Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Community, Identity, Stability"

I am embarking on a beautiful journey.

I have committed to read at least 20 books related to dystopia before August 24th.

Dystopian (or post-apocalyptic, as they're often interchangeable) literature might be my favorite. I devoured and love and still talk about the books that introduced me to these dark and fascinating worlds.

1984. Brave New World. Fahrenheit 451. And, more recently, The Road.

I am delving into some lovely books, short-listed on my other blog here.

Four horsemen and an apocalypse
I am aware of several of you, beloved readers, who reject fiction outright as a waste of time and read nonfiction almost exclusively. Even still, I'll put it out there: if anyone has recommendations in this genre, I would love to hear them. The darker, the better, probably.

My favorite example is Wuthering Heights -- not dystopian, but certainly with darkness and misery to spare. I love that book because it seems to me a very real depiction of what might happen if two people who are in love and meant for one another are parted prematurely by death. What would the surviving person do? He would become a bitter and cruel man, spreading about the torment he feels to others until the day he dies, unhappily and unfulfilled. That makes sense to me. It's exaggerated, perhaps, but on the other hand, maybe not. (It's definitely more honest than that unspeakable series that geared up towards a final conflict only to end with a mild discussion between
parties, leaving all who were preparing for their inevitable deaths living (groan) happily ever after. A fantasy I cannot sink my teeth into.)

Anyone have something to add to my list? Or other related books to read?


  1. To me 'dystopian' and 'post-apocalyptic' are not the same thing at all. When they coincide it's a matter of chance.

    For me the most disturbing images of dystopia come from works like Brave New World and Starship Troopers, where the like-able and heroic characters fail to question the values of their society. That's the danger we face.

    We live in a society that is likely to be revealed as a dystopia in the near future. The pace of technological change continues to accelerate, and the per capita wealth of the world is increasing so rapidly that it defies accurate measurement. Good things! But I wonder what we will turn to when more than half of the world's population has more wealth than they desire.

  2. Rob,

    No, dystopian and post-apoc are not the same, but there's often overlap. Some giant event that reshapes society, and then, even if it's hundreds of years later, we're introduced to Our Hero. It's just that it's used frequently.

    Ah, I forgot about Starship Troopers! That's a good one, too. Except that the dystopia isn't really ever addressed, is it? But in Brave New World, at least, there is an opposing side. Questions are raised and very nearly mean something.

    "More wealth than they desire"? I think you might need to argue that point further. What is the cost of living in our current society, if it continues at the pace and growth it has now?

  3. OK, so an apocalypse can be the catalyst that brought the dystopia into being. Fair enough.

    Starship Troopers is brilliant because it isn't so explicit about the fact that the characters are living within and serving a dystopic society. That's the way these things actually happen. We don't notice that we are serving institutions that were invented to serve us. We fail to rebel when asked to fight and die for causes that are not our own. Like Gregor Samsa, people in the modern world may find that they are alienated from themselves and from one another when forced to live within a political and social framework that has become an ends in itself.

    I did do a poor job of explaining myself. There is a short story about a society in which androids are programmed to be thieves and drug users so that humans can find 'fulfillment' through serving as police officers and counselors. Maybe this will make it all clear:

  4. I love the Onion. And I love you too.

    I put Starship Troopers on my list, though since it doesn't deal directly with bringing down the dystopia, I'm not certain it technically qualifies. I'd like to read it anyway. A little more Heinlein can't be bad, right?

  5. I am in the camp that reads almost exclusively non-fiction, but Brave New World was one of the few school-assigned readings I enjoyed. I would like to read more science fiction type things that force you to consider how the world would be different under certain conditions, so please do post an update later with the books you really liked.

    (P.S. I thought the Children of Men movie was awful -- hopefully the book is better.)

  6. Justin,

    I'm hoping for some quality, thought-provoking literature to emerge from this adventure. Brave New World is a pretty high standard, in my mind, but my fingers are crossed anyway.

    And, yes, mostly, about the film version. I hope the book is far better. I've heard inklings that it is.

    You'll notice that that isn't the only book-made-into-film on my list, and that's intentional. My interests are crossing over. Don't get me started about the music inspired by 1984...