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If 2016 can teach us anything, it is that fiction can become reality. As a common rule, humanity strives for constant progress; movement towards a superior standard of living. But what happens when everything goes wrong instead? As humans we constantly question the 'what if' scenario. The dystopia genre is the anthesis of utopia and is a mainstay of science fiction writing over the years. The genre has taken the 'what if' to speculate about a future where every aspect of life has taken a distinct and frightening turn for the worse. Within the classic dystopian genre there lies the more thought provoking political dystopian theme. A typical tale involves a future society with an oppressive government that demands conformity. Sometimes this is in the wake of a disaster that has befallen humanity or society as a whole has taken a dark and oppressive turn for the worse. Often times there are no beautiful endings in these political dystopian books, only a joyless and dysfunctional future with glimpses into the light.
1984 by George Orwell
You can't create a political dystopian book list without mentioning George Orwell's 1984, or any classic book list for that matter. The startlingly original and haunting novel is set in the futuristic world in which society is in a perpetual state of permanent war. Citizens are ruled by a oligarchical dictatorship, and are kept under constant surveillance and mind control. Working, eating, drinking, sleeping, talking, thinking, procreating, in short living, are all controlled by the state. Any hint of disobedience or ill talk of the ruling party can be detected by various state apparatus such as the Thought Police. The main protagonist is member of the ruling party that is slowly realizing that he must rebel against the ruling class. Imagine the worst nightmare you can dream up in which you are not allowed to be/think for yourself or face punishment, and you've got 1984.
The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick
Phillip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle offers a haunting vision of what history could have been if WWII's outcome was different. In this nightmarish vision of an alternate reality Germany, Japan, and Italy have won the war. America, as well as the rest of the world, has been divided into Axis controlled occupied areas. Slavery is legal once again and the few Jews who survived hide under assumed names. And not just Jews but all minorities face extermination. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages and is consulted as means to make decisions. A new cold war is brewing between Germany and Japan bring the world ever so closer to an actual nuclear war. Throughout the novel you get glimpses into our reality would have been. Dick's genius way of conveying the story twists within the story as he imagines an 'author' in this alternate world speculating on what life would have been like if the Nazis hadn't won.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Set in a post-apocalyptic North America, Panem is a country that consists of a wealthy and technologically advanced Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts of oppressed people who exist in dire poverty, with inadequate food, housing, health care, and hardly any technology. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction. To reinforce the power of the Capitol by instilling fear in the population, once a year, the creation of a barbaric annual televised fight to the death event known as the Hunger Games was created as a reminder for the 13th district rebellion. All of the 12 districts each year must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen through a lottery system to participate in the games. During the 74th annual Hunger Games a girl named Katnis and her district male counterpart Peeta turn Panem on its head and defy the Capitol. Panem will never be the same.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange is one of those books in which everyone has heard of but very few people have actually read. In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, A Clockwork Orange, criminals take over after dark and no one is safe. The story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a strange and brutal invented slang called Nadsat that brilliantly renders his and his cohorts social pathology. Alex and his gang throughout the novel commit brutal violence against others. The book doesn't necessarily promote violence but instead explores the idea of violence entwined with youth culture and the morality of free will. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening tale about good and evil within a broken often conservative society and the meaning of human freedom. At some point the state captures Alex and undertakes to reform him—to "redeem" him—the novel asks, "At what cost?"
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity. It's not a book about book censorship, but a book about how media will rot your brain. The message of this book is basically: knowledge should not be censored. Within the story books are destroyed and burned by a special group of firefighters which hunt book readers mercilessly. Hence Bradbury used the temperature at which paper burns which is 451 F as the title Fahrenheit 451. Books have become illegal; thus, owning them is a form of disobedience against the totalitarian state and a violation of the law. By destroying the knowledge of the nation they reinforce ignorance throughout society. This classic book's message can be applied to modern times—Twitter, Facebook, etc.—in which censorship is being more and more applied through laws affecting our media and information outlets.
Anthem by Ayn Rand
In the classic Anthem, author Ayn Rand examines a frightening future dystopia in which individuals have no name, no independence, and no values. Humanity has entered another dark age where aspects of collectivism, socialistic thinking and economics are eliminated. The surviving population lives society where the concept of individuality is forbidden. The use of the word "I" is punishable by death. You life is dictated by decisions made by committees and all people live in collectives. In this purely egalitarian world, Equality 7-2521, the protagonist of Anthem, dares to stand apart from the herd. His own decision to think and choose for himself, to discover electricity, and to love the woman of his choice marks him for death for committing the ultimate sin.
Nova Express by William S. Burroughs
In this nightmarish dystopian tale, William S. Burroughs known for his books Naked Lunch and Junkie, takes you on a trip through a futuristic world of social commentary on human and machine control of life where only someone who's on acid could appreciate. Control of your voice is the main theme of the novel, and Burroughs attempts to use language to break down the walls of culture, the biggest control machine. With Burroughs surreal homoerotic and narcotic overtones, the character in the novel realizes that language is the only way to maintain dominance over the "powerful instruments of control," which are the most prevalent enemies of human society.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
In the controversial book, Margaret Atwood’s classic The Handmaid’s Tale delves into a world of declining birth rates in which women are valued only for their ability to procreate. Ruled by a dictatorial theocracy and threatened with exile to polluted outer colonies, the Handmaid in Atwood’s tale struggles to retain her identity in a world that sees her not as a person, but solely as an incubator. This novel should serve as a cautionary warning about the result of any extremist view taken to its logical conclusion—like the Taliban—is proof that any society cannot dismiss the notions of outrageous and extreme treatment placed upon people. Extremism is proof of a plausible end to the error of letting fundamentalism in any form guide one’s society.
Naughts and Crosses Malorie Blackman
Two young people are forced to make a stand in this thought-provoking political dystopian book to look at racism and prejudice in an alternate society. Sephy is a Cross, a member of the dark-skinned ruling class and Callum who is a Naught. A Naught is a “colorless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. In this dystopian race controlled world, Naughts and Crosses simply do not mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum—a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger.
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
Set in a futuristic world that is almost completely mechanized, this dystopian tale describes the influence of automation and capitalism within society and the lives of people in it. The basic premise of the story is that American industry is run by a tiny group of wealthy and powerful managers and engineers, a Corporatocracy, while the vast majority of the population are stripped of their well-paying industrial jobs while being forced to live poor and powerless. This elite managers and engineers live in closed, gated Orwellian communities, where they watch each other closely for the slightest hint of nonconformity or disloyalty to the system. Vonnegut shows the real reality of how most corporations have always had a contempt for the average American worker and have been looking for a way to replace them even before WW2.
High Rise by J.G. Ballard
Set in an apartment building, High Rise describes the violent events in one luxury high-rise building. After being provided with all their need, tenants of this building started reversing their social status to the point when they become a violent mob hell-bent on destruction of the "enemy floors." This dark tale vividly explored the concepts of primal urges, laws of the jungle, mob psychology and life in the urban environment.
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Yevgeny Zamyatin's We is set in an urban glass city called OneState, regulated by spies and secret police. In the glass-enclosed city of absolute straight lines, the citizens ruled under the totalitarian OneState live out lives devoid of passion and creativity. Citizens wear identical clothing and are distinguished only by the number assigned to them at birth. The story follows a man called D-503, who dangerously begins to veer from the 'norms' of society after meeting I-330, a woman who defies the rules. D-503 soon finds himself caught up in a secret plan to destroy OneState and liberate the city.