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Welcome to Dystopia
If a utopia is a perfect and ideal world, then a dystopia is well, the opposite. What’s the world coming to? If a dystopia is set in the not-too-distant future, the population is often under the control of a big powerful Somebody who seems to have the best interests of humanity at heart, but who really just wants to keep everybody under thumb. If the dystopia is of the post-apocalyptic kind, there’s usually the chaos of fleeing refugees or a desolate landscape populated by a few struggling survivors. There’s oppression and fear, often some sort of mind-control device, biohazards and disasters natural or manmade galore, but always—lucky for us—one or two rebels who are determined to uncover the truth. Dystopian fiction has deep roots—Aldous Huxley published Brave New World in 1932; Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953; George Orwell’s classic 1984 dates from 1949; even Lois Lowry’s dystopia for young readers, The Giver, has been around since 1993. Every work of dystopian fiction is unique. There are a myriad number of ways to image the future, but one thing’s for sure: Thinking up the worst is a lot more interesting than thinking up the best.   Print this list Print this list
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Cover Art: Feed /
Feed
Anderson, M. T.
Titus and his friends go to the moon for spring break. They drive futuristic “upcars.” And they’re connected twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to their feeds, computer implants that work like a high-tech hybrid of television, ipod, and Internet, directly networked to their brains. The feeds tell them what products to buy. The feeds play music and games. World news is vastly outnumbered by commercials. Titus rarely speaks—he can “chat” with others through his feed—but when he does, it’s with a raw, hesitant, barely legible slang. Even the few news reports about war and toxic waste are instantly forgotten in a blare of consumerism and consumption. Then Titus and his friends go to a club (on the moon, of course) where a hacker damages the party-goers’ feeds. Recovering in the hospital--and temporarily unplugged--Titus meets Violet, a strange girl even for this bizarre world. Violet has been brought up to pay attention to the events around her. She notices cause and effect, listens to more news reports than commercials, and even turns her feed off once in awhile. Titus is attracted to Violet, and even begins to question, in his own tentative and uncertain way, the issues and problems that Violet points out. But when Violet’s feed proves irreparable (or is it just too risky to save the rebellious Violet?), Titus is not exactly equipped to handle his emotions well. Author M.T. Anderson’s satire of the future is distinctly damaged and hopelessly empty. There’s a pretty clear cautionary tale here, but it’s the story of an acquisition-obsessed society that rings all too true. The audiobook of Feed is a compelling way to experience the novel, with the voiced narration mimicking the commercial interruptions of the all-too invasive feed.
Teen Fiction ANDERSO
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Cover Art: Oryx and Crake : a novel /
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Atwood, Margaret, 1939-
Almost twenty years after The Handmaid’s Tale, critically-acclaimed author Margaret Atwood revisits dystopian fiction with Oryx and Crake. This time, a lone man survives in a post-apocalyptic world along with a tribe of human-like super-beings. A former resident of the high-tech corporate gated communities, Jimmy (now calling himself the Snowman after that other lonely, isolated, abominable creature of the past) spends his days avoiding bio-hazards and genetically engineered predators, scavenging for supplies from the RejoovenEsence compound, and watching over the peaceful Children of Crake. Slowly, as he struggles to survive in this not-so brave new world, Jimmy reveals the story of his childhood friend Crake, a genius of genetics even at the age of eight; Oryx, the sexually-exploited girl Jimmy and Crake both obsessed over; and how the three of them brought about the creation of a new species and end of the mankind. It’s a compelling mystery, supported by horrific details of the biotechnology-obsessed world that flourished before Crake’s work brought about its collapse. Bleak though this world is, we’re in excellent hands with Margaret Atwood’s superb sense of satire, dark humor, and eerie realism. Atwood seems to be dreaming of dystopia again in her latest book, 2009’s The Year of the Flood, and by all reports it too is a finely wrought, provocative work of “what if?”
Adult Fiction ATWOOD
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Cover Art: The handmaid's tale /
The handmaid's tale
Atwood, Margaret, 1939-
The United States government has fallen and the righteous Republic of Gilead has taken its place. In Gilead, women need to be protected. They cannot be trusted with money or employment. They must dress modestly and avoid the company of unknown men. They cannot be allowed to read or write; information is too dangerous for the female sex. Women must stay at home, minding the house, reading the Bible, caring for the children. There’s a problem with that last womanly duty though--due to too many chemicals in the body and too much pollution in the air, the birthrate has fallen dramatically. Second marriages and unmarried unions are declared immoral and illegal, and the women involved in any such relationships are rounded up, separated from their families, and—if they’ve given birth before—parceled out to Gilead’s high-ranking Commanders and their childless Wives. These women are only valued for their wombs and if they fail to reproduce, they’re as good as dead. They are the Handmaids of Gilead, and Offred is one of them. The Handmaid’s Tale is her story, her memories of a former life with a husband and daughter, her hints about the events that led to the rise of the Republic, her understanding of Gilead’s rules and crimes, her decisions to trust or fear the Commander, his Wife, the chauffeur, the cook, and the other Handmaids. With The Handmaid’s Tale, author Margaret Atwood spins a tale about the displays of power that can be made with sex, religion, fear, and obedience. Offred’s trials are made painfully clear to the reader; the consequences of her oppressive existence linger long after the last page has been turned.
Adult Fiction ATWOOD
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Cover Art: Parable of the sower /
Parable of the sower
Butler, Octavia E.
The year is 2025, and it’s hard to believe that life anywhere on earth could get worse. Massive environmental disasters and unchecked socioeconomic decline have turned the once-prosperous United States into a third world country complete with every imaginable aspect of suffering that entails—government as good as nonexistent, jaded law enforcement, unemployment, poverty, starvation, gang violence. The only relatively safe havens are small communities that build barricades around their streets to protect themselves from the rampant crimes of theft, rape, and murder that lie outside their locked and barred gates. Lauren Olamina, teenage daughter of a Baptist minister, lives with her family in one such walled community in southern California. It’s a close-knit place for its day; the people don’t have much but they can afford to band together, trade supplies, and watch each other’s backs. Lauren, however, is convinced the relative comfort that the neighborhood walls provide won’t last. Things on the outside are getting worse and people are becoming more desperate with every passing year. There’s constant violence, extreme poverty, no water, not a job for miles. There’s even a new high-tech drug nicknamed “pyro” for the arsonist urge it compels in those who abuse it. Lauren is determined that when the time comes and the walls fail, she will be one to survive at any cost. It’s extraordinarily rare in Lauren’s world to meet an individual whose life has not been marred by suffering and loss, but Lauren has a personal philosophy that she calls Earthseed to get her through the pain-filled days. Instead of putting her trust in her father’s religion, Lauren’s God is the only constant in life: Change. Lauren records the discovery of her new faith along with the events of her life in a journal that provides the narrative format for Parable of the Sower. Reading the contents of Lauren’s diary is not always easy. The events of author Octavia E. Butler’s twenty-first century are more tragic than triumphant, but the reader has a reliable and capable narrator in young Lauren who, despite the horrors she endures, is always secure in her belief of a better future. Butler is a highly lauded author (the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant and one of the few African American sci-fi writers) who pens her tales with a direct simplicity and grace that is appealing and inviting to readers of all genres. This finely wrought warning of a very possible future continues in a compelling sequel, Parable of the Talents.
Adult Fiction BUTLER
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Cover Art: Catching fire /
Catching fire
Collins, Suzanne.
Against all odds, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen won the Hunger Games, the forced battle-to-the-death between twenty-four children from the twelve districts of Panem (the nation formerly known as the United States of America). The Capital holds the Hunger Games every year to remind its citizens of a long-ago failed rebellion, and to make sure the people know exactly who is in charge of not only their lives, but their children's lives as well. Katniss wants nothing more than to get back to ordinary life, living with her mother and sister and hunting with her stoic friend Gale, but Katniss' win was too unconventional to go unnoticed. To save herself and Peeta, the boy from her district who was also chosen to compete, Katniss pretended to fall in love with Peeta, and that lie broke all the rules. Now Katniss has the attention of the Capital officials and the long-suffering people, and both sides are waiting to see what Katniss will do next. Will she toe the Capital line to ensure the safety of her friends and family, or will she use her rebellion in the Games to spark something bigger? Katniss herself has no idea, but a heart-wrenching tour of the outlying districts and a horrific surprise from the Capital will make up her mind if nothing else does. Katniss will have to decide what the consequences of her win will be, and whether or not those consequences can change things for the better or the worse. Catching Fire is the second book in author Suzanne Collin's new trilogy. The first book, 2008's The Hunger Games, focused on Katniss' desperate and action-packed fight for survival. Catching Fire picks up where The Hunger Games left off and opens the story up from the stadium of the Games to the ins and outs of the world outside, with a detailed and suspense-filled focus on the politics of this under-the-thumb dystopian world, and with tougher choices for our intrepid young heroine. Catching Fire is just as thrilling and gripping as the Hunger Games and with even more to think about, and we can only wait with breaths held for the third book to find out how Katniss' superbly told fight turns out this time.
Teen Fiction
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Cover Art: The maze runner /
The maze runner
Dashner, James, 1972-
Thomas wakes up in the Glade. He has no idea how he got there; he has no concrete memories of his life before this. The Glade is a small safe haven in the middle of an enormous labyrinth, and Thomas is in the company of sixty other memory-less boys who have been delivered up to the same fate—solve the Maze before nightfall, or else. If they don’t make it out, the half-machine, half-animal, all-monstrous Grievers will attack and destroy. The Glade is the only refuge from the hazards of the Maze, but even though the boys have managed to organize, grow food, and make a life for themselves, and the desire to get out is overwhelming. Supplies are conveyed by the mysterious “Creators” via the same freight elevator that delivers a new boy every thirty days, but two years have gone by since the first batch of fellows arrived, and no one has solved the Maze yet. Thomas spends only one day struggling with the rules of his new life—he feels an overwhelming desire to be one of the runners who desperately try to solve the Maze every day, and makes tentative bonds with friendly Chuck, demanding Algie, and intelligent Newt. The very next day, the elevator arrives again and a new kid is flung into their midst. But this time it’s a girl, and she comes with a terrifying message: There will be no more deliveries of supplies, no more amnesiac kids. There will be no help, no rescue. The Maze needs to be solved—now or never. An action-packed story hints at a dangerous, devastated world outside the Maze, and as soon as one question is answered a new problem emerges to demand a life-or-death solution. Thomas is an intelligent protagonist, curious and determined to unlock both the puzzle of the Maze and the secrets in his head, but it’s the anticipation of what comes next that will keep the pages turning. The first book of a planned trilogy, The Maze Runner reveals a mysterious dystopia where survival, rebellion, and adventure reign supreme.
Teen Fiction DASHNER
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Cover Art: The house of the scorpion /
The house of the scorpion
Farmer, Nancy, 1941-
The House of the Scorpion is a hard world of drug lords, lost boys, computer implants, and clones. Between the U.S. and the nation formerly known as Mexico lies Opium, a country covered in poppy fields and ruled by the ruthless drug lord Matteo Alacrán, better known, because of his great age and power, as El Patrón. El Patrón keeps his country, his “eejits” (servants who have microchips in their brains to keep them slaving away without question), and his extensive family well under his thumb. El Patrón also has clones. Most clones get the numbing-and-dumbing brain chip, but not El Patrón’s. The newest Matteo Alacrán—young Matt—gets to grow up with a normal intelligence, though not, he soon learns, with a normal anything else. Clones are unnatural, lower than animals, inhuman monsters. But there are people who love Matt—Celia, the maid who raises him; Tam Lin, the bodyguard appointed by El Patrón; and María, a little girl who’s too young, innocent, and stubborn to let the usual prejudices guide her. Matt is occasionally called to the side of El Patrón and showered with gifts from the old man, but he’s mostly left to face the cruelty of the Alacrán family. Even when Matt discovers the truth about the real reason for his existence, escape is no guarantee of freedom. There are more trials to face, prejudices to overcome, a past to atone for, and a future that is uncertain to say the least. A Newbery Honor book, a National Book Award winner, and a recipient of the Printz Award for Young Adult Literature, this is work of fiction that borders uneasily on fact. There’s no guarantee that author Nancy Farmer has imagined a future that couldn’t really happen, which makes The House of the Scorpion a disturbingly addictive read.
Children's Fiction FARMER
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Cover Art: Shades of grey : the road to High Saffron /
Shades of grey : the road to High Saffron
Fforde, Jasper.
Every since the mysterious Something That Happened long ago, the world has been drained of color. At least, that’s the way the people left behind see it now. Only one color of the spectrum is visible to individuals, and society has been organized in a strict system of social class based on the color that people can perceive—those who can see purple or green are higher up than those who can see red; the working class is made up of those who can only see in shades of grey. Our hero, Eddie Russet, is a Red, but he’s pissed off the rule-obsessed Colorocracy by challenging the efficiency of queuing, and has been sent to the Outer Fringes with his father. Eddie has a bright future, if he can earn back enough merits. He’s tentatively engaged to a high-ranking wealthy Red, and, even though he hasn’t had his formal color test yet (which all citizens take at the age of twenty), he believes he’s highly perceptive and can see practically the full gamut of red shades. But then Eddie catches sight of Jane G-23, an adorable but surly Grey who is suspiciously willing to rebel against the many, many standards and mores that keep everyone under control. Soon Eddie is involved in all manner of mysteries—he talks to an Apocryphal man (a person who doesn’t fit into the prescribed system and is therefore deemed invisible), helps his father prevent the spread of the deadly Mildew disease, gets entangled in a search of the abandoned town of High Saffron r, and finds spoons (the rules forbid spoons; no one really knows why but, boy, are they valuable). It takes a couple chapters to really get the hang of this colorless future, but Shades of Grey is a complex, sophisticated dystopia with a healthy dose of much-welcome wit and charm. The sense of humor and satire is a breath of fresh air, and that’s author Jasper Fforde’s hallmark (he’s also the author of the genre-bending Thursday Next Series). For a lighter dystopia that’s still highly sophisticated, look no further than Shades of Grey—and look forward to the two books in-progress that will make this into a deliciously colorful trilogy.
Adult Fiction FFORDE
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Cover Art: The children of men /
The children of men
James, P. D.
In The Children of Men, author P.D. James images another future in which birthrates have plummeted. In fact, there hasn’t been a single baby born for nearly twenty years. Children are not the future, and civilization has ground to a halt. War rages, borders are closed, refugees are persecuted, mass suicides are encouraged, desperation is the order of the day. Theo Faron is one man in this barren future, a depressed, ineffectual history professor who happens to be the cousin of the dictator-like Ward of England. Due to his connections, Theo is approached by an underground rebellion called the Fishes, a group that still hopes for a promising future because one of its members—a woman named Julian—is miraculously pregnant. Soon Theo finds himself thrown in with the Fishes as Julian fights to keep her pregnancy secret from the ruthless government. P.D. James is best known for her series of mysteries starring Detective Adam Dalgliesh; The Children of Men and its science fiction tones are a distinct departure for the bestselling writer. But even fans who long for Adam’s return should stick with Theo and Julian—after a slow, deliberate start that chronicles the harsh realities of this futureless future, the drama and the pace pick up, and new issues are brought to light. Fans of books-turned-movies should watch 2006’s Children of Men, starring Clive Owen as Theo, Julianne Moore as Julian and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. The film takes some interesting liberties with the plot and breaks new ground cinematically, and is a fine companion piece to the novel.
Adult Fiction JAMES
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Cover Art: The knife of never letting go /
The knife of never letting go
Ness, Patrick, 1971-
When things got real bad, a few pioneers left the messy Old World (Earth) and resettled on New World. They were in search of a fresh start, a simpler way of life, but they were in for one hell of a shock--an alien race already in residence. The human settlers were able to win the war for their new home pretty easily, but not before the aliens released a virus that made the men able to hear each other's thoughts and killed the women. All this is ancient history to young Todd, who was born on New World and has only ever known a life among the leftover men of Prentisstown and the unending, chaotic Noise of thought that accompanies them. But just as Todd is on the cusp of the birthday that will make him officially a man, he uncovers a secret so shocking that everything he knows to be true is called into question. Now Todd, his faithful dog Manchee, and a surprise visitor are running for their lives from the men of Prentisstown. And don't forget: Todd's enemies can hear every thought in his head--and those of his little dog, too. This is one of the most gut-wrenching, brutal dystopias out there. Author Patrick Ness writes an action-packed punch of a novel that just about breaks your heart--but he always keeps just a tantalizing glimmer of hope dangling to keep you reading, and the drama is well worth it. The cliff hanger at the end of the book is so gripping that you're not going to want to spare even one second--make sure you have book two (The Ask and the Answer) close at hand.
Teen Fiction NESS
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Cover Art: Mortal engines : a novel /
Mortal engines : a novel
Reeve, Philip.
Tom Natsworthy is a lowly apprentice in the Guild of Historians. Kate Valentine is the beautiful daughter of Head Historian Thaddeus Valentine. Hester Shaw is a young woman with a hideously scarred face, a would-be assassin whose attack on Thaddeus Valentine is thwarted by young Tom. And the city of London, where this event takes place, is a Traction City: a towering mobile metropolis with metal jaws that rolls across Europe in pursuit of smaller towns to capture and use as resources, food, and fuel. The world’s cities took to the road hundreds of years ago to escape the constant wars and natural disasters that ravaged the planet, and that’s the future that Tom, Kate, and Hester have grown up in. The Hunting Grounds of Europe used to be flourishing, but things have taken a turn for the worst and it’s become a city-eat-city world. When Tom saves Valentine from Hester’s attack, he expects to be a hero—but instead he’s thrown out of London after Hester and stranded in the wide, open, dangerous Out Country, at the mercy of every roving town, pirate, airship, or Stalker robot that might pass by. Tom’s confusion is matched only by Hester’s desire for revenge and, back in London, by Kate’s overwhelming curiosity about the girl who wants to kill her father. As Tom and Hester try to get back to London and as Kate explores the hidden depths of her city, a secret plot with an ancient but deadly weapon is revealed, and Kate’s father, London’s dastardly Lord Mayor, and a league of cities that have chosen to dwell on the bare earth, are all implicated. Author Philip Reeve seamlessly combines social commentary with action-packed adventure and a richly detailed future world. The first of a series (as so many dystopian sagas are), Mortal Engines is followed by Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices, and A Darkling Plain.
Teen Fiction REEVE
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Cover Art: Uglies /
Uglies
Westerfeld, Scott.
The world of Uglies seems pretty ideal. The future is a place without war, racism, or environmental destruction. Even better, everyone is physically beautiful and their only job is to have fun. Ready for the catch? Up to the age of sixteen, people are ugly. At least, they’re taught to believe that the faces they’re born with are ugly. On their sixteenth birthday, everyone undergo a mandatory cosmetic surgery that reshapes their bones, widens their eyes, perfects their physiques, and makes them all conform to an ideal standard of beauty. Then they’re sent to New Pretty Town to party all day and all night, with nary a care for the rest of their lives. Tally Youngblood is an almost-sixteen-year-old ugly who can’t wait to be remade as a partying pretty. But then she meets Shay, who criticizes the concept of beauty and questions the need for a surgery that, no matter how attractive it makes you, also removes any trace of the individuality that we’re all born with. Tally’s unconvinced, but then Shay runs off to a mysterious place called the Smoke where a band of non-prettied people live in harmony with nature and their natural-born looks. The very pretty, very scary officials from Special Circumstances come swooping down on Tally and offer her a terrible choice: If Tally doesn’t follow Shay to the Smoke and betray her to the authorities, they’ll never let her turn pretty at all. There are tough choices ahead for young Tally, but there’s a lot of fun for the reader—action scenes with hoverboards, traces of our own modern-day society left in rusty ruins, and suspicions that there’s something much more sinister to being pretty than meets the eye. Uglies is a gripping page-turner, a cutting-edge social commentary, and it packs a killer cliffhanger to boot. Luckily, Uglies is the first of a series. Pretties, Specials, and Extras follow, and pack quite the dystopian punch of their own.
Teen Fiction WESTERF
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Cover Art: Woolvs in the sitee /
Woolvs in the sitee
Wild, Margaret, 1948-
Dystopias come in all forms, even picture books. But Woolvs in the Sitee is not for little children. Told by a lonely, scared boy, this dark story features text scrawled in graffiti-like writing across the page, with words misspelled and misshapen to heighten the sense of atmospheric ruin conveyed by the bleakly elegant illustrations. Ben, a young boy who has lost his family and spends his days hiding in a dank basement, tells readers that there are “woolvs in the sitee,” but these are not forest animals, oh no, these are “shadows prowling,” hateful and dangerous beings who “will kum for me and for yoo.” Ben’s only ally is his upstairs neighbor Mrs. Radinski, who offers food and water and comfort. One night, Ben is lured outdoors by a clean blue sky (the seasons are otherwise “topsee turvee,” hinting at some devastating apocalyptic disaster). The blue sky turns out to be merely a painted wall, but Mrs. Radinski braves the dangers of the street to bring Ben home to safety. And when Mrs. Radinski disappears, Ben must decide whether or not to risk all his fears and the horrors of the city to return the favor. Australian author and illustrator team Margaret Wild and Ann Spudvilas collaborated on a gripping book with haunting, mature themes, despite its slim size. The straight-forward, disturbing lines build on the images of rusty oranges streetlights, buildings that drip with streaks of black and gray, and scratchy charcoal figures in deep shadows. A simple but deeply evocative dystopian vision, Woolvs in the Sitee should not be overlooked.
Children's Fiction WILD
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Comments
On Jul 12, 2010 at 3:57, Aaron wrote:
Nice list. I requested every single one of them :)
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On May 15, 2012 at 8:49, Xtina wrote:
I saw that oryx and crake was on your list and I knew it would b good. Im really impressed with this list and I will check out the books I haven't read already
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