Top Five Friday: Dystopian Novels

Yesterday, I reviewed Karen Thompson Walker's upcoming novel, The Age of Miracles. Today, I'll continue with the theme and share my top five favorite dystopian novels for "Top Five Friday."

1. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

I included this book on my "A Few of My Favorite Things" post back in December, but I obviously like it so much that here it is again. Lenny Abramov is an enthusiast for those dusty, moth eaten things nobody uses anymore--books. He just wants to fit in and make his 20-something Korean-American girlfriend, Eunice, love him. Through alternating chapters--old fashioned diary entries by Lenny and online correspondences by Eunice--readers are exposed to a future America in which everyone is obsessed with living forever and the superficial, the country is irrevocably indebted to China and the government is controlled by a single political party. Super Sad True Love Story is a thought provoking, and kind of startling, look at how our focus on commercialism, capitalism, and youth can and may lead to the deterioration of the individual to clueless, superficial droids obsessed with pleasure and immortality.

2. The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

I read DuPrau's dystopian novel--the first in the Books of Ember series--with a sense of wonder back when I was in college. Though she wasn't the first to come up with the concept, imagining an entire underground city was fascinating. In the book, Lina Mayfleet, and her friend, Doon, are young citizens of this subterranean city that's beginning to run out of energy and resources because of its aging infrastructure. At their graduation in which they are assigned jobs, Lina, who's assigned pipework labor, and Doon, assigned messenger, are dissatisfied and switch roles. At home, Lina finds an undecipherable letter in a box, which turns out to be instructions on how to leave the city meant to be passed down from mayor to mayor over the span of 200 years. The only ones who seem to be concerned about the imminent collapse of their underground city, Lina and Doon use the advantages of their assigned occupations to puzzle out the dangerous path out of it and in to a world of light of which Lima has dreamed.

3. Forecast by Shya Scanlon

This novel actually started out as a 42 installment serial novel published across a number of online journals. I requested my library purchase it after reading a short synopsis in the New York Times Book Review, interested solely because of its dystopian theme. It tells the story of Zara, a woman who, after a spirited, independent youth, morphs into Helen, a dull suburban wife married to Jack, oblivious and undeserving of her once spirited self. It's the year 2212 and Zara/Helen lives in a Seattle where electricity has been depleted and replaced by power created by negative emotions, farmed by what's called Emotional Transfer Machines, or ETMs. If that's not crazy enough, weather changes by the moment--rain, snow, sunshine can happen all within a few minutes of each other. Told from the perspective of Maxwell Point, a Citizen Surveillant who's obsessively been watching her since her childhood, Forecast follows Helen/Zara as she escapes her mundane suburban life, befriends a talking dog, and seeks something more--something she may have once had.

4. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

How could I not include a classic on this list? I read Atwood's dystopian novel in my 20th Century English and American Literature course back in college, and I still remember its effect on me. Offred serves as a Handmaid in the house of the high-ranking Commander and is only allowed to go out once a day to marketplaces where signs are only pictures because women are forbidden to read. In the Republic of Gilead, the theocracy that has replaced what was the United States, women's value in society depend on their ability to bear children or else they face exile to the Colonies. Offred, remembering a time when she once had a husband, a daughter and a job, must pray that she herself can conceive another child to prevent herself from becoming one of the "unwomen," but she knows that in the nuclear aftermath that is the Republic, sterile men do, indeed, exist too. I found this story particularly frightening simply because of how plausible the premise is--and considering some recent political activity in the U.S.--how close we can come to realizing it.

5. The Giver by Lois Lowry

This is probably the first dystopian novel I recall reading. On the verge of turning 12 years old, Jonas lives in a society where pain and strife do not exist because of "Sameness." However, along with that supposed benefit, emotional depth also lacks therein. This harmony is maintained by the assignment of occupations, the matching of men and women based on personalities, and the limiting of two children, one male and one female, per family. At the "Ceremony of Twelve" Jonas receives his career assignment, chosen by the community's elders, as the next Receiver of Memory. In this position, he is to receive telepathically the secrets of the time before "Sameness" from The Giver. Fear, violence, sadness as well as true love, beauty, joy are all concepts newly revealed to Jonas, who begins to feel alienated from the people around him and critical of the way things are. He comes to the conclusion that "Sameness" is wrong and that something must be done to change the current conditions and enlighten and emancipate his people from their narrow minded world.

Comments

  1. I'm ashamed to say I have yet to read The Giver but am more inclined to after having read your review. However, I think I am most interested in The Handmaid's Tale. What an interesting idea. Might I also suggest 1984 and Animal Farm as great dystopian novels?

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    1. I've read both of those...didn't really like them. Not as much as these, anyway.

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