Sometimes when I think about the latest dystopian/post-apocalyptic trend, it makes me afraid for the future of this world – like the trend itself is a symptom of our collective acknowledgment that the world will be ending soon. But then I comfort myself by remembering that we’ve been imagining different versions of this world's demise for centuries. See, the classics aren’t just timeless works of art; they’re useful too. For false but comforting piece of mind!
In honor of the Partials giveaway today, I thought I’d go back and revisit some of my favorite classics in dystopian/post-apocalyptic science fiction. In any genre, it’s interesting to go back to where it all started. (For a very comprehensive, not to mention stunning view of science fiction in general – check out this map). But in this genre it’s particularly interesting, because we’re now living in the time that many of these books tried to envision. Some of their predictions seem silly now, but some have proven disconcertingly accurate.
First published in 1949
This should be an absolute staple for any dystopian fan. Orwell’s vision of the future is utterly frightening, all the more so because it’s a plausible one. In an intensely rigid “utopian” society where surveillance and mind-control are widespread, Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth, revising news and media from the past to fit current propaganda, even as he dreams of breaking free. Orwell’s vivid descriptions have proven to be, in many ways, prophetic.
“War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
First published in 1932
Aldous Huxley imagined a no less controlling, but very different future than that of George Orwell. In the society of Brave New World, humanity is mass-produced and conditioned to perform different tasks, resulting in a highly compartmentalized society. The elite “alphas” live deceptively free lives – being consumers, having sex (but never relationships), and drugging themselves happy. When outcast alpha Bernard Marx goes on vacation to visit the “savages,” a group of people living in a more collective way, he encounters John, the son of a lost alpha. Bernard brings him back into society, but John can’t adapt.
“But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real
danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
Originally published in 1950
Another chilling prediction of the future – especially frightening for all of us book nerds. Imagine a society in which all literature is banned and must be burned. Television watching is a major part of everyday life and too much thinking is discouraged. Sound a bit too familiar? Guy Montag is a fireman – only in this society firemen don’t put out fires. They start them. Guy loves his job: hunting down and burning illegal books and the homes of those who keep them. But a chance encounter with a young girl sparks Guy’s thoughts, and soon he becomes dangerously curious.
“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once
in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”
By Philip K. Dick
Originally published in 1968
Philip K. Dick is, in my opinion, the master of the plot-twist. I always feel excited and a bit nervous when I start one of his stories: I never know what’s going to come next. In this classic novella, much of the Earth’s organic life has become extinct after mass nuclear war and is now considered precious. The majority of humanity has fled from Earth to live more comfortably on other planets. Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter who tracks down and exterminates androids who are passing as human. This is a very thought-provoking work about empathy and what it means to be human and alive.
“Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or
anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated.”
Originally published in 1992
“But wait…” I hear you say. “This book was published after 1980 and the author is in fact still alive.” Well, these authors aren’t the only ones who can make predictions. For my last trick I thought I’d predict a classic of the future. Dun dun dun! In this novel, Neal Stephenson describes a world in which everything has been privatized: governments, jails, chop-shops, and even the mafia. The Earth is so overcrowded that people live in tiny storage units – if they’re lucky. But thankfully there’s the metaverse: a virtual world where people go to escape the real one. It already sounds familiar! And did I mention that this novel is incredibly funny?
“Most countries are static, all they need to do is keep having babies. But America's like this big old clanking smoking machine that just lumbers across the landscape scooping up and eating everything in sight.”
I am so happy to be a new member of the Readventurers. Being a third wheel has never felt this good!