The Doomsday Clock is a metaphorical clock that measures how close the world is to a global catastrophe. On January 26, 2017, scientists ticked that clock just a little closer to midnight – in other words, just a little closer to the end of the world. For many, this change is not a surprise. Political unrest in the United States has reached new levels and, even here in Canada, it’s difficult to not get caught up in it, no matter which side your views fall on.
We are fascinated with the future. How will the choices we make today affect the world of tomorrow? What new technologies will help or hinder us? Will our world be recognizable in any way? The questions are endless and science fiction has presented idea after new idea of what our future might look like. The way we imagine that future is not always bright and cheerful, however. Dystopian literature helps us to imagine a darker, grim future and introduces us to the kind of characters who dig deep and survive.
Check out these 10 dystopian novels – from classics, to newer imaginings of the world – and escape for a while into the future, near or far.
The Word Exchange
A fiendishly clever dystopian novel for the digital age, The Word Exchange is a fresh, stylized and decidedly original debut about the dangers of technology and the power of the printed word.
In the not so distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality.
Anana Johnson works with her father Doug at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), where Doug is hard at work on the final edition that will ever be printed. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL offices leaving a single written clue: ALICE. It’s a code word he and Anana devised to signal if one of them ever fell into harm’s way. And thus begins Anana’s journey down the proverbial rabbit hole. . .
It’s graduation day for sixteen-year-old Malencia Vale, and the entire Five Lakes Colony is celebrating. All Cia can think about is whether she’ll be chosen for The Testing, a United Commonwealth program that selects the best and brightest new graduates to become possible leaders of the slowly revitalizing post-war civilization.
When Cia is chosen, her father finally tells her about his own nightmarish half-memories of The Testing. Armed with his dire warnings, she bravely heads off to Tosu City, far away from friends and family, perhaps forever. Danger, romance–and sheer terror–await.
In a work of outstanding originality, Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse envisions a future America in ruins and a reversal of history: desperate Americans seeking passage to the promised land of Europe. Crace’s future United States is a lawless wasteland. The economy collapses, industry ceases, and the remaining populace returns to subsistence farming. The only hope rests with reaching the east coast and obtaining passage by ship to Europe. This journey is fraught with danger. Rule-of-law no longer exists and the land is plagued by roaming bandits and slave traders.
The Heart Goes Last
Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their “civilian” homes.
At first, this doesn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one’s head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan’s life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.
In 1984, London is a grim city where Big Brother is always watching you and the Thought Police can practically read your mind. Winston is a man in grave danger for the simple reason that his memory still functions. Drawn into a forbidden love affair, Winston finds the courage to join a secret revolutionary organization called The Brotherhood, dedicated to the destruction of the Party. Together with his beloved Julia, he hazards his life in a deadly match against the powers that be.
Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive, where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive’s survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw, but her courage and strength are assets. A feat of bravery grants her access to the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all – daring to challenge the Queen’s preeminence – enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the hive’s strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by a greater power: a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, and her society-and lead her to perform unthinkable deeds.
Super Sad True Love Story
In the near future, America is crushed by a financial crisis and our patient Chinese creditors may just be ready to foreclose on the whole mess. Then Lenny Abramov, son of an Russian immigrant janitor and ardent fan of “printed, bound media artifacts” (aka books), meets Eunice Park, an impossibly cute Korean American woman with a major in Images and a minor in Assertiveness. Could falling in love redeem a planet falling apart?
City of Savages
It’s been nearly two decades since the Red Allies first attacked New York, and Manhattan is now a prisoner-of-war camp, ruled by Rolladin and her brutal, impulsive warlords. For Skyler Miller, Manhattan is a cage that keeps her from the world beyond the city’s borders. But for Sky’s younger sister, Phee, the POW camp is a dangerous playground of possibility, and the only home she’d ever want. When Sky and Phee discover their mom’s hidden journal from the war’s outbreak, they both realize there’s more to Manhattan–and their mother–than either of them had ever imagined.
Ben Elton’s dark, savagely comic novel imagines a post-apocalyptic society where religious intolerance combines with a confessional sex obsessed, self-centric culture to create a world where nakedness is modesty, ignorance is wisdom and privacy is a dangerous perversion. In a post-apocalyptic society where science is rejected, Trafford Sewell discovers an underground world of thinkers, readers and dissenters, and comes up with a plan to reintroduce science and literature to the world.
The Handmaid’s Tale
In this multi-award-winning, bestselling novel, Margaret Atwood has created a stunning Orwellian vision of the near future. This is the story of Offred, one of the unfortunate “Handmaids” under the new social order who have only one purpose: to breed. In Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships, Offred’s persistent memories of life in the “time before” and her will to survive are acts of rebellion. Provocative, startling, prophetic, and with Margaret Atwood’s devastating irony, wit, and acute perceptive powers in full force, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once a mordant satire and a dire warning.