston wishes for privacy, freedom, and love, but cannot express this as it is a thoughtcrime, punishable by death. Finding evidence of the party's corruption during his work day, and being thrust into a love affair with the treasonous Julia, Winston defies the law and has thoughts of overthrowing the party. Amongst the serious themes and discourse, I must admit to wondering how Winston had such an aptitude for finding abandoned places for sexy rendezvous with Julia in his controlled environment. 1984 should come with a mental health warning - if you weren't depressed before you opened it, you certainly will be once you're finished.
Everyone loves the idea of the thinking man's fireman (particularly middle aged women who read Fifty Shades of Grey), but that's not why Fahrenheit 451 made it to second on this list. Bradbury made his bread and butter with short horror stories, but also wrote one of the most popular dystopian science-fiction novels.
Why is it so popular? It's definitely the most accessible dystopian science fiction novel -the science is soft and easy to digest, the word count is short, and the theme of society's dependence on technology is so subtle that it probably goes over the heads of many contemporary readers who are busy plugged into their iPhones, iPads, and whatever else they have in their sockets and ears -they're too busy staring at their screens to realize it's a metaphor. Oh, and lots of action. Who doesn't love fire, chases, and explosions?
The novel follows Guy Montag, in a dystopian American society where books and intellectual thought are banned. Guy is a fireman in a society where firemen don't put out fires, they burn contraband books, and the houses the banned books are found in. Montag never questions this destruction, until his wife attempts to kill herself, and he meets a neighborhood girl who believes in freedom of expression, thought, and in the ideas in books. Guy begins to hoard the books he is sent to destroy, and reads them in secret. When he's found out, he goes on the run.
In a deliciously ironic move, when the book originally came out, it was banned in various schools for "questionable themes." Looking back, this looks like authoritarian institutions becoming uncomfortable about the parallels between the book and society. Scarily, the novel was banned as recently as 1998 in a Missouri high school for using the words "God damn". In between bannings, the novel retrospectively won a Hugo award.
This book ranks third on this list, and let's be frank here, because everybody appreciates sex and drugs woven into an intricate story line to pep up an otherwise depressing future. A future with sanctioned drugs and bi-weekly orgies, you say? Why is this future considered to be a dystopia and not a utopia? Probably because you have no choice about dying at the ripe old age of 60. At least you'll die young, beautiful and full of health, not having known pain, ugliness or hardship.
Huxley's Brave New World portrays a hedonistic society (sans the hindrance of pesky moral repercussions) called the "World State", controlled by "World controllers" who ensure stability through a five tiered caste system, and ration a drug called Soma to members of every caste, so that no one ever feels pain or remains unhappy. Long term relationships are discouraged, babies are "decanted" (born in test tubes), and the idea of parents and families is disgusting. Humans are conditioned pre and post-natally to believe certain truths a pleasant way of describing society being brainwashed.
Brave New World also enjoys the honor of being one of the most banned books for "negative activities", which we can only assume means all of the fun things in the book. And on this note, it leaves us with the moral that if you take away all of the unpleasantness from life, how can you know what is pleasurable and enjoy it?This novel has something to appeal to everyone: science fiction fans, dystopia/utopia fans, car enthusiasts, drug addicts, polygamists, polyamorous people, and Shakespeare snobs.
A venture capitalist with a brain-damaged mother. A technology that can transform the world. A ruthless enemy with a dark agenda.
A venture capitalist with a brain-damaged mother. A technology that can transform the world. A ruthless enemy with a dark agenda.
Packed to the brim with non-stop action and thought-provoking science, Mind Machines is an intensely complex sci-fi thriller you don’t want to miss. The unpredictable plot hooks you immediately, and the snarky narration lightens even the darkest scenes. The inventive Brainocyte technology will appeal to die-hard fans of the genre as well as casual readers.
The characters are well-developed and the relationships are realistic. As entertaining as it is clever, Mind Machines is a story you won’t soon forget. Get the Kindle ebook copy here, paperback here or audiobook here.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep ranks number 4 on this list because of the insane popularity this novel and its film adaptation, Blade Runner, enjoyed. It sits at 51 on the Locus Poll Award for All-Time Best Science Fiction Novel before 1990. I blame this book entirely for my childhood belief that when I was an adult, I'd be driving a hover car. Come 2013, and I'm not exactly filled with confidence that in less than a decade, society will: a) have advanced technologically enough to develop a hover car; and b) advanced socially enough to figure out how to drive upwards and downwards, when they can barely even figure out how to drive straight on a road. The world Phillip K Dick creates in this novel spans sci-fi, dystopias, and post-apocalyptic society.
The world suffers the ravages of World War Terminus. Animals are endangered or extinct due to radiation poisoning, and owning a pet is a status symbol. A bounty hunter, Rick Deckard, must "retire" six escaped androids, while John Isidore assists the androids. The novel explores what it means to be human, contrasting humans with the androids, who lack the ability to empathize. In some ways, the present is a disappointment because of the vividly brutal and simultaneously beautiful way Phillip K Dick painted it to be. We have no robots, let alone robots that we're disappointed with because of how starkly non-human they are.
If you think you know all about this novel because you've seen Blade Runner, you're wrong. Blade Runner shows a sympathetic point of view, while the novel shows a distinctly anti artificial intelligence sentiment, with robots being deplored for their inability to feel and think like humans.
This novel prevented its writer from bombing Monte Cassino in WW11 (at least, that's what I make of his background on Wikipedia. Is it defamatory to make that assumption online after someone's passed away?), but aside from preventing violence, it ranks at number 5 because the High and Mighty Legion of Nerds deemed it one of the best science fiction novels, nominating it for the Hugo Award in 1961. Needless to say, it won. Since then it's been recognized three times with Locus Poll Awards for All-Time Best Science Fiction Novel.
Miller's novel spans thousands of years, and is set in a Catholic monastery in the desert of the southwestern United States as civilization rebuilds itself after suffering the Flame Deluge, a devastating nuclear war. In their monastery in the Utah desert, the monks of the Order of St. Leibowitz the Engineer preserve the information and relics of their founder, - the blessed blueprint, the sacred shopping list and the holy shrine of Fallout Shelter. The novel successful addresses a horribly bleak theme of mankind's' endless self-destruction with humor and a light touch.
Unlike most religious science fiction (and Christian writers, ahem, CS Lewis) this novel is so clever with its multifaceted layers of discourse regarding man, God, science, religion, death, and despair, and its written in a strangely warm manner, that you don't feel like you're being lectured at about the divine ways of Christianity. Worried it's going to be too preachy? There's a two headed woman, an immortal Jew and rocket ships. Now who wouldn't be entertained by that?
Believe it or not, Stephen King didn't only write hokey horror novels that weren't particularly scary, with completely convoluted "why the fuck did the clown turn into an alien-spider" plots. He also wrote one of the most important and seminal dystopian science fiction novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
The Running Man was written in 1985, but makes King look like a clairvoyant when you think about contemporary society. The novel is set in dystopian United States in 2025, the economy is in ruins, and violence is on the rise (sound anything like the current United States? I know I'm scared). Ben Richards is unemployed, and his wife forced into prostitution to keep the family surviving.
Ben participates in a game show called the Running Man. Contestants are declared enemies of the state, and to win 100 billion "New Dollars" they must survive being chased by Hunters trying to kill them for 30 days. Ben Richards turns out to do the best job of running from the Hunters in the history of the show. Common to almost all dystopian science fiction, themes of a corrupt government are heavy, with Ben's messages to the public altered by the government in power.
The book is set out in a countdown format, starting with the first chapter "Minus 100 and Counting" with the numbers decreasing until the last chapter "Minus 000 and counting." This format and pacing makes you feel like you're running a marathon right along with Ben.The Running Man is the novel that everyone should be reading in place of the Hunger Games. If you ever feel the compulsion to read that trilogy, please get a Bachman fix instead - dirtier, grimier, and scarier in a realistic way. Warning: do not read the introduction by King that comes with some versions of this book, it gives away the ending! Why, oh WHY do authors insist on doing this?
Another childhood favorite; I felt slightly ripped off that I didn't have any telepathic abilities, despite how hard I tried to communicate to my sister solely using our minds.The Chrysalids, also published as "Re-birth" in the United States, is a science fiction dystopia set in a post-apocalyptic world a few thousand years in the future. The inhabitants of Labrador are vaguely aware of a technologically advanced race before them, the "Old People".
They practice a form of fundamentalist Christianity and believe that to prevent another Tribulation (which we assume was a nuclear war), they need to preserve normality in life. Humans with minor mutations are considered "Blasphemies"; the devil's work, and are either killed or sterilized and banished to the lawless Fringes.David, the ten year old son of a religious figure, becomes friends with Sophie, a mutant who has concealed her 6 toed feet all of her life.
David keeps her secret, harboring his own mutation his telepathic abilities. When Sophie is discovered and her family tries to escape, David wonders at the persecution and cullings. Eventually David and his group of telepaths are exposed and sent to the Fringes, pursued by villagers intent on capturing and interrogating them. David's sister Petra's abilities are extremely advanced, and through her they contact an advanced society.
If there was ever a case made for why fundamentalism in any religion is evil, this is it. Something different? Oooh, quick, let's kill it! We can't kill it? Let's ban it! This book is my example of a dystopia - a world so ignorant that it will outlaw and destroy anything that is different to what's considered the norm.
If you've seen the cheesy Warehouse 13 on the SyFy channel (and for those who aren't familiar with Warehouse 13, imagine if NCIS had slightly more realistic and personable characters, came with an Indiana Jones steampunk feel, and was about collecting supernatural artifacts that were dangerous to humans.), H.G Wells is a super attractive, bisexual, lethal, yet proper English woman.
Why is Wells cool, aside from the sexy English woman connotations? He coined the concept of time travel and the term "time machine", his story is credited with making these concepts popular, and he's responsible for an idea that is still popular in modern literature - using a vehicle that allows the operator to selectively travel through time.
The narrator, "the Time Traveler" invents a time travelling machine that he tests out with a journey to 802,701 AD, where he meets the Eloi, a society of simple adults. His time machine is stolen in this world by the evil Morlock, who live underground in darkness and only surface at night. He discovers machinery in the Morlocks' quarters that assists the above-ground paradise the Eloi live in. Exploring their tunnels he finds out they feed on the Eloi, and use them as livestock. The Morlock try to bait the Traveler with his machine, but he escapes with it, and jumps 30 million years from his own time. He sees some horrible scenes, the last living things on Earth dying, and the Earth's rotation ceasing as the sun dies out with all living things. Overwhelmed he returns to his lab, arriving three hours after he left.
This novel is also one of the earliest examples of the dying earth subgenre - sci-fi that takes place towards the end of earth's existence, the end of time.
Gibson, the King of Cyberpunk, deserves this position on this list with Neuromancer, a satirical comment on multinational corporates and the negative effect the MNCs and technology have on life. This novel is the first and most important cyberpunk novel - the vibrant, complex imagery of contemporary technology set new standards for science fiction, and invaded cultural references with terms like Cyberspace and the Matrix borrowing from Gibson's Neuromancer
Aside from being cyberpunk royalty, Gibson has a sharp, discerning wit, and has been quoted with some of the most amusing lines to ever come from a writer: "Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes."
Neuromancer is the first novel in the Sprawl trilogy (Count Zero, the second book, and Mona Lisa Overdrive, the final installment). A suicidal, unemployable, drug addicted hacker, an "interface cowboy", called Case, is hired by a mysterious detective, Armitage, who offers a cure in exchange for his services as a hacker. Only problem is, Case doesn't know what the job is or who or what Armitage is. This novel packs a punch, with strong themes about corporate power, artificial intelligence, and what it means to be human.This novel got the trifecta of awards here: The Hugo, The Nebula, and the Philip K Dick. A book with those qualifications should make our nerdy little hearts sing.
A decadent life, then voluntary euthanasia at 21? Brave New World's offering legal highs and encouraged orgies, I think I'll stay in that dystopia, thanks!
Logan's Run is the first in a trilogy, the last two books, Logan's World, and Logan's Search, written by Nolan alone. The first book is set in the 23rd century, where Logan-6 is a trained killer, who tracks down and kills citizens on the run from their impending death. He has one last mission before he turns 21: finding and destroying Sanctuary, a mythical place where the "runners" live in peace. But Logan does what men have a habit of doing that gets in the way of their plans - falls in love with Jessica, and begins to question the system he has been protecting. They go on the run.
This novel gets Number 10 on this list because of its popularity, but looking back on it, it's not as scarily reflective of what society becomes as say The Running Man or 1984. The themes of a large controlled society and compulsory death for the sake of keeping the world's population down are still relevant today, though Noland and Johnson's idea that the world was "teetering" at 6 billion and suffering from too many mouths to feed is wryly amusing in our contemporary world.
Though this novel was written in the time of the women's movement, and influenced by the themes and social mores of this time, there is no need to be afraid of bra burning, hairy arm-pitted, men haters in this book. Instead the themes are highly intelligent, a utopian novel exposing the flaws in its model society, and examining themes of capitalism versus socialism, and the tension between what humans aspire to, and what they can achieve.
In The Dispossessed, the physicist Shevek bridges two worlds. He grows up on the anarchist world of Anarres and travels to the Urras, which his ancestors fled two hundred years ago. The novel begins on Anarres with Shevek leaving for Urras, then flashes back to Shevek's childhood. It alternates between his life on Anarres and his life on Urras. We understand his decision to leave Urras and his return home.
This novel hasn't been out of print since it was first published in 1974. You'd think with themes influence by this time, this novel would become dated, but thanks to some of the more "fundamentalist" American politicians who don't think women should have control over their own bodies, this novel is still well and truly relevant.Another reason Le Guin made this list with The Dispossessed? She was the first person ever to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards twice for her two novels, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.
This book is up there with anything written by Huxley and Orwell. If anything, it's scarier, because to me it seems like science fact not science fiction - these events could really happen. Oryx and Crake is the first novel in what Atwood intends to be the "Mad Addam" trilogy (Mad Addam is a reference to the Gardener characters in her books Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. Atwood has hinted at a final installment for a year or so now.).
It's impossible to summarize such a complex plot in a few sentences, but essentially: animals created by gene splicing, a new "perfect" human race created by gene splicing, and our race wiped out by a vaccine for all STDs that surreptitiously kills anyone "immoral" enough to want to try and protect themselves against STDs. The world is one we can imagine - an America where the rich are getting richer, and the poor so segregated that the rich are barely aware of them. Corporations control every facet of life, creating all products, and monitoring and controlling the people. If that's not dystopian enough for you, how about genetically engineered groups of men with blue penises signaling readiness for sex, and women have sex with all of them to have their best chance at procreating? Honestly, what is it with dystopias and their orgies?
No discussion on Oryx and Crake is complete without mention of Atwood's follow up Year of the Flood. For a 73-year-old, Atwood writes some of the most realistic and banging sex scenes I've ever read. How she can write so convincingly as a futuristic stripper/hooker is beyond me, but she does.
This would have been in the top 5, but for Atwood's insistence that her works are speculative fiction, not science fiction, because they do not deal with things that have not been invented yet. Ok Margaret, whatever.
Cat's Cradle is written in a style that makes me feel like Vonnegut's sitting back with a joint, having a laugh, in on the joke that is life. It reminds me of the style that Douglas Adams' hitchhiker novels are written in - we're all fucked, but isn't it kind of funny style. Except Vonnegut's themes are more sinister, and pointing at a future that we're working towards, if we're not careful. It's amazing that Vonnegut can manage to have a sense of humor after growing up in the depression and his mother committing suicide when he was21.
A writer is obsessed with Hoenikker, the scientific "father" of the atomic bomb, and attempts to write a thesis on the day the bomb went off. Through his research, the writer realizes Hoenikker, though scientifically brilliant, was sociopathic in his application of science, lacking an understanding of consequences. He realizes that Hoenikker's last project, Ice 9, has the ability to turn every water particle into ice. At this point, our writer/researcher heads to San Lorenzo. Explaining what happens on San Lorezon would ruin the delightfully acid trippy plot, so please read the novel instead.
But I will say, if you think Scientology is nuts (doesn't anyone think there is something slightly odd about a religion created by a science-fiction writer?), then Bokonism will blow your mind.The Cat's Cradle explores issues with religion, science, technology, and the concept of truth. It satirizes many modern flaws, including the arms race. It shows us how all it takes is a crazy idea by one influential person to affect life in a negative way, and makes very apt observations about the ridiculous things society uses science for.
If you didn't want to lie down in a warm bath with a razor blade before you read this novel, you just might once you're finished. I would warn against reading this if you're suffering from depression as this is one of the most depressing books I have ever read. Make sure you have silly, musical, entertaining comedies like Adventure Time, the Mighty Boosh and The Flight of the Conchords queued with your other illegally downloaded content to watch after you finish reading The Road.
The Road is a dystopian and brutal look at post-apocalyptic America. A father and son walk towards the coast, unknowing what they'll find. They walk with a pistol, defending themselves against the lawless thugs who stalk the roads. It's a future where no hope remains, but the father and son keep each other alive through their own relationship. It shows the best (the father and son's relationship) and worst of what humans (mostly everyone else still alive) are capable of.
This novel is this high on the list because of McCarthy's engaging and unusual writing style, and because I'm aware that just because I don't enjoy something, doesn't mean it's a) not a good book, and b) the rest of the world doesn't like it. I don't like being depressed after reading, personally, but it turns out a lot of the world does. People keep insisting there's joy in it, but if you have to look that hard for joy in the depths of despair urgh.
This book has everything: it's science-fiction, it's dystopian, it's horror, it's post-apocalyptic, and it's a vampire novel. Seriously, what doesn't this book have? No girls in bikinis, or car chases with shoot outs (or does it?), but who needs those things with a novel like I Am Legend? If you're one of those vampire wannabe/sympathizers, you will love the twists in this plot.
Robert Neville is the sole survivor of a vampirism pandemic, which we assume is caused by a war and spread by mosquitos. Neville's wife and daughter were taken by the disease, and he was forced to kill his wife. Neville kills off vampires and goes through bouts of depression and alcoholism. He decides to find the scientific cause of the disease. Three years later, Neville comes across Ruth, an uninfected woman. He takes a blood sample from Ruth, who knocks him out when he realizes she's infected. Ruth's really a vampire, and Neville is imprisoned by the vampires so he can be executed. During his imprisonment, Neville realizes the vampires see him in the same way he views them, something to be feared and hated. He is a relic of the old humanity.
Just don't watch the movie first. For starters, it has zombies, rather than vampires. As much as a fan of Will Smith I am, it's only loosely based on the novel, and misses out on some of the intricacies and complexities that come with Neville, the protagonist, being the only person left on Earth, everyone else being a vampire. In the movie, the plot loses that poignancy centering around being the last person left, as 1% of the population is immune to the zombie virus. Neville is not the last person; he is not the relic of the old humanity.
If, like me, you found the themes in The Road fascinating, and the writing engaging, but the plot just plain, fucking depressing, read The Children of Men, because you don't have to dig deep to find metaphors for joy and human inspiration in this novel. After a bleak and harrowing tale, the hope and inspiration is as subtle as a Kardashian on a red carpet.
The book is set in 2012 and the last recorded birth was in 1995, "Year Omega". Xan Lyppiat is the Warden of England, promising security, comfort and pleasure to his people. Underlying this are Xan's ugly policies: "the Quietus" - "voluntary" (mass suicides of the elderly), sending criminals to the Man Penal Colony where the cruel punishment is out of control, forbidden British immigration, compulsory sperm testing and female examinations, people with disabilities are considered second class citizens. Xan's cousin, Theo Faron, a retired university professor, becomes involved with five people opposed to Xan and his policies. One of the six has a secret that will change the politics and social scene of England.
Like with many novels where there is a film adaptation, there are distinct differences between the book and the movie. The novel is far more subtle, far less romanticized, and the end, though showing joy and inspiration, is more ambiguous, leaving the reader questioning the abilities of science in our society, and human attributes like compassion and cruelty.
The idea of feminist, dystopian science-fiction may turn the stomach of some of our readers, but before you write this off because of the genre it sits in, you should know that cyberpunk King William Gibson's very own Neuromancer was influenced by Jael, one of the characters in The Female Man. If it's good enough for Gibson, it should be good enough for the most hard boiled hard sci-fi fans.
Russ' novel takes the reader through the lives of four different female characters from four different worlds: Joanna, who is from a world similar to Earth in the 1970s, where she has her own career and legal rights, but feels bound by the stereotypes surrounding women in her culture; Jeannine lives in a world where the Depression Era never ended and is fixated on the idea of marriage being the ultimate goal; Janet is an inter-planet embassary from a planet men died out in a gender specific plague over 800 years ago - the most assertive of the women as she has never lived under a man's control; and Jael, an assassin from a world where men and women have been at war for over 40 years. Their worlds collide when the time travelling begins, and the women are thrown into ideas and worlds very different to their own.
For those who have a healthy interest in the sexual side of science fiction and dystopias, this novel should be at the top of your reading list, if you haven't read it already. Sexuality is a recurring theme in The Female Man, primarily explored through Janet who shows how fulfilling lesbian relationships can be.
The idea of feminist, dystopian science-fiction may turn the stomach of some of our readers, but before you write this off because of the genre it sits in, you should know that cyberpunk King William Gibson's very own Neuromancer was influenced by Jael, one of the characters in The Female Man. If it's good enough for Gibson, it should be good enough for the most hard boiled hard sci-fi fans.Russ' novel takes the reader through the lives of four different female characters from four different worlds: Joanna, who is from a world similar to Earth in the 1970s, where she has her own career and legal rights, but feels bound by the stereotypes surrounding women in her culture; Jeannine lives in a world where the Depression Era never ended and is fixated on the idea of marriage being the ultimate goal; Janet is an inter-planet embassary from a planet men died out in a gender specific plague over 800 years ago - the most assertive of the women as she has never lived under a man's control; and Jael, an assassin from a world where men and women have been at war for over 40 years. Their worlds collide when the time travelling begins, and the women are thrown into ideas and worlds very different to their own.For those who have a healthy interest in the sexual side of science fiction and dystopias, this novel should be at the top of your reading list, if you haven't read it already. Sexuality is a recurring theme in The Female Man, primarily explored through Janet who shows how fulfilling lesbian relationships can be.
I didn't take enough acid when I read Shadow of the Torturer (Book of the New Sun). And by not enough, I mean none whatsoever. This book is the first in the Book of the New Sun Quartet by Gene Wolfe. The quartet divides science fiction nerds, with a portion of aficionados arguing that the science isn't hard enough. But the sci-fi militants amongst us need to remember that soft science fiction is just as legitimate, particularly in the dystopian world as hard science fiction.
Wolfe's novel is set on Earth in the distant future, a post technological society living on the ruins of previous society. Severian, a torturer's apprentice is kicked out of the guild and exiled to a distant city for the crime of allowing a torture to kill herself. Severian meets Dr Talos and Balanders, and is interrogated by Talus who extracts all information on being a torturer from Severian. At this point of the book, I decided I did not have enough acid, when Talos takes Severian to breakfast and introduces the group as actors. And then suddenly, the book provides all the acid tripping I need! Severian is challenged to a duel in a clothing store. One of the clothing store owners takes him to botanic gardens to get a poisonous plant for Severian to use in his duel. At the end of the novel, Talos and Balanders try to convince Severian to take part in a play. Yes, I'm serious, the torturer came Shakespearian theatre actor.
Wolfe's description of this world is vivid and written in a beautiful dream like manner, with gorgeous detail, but if you want any sense of a conclusion to this series, you really need to read the entire quartet.
And if all of that surrealism doesn't sound like enough for you, there's plenty of sex. Because if we know anything about dystopian science fiction, it's that its authors really like sex.
Since the original four-volume novel, Wolfe has also written three short fictions and two book series that are set in Severian's universe.
For all of its violence and discourse on the devolvement of humanity, this novel is hell amusing. Now, before you send the psychiatrists over with the straight jackets and handcuffs, hear me out! The language is hilarious, in an English cockney kind of way, and really contagious. Be careful you don't wind up talking like Alex after reading A Clockwork Orange, you may freak people out if you start talking about "lashings of the old in-out-in-out" and "Creeching on your platties".
In Burgess' future, our protagonist Alex, who talks in a vicious invented slang, takes pleasure in nightly orgies of "ultra-violence" his gang. On one evening of ultra-violence, Alex's "droogs" challenge him for leadership of the gang, and demand they pull a "man-sized" job. Alex insists on following through with one of his gang's ideas to burgle an old lady, and ends with him killing the elderly woman. One of his gang blocks his escape, leaving him on the door step when police arrive.
The state attempts to reform Alex, being the main moral dilemma of the novel, leaving the reader questioning their tactics, and at what cost do you change someone's very being to reform them. What remains of a person once their free will is removed?
For old fans wanting more, a recent edition of A Clockwork Orange includes a controversial last chapter not published in the first edition, and Burgess's introduction "A Clockwork Orange Resucked."
Why does We deserve its Number 21 ranking? Because without Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel, there would be no 1984 and no Brave New World. At least, not as we know them. Come to think of it, there would also be no horrifically low-brow reality television shows spanning Europe, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and America. I think I've just made the first case for why three of the most famous books in literature and science fiction and dystopias should never have been written.
Zamyatin's dystopian world is the One State, a construction similar to a prison designed by Jeremy Bentham, optimizing surveillance to the extreme: the citizens are constantly monitored. Life is organized to promote maximum efficiency. The Benefactor is the Big Brother in this piece, but actually exists. Men have odd numbers prefixed by consonants; women have even numbers prefixed by vowels. D0503 is the chief engineer of the One State's project to use its spaceship Integral to conquer neighboring planets. D's assigned lover, O-90 is depressed by her life - she is considered too short to bear children.
Ignoring tacky popular culture, Zamyatin's novel is considered the grandfather of dystopian science-fiction. It shows a totalitarian, confirmative, modern industrialist society where the state believes free will causes unhappiness and its citizens lives should be controlled for their best interests. Intellectual themes aside, Zamyatin sure has a way with words. Take for example his description of a woman walking, moving her buttocks "from side to side as if she had eyes in them." Zamyatin's curious and unorthodox descriptive prose is fascinating to read.
London succeeds in doing what many men have tried to do over the course of history, and almost every man has failed in doing: understanding how women think. Unlike most of London's fiction, this first person narrative is written from the perspective of a woman, and unlike many male authors, his narrative is provoking and believable.
Set mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, The Iron Heel tells the story of an oligarchic, tyrannical America. The scholar Anthony Meredith speaks on the fictional "Everhard Manuscript", written and hidden by Avis Everhard, in 2600 AD or 419 BOM (Brotherhood of Man). Meredith's introduction eases the reader into the knowledge that the lovers Avis and Ernest are eventually summarily executed, giving the novel a Shakespearian tragedy feel. The Oligarchy is the largest monopoly trusts, bankrupting small to medium business, and reducing farmers to serfs, whilst maintaining power through a labor caste system and mercenaries.
The novel should appeal to anyone enjoying alternative futures and intelligent social commentary. It stresses future changes in society and politics. It's on the soft science-fiction side, but given it's considered to be one of the earliest of the modern dystopias, it's made this top 25 list. If that's not enough to convince you, even George Orwell admits that he was inspired by The Iron Heel, writing an retrospective essay on London's novel in his collected essays, Volume 4.
One of the most fascinating things about Atlas Shrugged is that it received terrible reviews when it was published in 1957. Despite such negativity from critics, it has been an immensely popular success, debuting on The New York Times Bestseller List at Number 13 three days after it was published, peaking at Number 3, and holding a place on the list for 22 weeks. Author Gore Vidal described Atlas Shrugged as "nearly perfect in its immorality". Personally, I'd take that as a compliment.
Atlas Shrugged details a dystopian America where society's most productive citizens refuse to be exploited by taxation and regulations, and go on strike. It shows that a world where people are not free to create is doomed, and that society will collapse when its citizens are slaves to the government. Rand's theories of sex speak out in the relationships between her characters, and the lack of judgment shown towards their relationships, particularly with adultery. Rather than portraying sex as dirty and taboo, Rand portrays it as a physical response to intellectual and spiritual values. Aside from sex, technological progress and scientific theory figure prominently, with three main inventions driving the plot: Galt's motor, Rearden Metal, and the government's sonic weapon, Project X. Some of Rand's ideas are now science fact - palm and voice activated door locks.
Rand cried very day the reviews came out. Given the rather liberal attitude shown towards sex and the highly sexualized themes in this novel, if you gave Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged a negative review, you were a middle-aged man in a sexless marriage, or still living at home. Not worth crying over, Ayn.
The most modern science-fiction dystopian novel on this list, Cloud Atlas is a clever and intricately woven tale of six interconnected stories set over the remote South Pacific in the 19th century to the ends of the post-apocalyptic future, with each story read or observed by the main character in the next story. At the end of the sixth story, each story is resolved in reverse chronological order, the novel ending where it began with Adam Ewing in the 19th century South Pacific.
The dystopian science fiction element is introduced with the fifth story, set in Nea So Copros, a futuristic, totalitarian Korean state, evolved from corporate culture. It is told in the form of an interview between Sonmi 451 and an "archivist" who is recording her story. Sonmi 451 is a genetically engineered "fabricant", a clone, made to work at a fast-food restaurant, Papa Song's. Similarly to the replicants in Phillip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Sheep, fabricants are treated as second class citizens, used as slave labor, and society stunts their consciousness with chemicals. Sonmi 451 escapes her oppressive world with the help of underground rebels. A student interrupts, telling them forty or fifty enforcers are looking for them and have orders to kill Sonmi on sight.
Reasons why you should read the book instead of watching the highly popular Hollywood film: it won a multitude of literary awards, and was short-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize, Nebula Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Aside from this, Tom Hanks' terrible accent and acting will destroy any enjoyment of the film for you. Read the book now, before you watch the movie and Tom Hanks destroys Cloud Atlas for you.
Stand up; hold one hand to your chest and the other raised. Repeat after me: "I acknowledge it is not a crime to categorize young adult fiction as dystopian science-fiction, and furthermore, it is not a crime to enjoy said category of fiction." I promise, no one will rescind your nerd status for enjoying a young adult novel (unless it's Twilight, but we're not even going to go there.)
250 years into the future, the spaceship Godspeed travels towards a new earth, housing 100 cryogenically frozen people intended as the new earth's settlers. The other passengers are slaves to the Eldest, their tyrannical leader. Someone on board is trying to murder the frozen settlers, and Amy, a 17 year old girl travelling with her parents, survives being thawed in a murder attempt. She becomes friends with Elder, the teenage future leader, and inspires him to defy the Eldest. Together they realize the ship is deteriorating and not on the course they thought it was.
Young adult fiction has exploded with dystopian science fiction. Why does this piece make the cut at Number 25 on the list, and not one of The Hunger Games trilogy? Because it's so much more realistic about 17 year old girls than other young adult fiction - Amy has actually been in love and had sex, of all the outrageous things for a 17 year old girl to do!
This book is part of a trilogy, the second novel A Million Suns was released in 2012, and the final installment, Shades of Earth was released January 15 2013.
Our Version of the List
At a Glance
- 1 1984 (George Orwell)
- 2 Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
- 3 Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
- 4 Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep (Philip K...
- 5 A Canticle For Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller Jr...
- 6 The Running Man (Richard Bachman/Stephen King...
- 7 The Chrysalids (John Wyndham)
- 8 The Time Machine (H. G. Wells)
- 9 Neuromancer (William Gibson)
- 10 Logan's Run (William F Nolan and George Clayt...
- 11 The Dispossessed (Ursula K. Le Guin)
- 12 Oryx And Crake (Margaret Atwood)
- 13 Cat's Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)
- 14 The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
- 15 I Am Legend (Richard Matheson)
- 16 The Children Of Men (P.D. James)
- 17 The Female Man (Joanna Russ)
- 18 Altered Carbon (Richard K. Morgan)
- 19 Book Of The New Sun (Gene Wolfe)
- 20 Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess)
- 21 We (Yevgeny Zamyatin)
- 22 The Iron Heel (Jack London)
- 23 Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
- 24 Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell)
- 25 Across The Universe (Beth Revis)
Publicly Ranked Version of the List84 items >>
- 1984 (George Orwell)
- Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
- Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
- Do Androids Dream Of Electric She...
- Animal Farm (George Orwell)
- The Giver (Lois Lowry)
- The Time Machine (H. G. Wells)
- Oryx And Crake (Margaret Atwood)
- The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
- We (Yevgeny Zamyatin)
- The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
- Divergent (Veronica Roth)
- The Running Man (Stephen King)
- Neuromancer (William Gibson)
- The Children Of Men (P.D. James)
- I Am Legend (Richard Matheson)
- Wool (Hugh Howey)
- The Chrysalids (John Wyndham)
- Cat's Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)
- Logan's Run (Paul Salamoff)
- Oasis (Dima Zales)
- Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell)
- The Postman (David Brin)
- Red Rising (Pierce Brown)
- Shift (Hugh Howey)
- Solaris (Stanislaw Lem)
- This Perfect Day (Ira Levin)
- 1q84 (Haruki Murakami)
- Legend (Marie Lu)
- Dust (Hugh Howey)
- Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
- The Long Walk (Stephen King)
- Fatherland (Robert Harris)
- Delirium (Lauren Oliver)
- The Female Man (Joanna Russ)
- The Iron Heel (Jack London)
- 1985 (Anthony Burgess)
- The Selection (Kiera Cass)
- Cinder (Marissa Meyer)
- Fifth Season (N. K. Jemisin)
- Market F (Jason F. Brennan)
- Anthem (Ayn Rand)
- Apes (Martin Jenkins)