It’s no secret that the terms “Orwellian” and “alternative facts” have come up a lot lately. Or that George Orwell’s classic book 1984, which depicts a dystopian society where the Ministry of Truth spouts “alternative facts,” has been climbing the bestseller charts in response to a new era for Americans.
While it would be easy to suggest reading the rest of the Orwell canon (which you absolutely should), these books from all different authors will give you more Big Brother, rebels with a cause, and dystopian worlds you hope you’ll never have to live in...
The Shore of Women
It’s no secret that one of the biggest conflicts unfolding in front of us is that of reproductive rights, a topic not seen in Orwell’s writing. After the inevitable nuclear holocaust in this Pamela Sargent novel, women become the rulers of what is left of the known world. Using the technology they have created, the women banish men from their cities and use them solely to advance the human race. This story puts the role of gender empowerment and societal propaganda into focus and might hit close to home, as all good dystopian novels do. When Birana questions the authority of her elders, she finds herself banished like the very men she was brought up to hate. Soon, she finds Arvil and begins an emotional journey to heal in a rather damaged world.
Islands in the Net
The last few years have shown that science fiction might soon resemble reality. Hacking countries and corporations seemed to live only between the pages of paperback novels from the 60s and 70s. But Islands of the Net, written by the veteran Bruce Sterling, forecasts a future where electronic terrorism is normal and hacking is as common as walking down the street. In the near future, businessmen won’t run countries; countries will be replaced with businesses themselves. But power is power, and those who try to attain and hold onto it will resort to the only thing that works—killing any and all in their way. Laura Webster witnesses a foreign representative assassinated right in front of her, and responds by attempting to broker a peace. Caught between global conspiracies and a data war, she must try to find peace and a way to survive.
The Sheep Look Up
We can rebuild roads and bridges, buildings and technology. We cannot rebuild the planet. John Brunner’s stunning novel hits too close to home. Air pollution requires the daily use of a gas mask, new diseases grow like flowers, and the water is undrinkable. For many, there is no choice but to survive. With a corrupt government and corporations fighting over the profits from the necessary goods to survive, life isn’t looking too good. How far would you be willing to go to save the little you have left? Brunner asks this question with the journey of Austin Train, a disillusioned academic who asks to help violent environmental activists with their cause.
Parable of the Talents
Octavia Butler, one of the highly touted queens of science fiction, creates a beautifully detailed world that echoes our very own. Parable of the Talents tackles the big questions of religious fanaticism in a future that is far from perfect. After the world ends, society tries again. Acorn is one of those attempts. Lauren Olamina founded this community with a religion she created called Earthseed, and has kept the place safe for several years. The sense of normalcy she brings to the community is suddenly shattered when a young and aspiring leader, Andrew Steele Jarret, begs the country to return to better times, waxing nostalgic on a world with a very particular (and familiar) mindset on what makes a good American. Butler, as always, brought us the future. Now that it’s here, we should take a look at what to do next.
Mae Holland is like a lot of us—a young person in search of the perfect job at the perfect company. The Circle, a Facebook-like company with dark motives, is the Main Street of your Internet life: Streamlining your social media, email, bank accounts…everything. Imagine wearing a tiny camera on you constantly for the sake of transparency! It is the only road on the information highway. Holland slowly begins the climb up the corporate ladder only to see the impact that the technology has. The influence social media is shown to have will make you think twice before sharing your intimate details. This modern novel, deemed by many to be in the same tier of novels as Orwell, shows us why privacy is not only necessary, but worth fighting for.
Does a for-profit government sound too farfetched for you? In Max Barry’s novel, it’s a reality. A distant cousin of Orwell’s prophetic novel, Jennifer Government introduces the readers to a world eerily similar to our own…with a few upgrades. Enter a world with no taxes, a privatized government, and worldwide customer loyalty programs. Barry expands on modern fears about capitalism, and takes them to an extreme degree. In this corporate espionage thriller, Hack Nike—in this world, you take the surname of the company you work for—is tasked by her employer to join an out-of-the-box marketing campaign. To increase the popularity of a new product, she must kill people who attempt to buy the new shoe. A field agent, Jennifer Government, is then tasked with hunting down Hack Nike. It might sound crazy, but it’s also packed with humor and intrigue.
All the Birds in the Sky
In Charlie Jane Anders’ debut novel, readers are introduced to a magically infused San Francisco on the brink of the Apocalypse. Childhood friends Laurence, a computer whiz, and Patricia, a witch who can talk to birds, attempt to fix a world ravaged by climate change by using the powers and resources at their disposal. As Laurence turns to science in an attempt to save humanity from a dying world, he and Patricia find themselves pulled into a fight against each other that neither asked for. All the Birds in the Sky is a reminder of the power of strong friendships, and the lengths we humans may go to for the people and places we care about.
Never Let Me Go
A deeply personal story between three young friends, Never Let Me Go has very disruptive undertones that will make us think deeply about the ethics of healthcare in the future. It’s one of those novels that stays with the reader long after the back cover is closed. Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth all attend Hailsham, a boarding school that emphasizes good health and honest art—but they’re yet to know their real purpose. This story follows the characters as they grow up, and is appropriate for readers of all ages. It dips its foot deep enough into the genre of dystopia to make one think about their own mortality. Sometimes the government isn’t responsible for asking the tough questions—society is.
Being a fireman in Bradbury’s world has a very different meaning than it does in ours. In Fahrenheit 451, books are burned freely and openly. It’s encouraged! (The horror!) Bradbury’s short novel is often found close to Orwell’s classic, and for good reason. It covers much of the same ground of a world that could be. The book’s overwhelming theme is that of censorship, and provides a throwback to the historical book burnings of recent history — but the vigilant reader will notice that the underlying danger is in how we allow ourselves to get to that point. Bradbury also had some thoughts on the role of mass media in our daily lives. Some of these predictions are just plain eerie.
What glitters is not always gold. Lois Lowry’s young adult novel is often regarded as a gateway book to the idea of utopias and dystopias. It has all the hallmarks of the genre: A very organized society with set roles, a content group of people who abide by the rules, and a fear of punishment for walking outside of the societal norms. Everything is the same, even the weather and the visuals of color. They call it “Sameness.” Our young hero, Jonas, is set to become the next Receiver of Memory, a job that allows for one person to have the memories of all people, and is used as a guide of sorts for any decisions made by his community. Here, Jonas learns the dangers of true equality that destroys any shred of individualism.
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Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons