January 17, 2010

Dystopia-rama

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After reading The Hunger Games and Shades of Grey, I started thinking about my love of dystopian fiction. Why is it that I like to read about future humans in peril? I'm not even a big fan of dystopian movies but books, I like. I decided to pose the question on Twitter and received a variety of answers as to why others like it. For some, it's a vicarious thrill, others it's about contemplating the true nature of mankind in extreme circumstances.

For myself, it's curiosity. Just how bad can things get? and Boy am I glad I live here now.

According to Wikipedia a dystopia is "the often futuristic vision of a society in which conditions of life are miserable and characterized by poverty, oppression, war, violence and/or terror, resulting in widespread unhappiness, suffering, and other kinds of pain."

Sounds like a barrel of laughs, doesn't it? And yet, these are the novels that make me think, that get my heart pounding, that keep me up all night.

In most of these stories, the suffering and the pain in the future are because we screwed up right now. The author tends to point a crooked finger our way because we let it happen. Even if it's fiction, that always makes me feel a bit squirmy. I can't see the future but it's the what ifs that get to me. Sometimes the author comes right out tells us how it all went to hell and in others we have to figure out what it was. These are the most entertaining. I try to piece together how things got to that point. In Shades of Grey, the Collective calls it Something That Happened. What happened? They don't know...something. Something that changed everything.

Even though things seem hopeless, the reader wants things to work out, often they don't- for the protagonist. Hopefully the author gives us a sense that in the future another Something That Happened will happen to straighten it all out. That the oppressed will find freedom and that humankind can find happiness again.

Here is a list of my favorite dysopian novels that I've read so far:
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
What dystopian novels are your favorites? What others would you recommend?


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21 comments :

  1. I love dystopian fiction. My favorites are Brave New World, We, 1984, The Hunger Games, and the Uglies series. That's what comes to mind offhand anyway. I really need to get my hands on Shades of Grey.

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  2. That what-ifs are what interest me, along with thinking about how I would react if something like that really were to happen. I haven't read too many dystopian novels, but I enjoyed The Hunger Games and The Handmaid's Tale.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  3. I wouldn't have said I enjoyed dystopian fiction, but then I can't wait for Shades of Gray, loved The Hunger Games and The Road, but I didn't really like The Handmaid's Tale. Another one I enjoyed was Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It.

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  4. I don't read a lot of dystopia and I'm not sure why. I did read The Unit last year and I really enjoyed it.

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  5. One of the most interesting dystopian novels I've read recently is called The Long Tomorrow, by Leigh Brackett. It takes place in a future world that has gone decidedly Amish, which is sort of like what Fforde has done with Shades of Grey, which I also loved. Unfortunately the novel was published in the '50s and is well out of print, but I would guess that Amazon and other re-sellers would have a used copy or two lying around. Definitely worth a read.

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  6. I liked the Hunger Games Trilogy. I also liked the Maze Runner.

    They do give you a great deal to think about. I think what gets my attention most is that some of the scenarios are logical conclusions to things that we are doing now.

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  7. I think Wikipedia has a terrible definition for a dystopia. It's just not a subtle enough definition. Shades of Grey is an excellent example of a dystopian community where people aren't outright suffering or living in abject poverty. You know that something just isn't right because they lack the basic freedoms that we are all so accustomed to.

    One of the simplest and best I've ever read is The Giver. In this world, everyone is provided for properly. Everyone's basic needs are met. It's a fine line between utopia and dystopia. That's what makes the best dystopians great. Not that the more traditional dystopians are just as excellent. I love them all!

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  8. I'm back and forth on dystopian fiction. It makes for a great book group discussion, but they're not happy books. I do like reading a good one, when I get the chance, because of the reasons you point out: they can be exciting, and they can make me think. And I like it best when there's good commentary on today's society. I haven't read Shades of Grey, though. Maybe I will.

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  9. I love dystopian fiction. I like that the reader can experience a world they wouldn't otherwise live in (hopefully). More than that I like that it shows us (for the most part) how to overcome adversity at a level that we can't possibly understand the depths of. It's just a great read.

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  10. Amanda- I must put Brave New World on my list.

    Anna- I'd like to think of myself as a survivor but I don't know...

    Marg- I loved Shades of Grey. It's really good.

    Kathy- I haven't read The Unit. Maybe I should put that one on my list too.

    Allison- I'll have a look at my library. You never know what you can find there.

    Bluestocking- That's what's so scary about them. They are plausible.

    Laza- Yes, I think there is a lot of room in the dystopian genre for books that don't fit that description. I have The Giver on my shelf, I have to get to it.

    Melissa- Shades of Grey isn't quite as dark as some of the others. You might like it.

    Michelle- There's a lot to love about them!

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  11. I also love to read dystopian fiction - especially when it's well-read. I like to see how various characters respond to the circumstances they find themselves in. It seems that dire circumstances either bring out a person's very best or very worst tendencies.

    The Giver is truly a must read. And here are some others I've enjoyed:

    Life as We Knew It and the two sequels by Susan Beth Pfeffer

    The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson

    The Tomorrow series by John Marsden

    The Maze Runner by James Dashner

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  12. What an awesome graphic you made of all those superimposed covers!

    I don't read much dystopian fiction, though I enjoy it when I do read it. Will keep your books in mind!

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  14. I've been a fan of dystopian lit since I was a teenager. Alas, Babylon and On the Beach are two favorites that haven't been mentioned yet.

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  15. I really enjoy dystopian novels, and I think it might be because it's so easy to make a point about OUR society by showing the faults of another. The depravity of man and downside of government control are often themes, and ones I enjoy as well.

    I haven't read it yet, but I've heard Shades of Grey compared to We by Yevgeny Zamyatin...may be something you'll want to check into (I will be).

    Along with the Giver recommendation, I'd say its companion novel, Gathering Blue, is a great read!

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  16. The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall is excellent (it's also called Daughters of the North I think). I'm really looking forward to reading Shades of Grey after your review, sounds like new territory for Fforde.

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  17. I've really started to enjoy dystopian lit, and started really getting into it last year.

    Some of my favourites are: Handmaids Tale, Fahrenheit 451, Oryx and Crake, and a childhood favourite, The Giver.

    Brave New World, Anthem, and The Time Machine were good reads, so ig you haven't read them yet, you should try.

    Children of men is one I read last year, but it wasn't very good, I thought the movie was better (I know, I know).

    Now I may have to look into these other titles and possible add more books to the tbr list.

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  18. I too enjoy the what-ifs of dystopian fiction! But it's not my favorite by any means and after reading Lord of the Flies, 1984, We, Animal Farm, and Uglies in just a few months last year, I really felt the need for something different...

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  19. Read Feed by M.T. Anderson. It's something for all bloggers to think about!

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  20. Can I just say how much I love that picture you made?

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  21. Besides what you listed plus Brave New World and 1984, I love Children of Men (PD James) both the book and movie, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm (sort of a distant post-apocalyptic clone dystopia).

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