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Doublethink and Demagogues: A Selection of Great Dystopian Fiction

Posted on 27th January 2021 by Mark Skinner

With authoritarian regimes proliferating across the globe, these days it can often feel like we are living in our very own dystopian novel. We've gathered together our favourite, most prescient, literary dystopias from classics like Brave New World and We to contemporary examples such as The Farm and Vox. Whether exploring the ways parts of society are oppressed, the impact of new technologies on humanity or the near future's obsession with sadistic entertainment, these books are all stark warnings against the power of an all-controlling state and the double-edged nature of progress.     

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Orwell’s brilliantly bleak future vision of totalitarianism is arguably the greatest of all literary dystopias, contriving to look back to the Stalinist purges of the 1930s whilst simultaneously predicting with uncanny accuracy the worst excesses of the Cold War-era Soviet Union.
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Both an unforgettable portrait of defiance and authoritarian rule and a devastatingly powerful exploration of female oppression, The Handmaid's Tale is a classic dystopian vision with an all-too chilling resonance for our times.
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A profoundly moving narrative of a father and son traversing a ravaged landscape, McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece is an intimate examination of family and devotion in the bleakest of environments and circumstances.
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Set in a near-future fertility clinic where the babies are destined for the rich and powerful, The Farm asks big questions about how much of ourselves we are prepared to trade for a comfortable life.
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Following a populist presidential candidate’s unsettling rise to power, Lewis’s masterful cautionary tale about the spread of fascism in the United States reverberates eerily in view of recent history.
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With its enduring ability to bewitch and shock, Bradbury’s stirring 1953 novel about book-burning firemen remains one of the unquestionable masterpieces of dystopian fiction.
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Both an utterly unique exercise in dystopian fiction and a powerful portrayal of friendship at its most intimate, Never Let Me Go follows three students at the woozily pleasant Hailsham School as their preordained futures begin to unfold.
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With 99% of the population dead from a killer virus, the survivors must choose between two very different leaders; King’s epic apocalyptic saga has become a modern classic of the dystopian genre.
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A magnificently wrought and psychologically sophisticated vision of a society ravaged by an epidemic of blindness, Saramago’s novel perfectly captures the inexorable slide from civilisation to anarchy.
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VOX
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The Handmaid’s Tale for the #metoo era, Dalcher’s frighteningly pertinent, fast-paced thriller of extremism run rife fashions a terrifying world where women are all but silenced.
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A nuanced meditation on the loss of identity and the transience of the self, Ogawa’s dystopian fable presents a future society where memory is malleable and recollection can vanish in an instant.
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Dick’s 1968 sci-fi classic that inspired the film Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a nightmarish tale of a San Francisco bounty hunter operating in a post-nuclear world, bereft of animal life.
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With stark, profound things to say about media exploitation and teen disaffection, Suzanne Collins’ now-iconic YA work is a hard-edged, relentlessly thrilling triumph that continues to hold readers entranced.
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In a world facing human extinction and ruled by a despot, Theo Faren’s life is turned around by a chance encounter with a young woman and a group of dissenters in this haunting, timeless dystopian tale from P.D. James.
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A classic sci-fi dystopia that started out as a parody of H.G. Wells’s Utopian novels, Brave New World is a savage critique of the fallacy of the perfect state, the vogue for genetic engineering and the idea of the noble savage.
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California in the 2020s descends into anarchy and violence but one woman has the power to transform everything in this alarmingly prescient dystopia that takes in climate change, inequality and racism.
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An electrifying slice of feminist speculative fiction which imagines a world dominated by female power, Alderman's disturbing dystopian satire holds up a mirror to our own world.
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A bravura example of literary world-building and rich, rounded characterisation, the opening instalment of The Broken Earth trilogy conjures up an immersive post-apocalyptic dystopia for the ages.
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The most striking example of the pure science fiction of Ballard’s early period, The Drowned World envisages a London submerged under swamps and vegetation and a rogue scientist strangely reluctant to reverse the climatic process.
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A panoramic novel of corruption and conflict in a near future world sliding into anarchy, The Windup Girl is a dazzling feat of immersive world-building and vibrant, imaginative plotting.
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We
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Suppressed for decades by the Soviet authorities, Zamyatin's astonishing vision of a futuristic society where free will and creativity are ruthlessly stamped out influenced both Nineteen Eighty Four and Brave New World.
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A dystopian Romeo and Juliet that makes eloquent statements about race relations and the burning passions of the teenage heart, Noughts and Crosses is absolutely pivotal in the evolution of the Young Adult novel.
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Told with Eggers’s customary wit and caustic observation, The Circle revolves around an omniscient internet organisation and the employee who finds herself enmeshed in a world of corruption, duplicity and dangerous global power games.
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A heady rush of dystopian ultraviolence tinged with mordant humour, this cult classic about wayward teens forced to fight to the death by a brutal totalitarian government has become one of Japan’s most popular novels.
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Comments

AndyBunn

That's a brilliant collection of books. View more

AndyBunn
17th February 2021
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