Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Utopia Turned On Its Head

dys⋅to⋅pi⋅a
n : state in which the condition of life is extremely bad as from deprivation or oppression or terror [ant: utopia]


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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
In AD 2540, all humans are created at the Central London Hatching and Conditioning Centre and born into 5 castes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. Alpha is the intellectual leader; Epsilon is the working drudge. A relevant book after 77 years considering made-to-order babies are peeking over the horizon.

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1984 by George Orwell (1949)
"War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength." Set in the "future" of 1984, civil servant Winston Smith tries to rebel against the omniscient Big Brother, and is broken. Having the year 1984 roll around was as much fun as twelve months of centennial celebrations. The media coverage of this book in 1984 was as invasive as Big Brother himself.

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
It's a pleasure to burn, until Guy Montag meets a young girl who is living rather than existing, and he begins to question his job as a firefighter who starts fires instead of putting them out. The book stands as a reminder that volumes of literature beloved enough to be memorized by rebels on the fringe of society should never be taken for granted by a society free enough to read them.

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Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
Is there anything more frightening than mob rule, even if the mob is a group of children? Or should that be especially if the mob is a group of children? Even among British schoolboys stranded on an island, absolute power corrupts absolutely, only this time the scepter and crown is a pig's head on a stick and a conch shell.

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A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
Alex and his droogs strut the streets of a futuristic London, assaulting people whenever the mood hits. When convicted and imprisoned for murder, he volunteers to undergo reconditioning so that he can be cleared for an early release. But the reconditioning works too well and he becomes a "clockwork orange"--an organic being sapped of free will and turned into a mechanism that becomes ill at the mere thought of violence.

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The Stand by Stephen King (1978)
Although the unedited version of this book runs over 1,100 pages, it has been my pleasure to read and reread it over the decades. A man carrying the Captain Trips virus crashes into a gas pump in Texas and begins the end of civilization as we know it. The 108-year-old black woman, Mother Abigail, and Randall Flagg representing God and Satan, respectively, gather their minions from every corner of America. A selected few of God's children make their heroic stand in Las Vegas, Nevada. The optimism of the survivors as they build a new America while mourning the old one makes for an unforgettable and poignant tale.

These are just a few of the dystopian novels I've read, but there are many more I have yet to read.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dystopian Sci Fi can be great for social commentary. Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid's Tale to illustrate just far injustice against women could go. Oryx and Crake, also by Atwood, feels especially prescient today, with its world of genetic engenering gone awry, and strange meat grown in test tubes. James Tiptree Jr. wrote great short stories illustrating many similar themes, which, along with Atwood's work, I highly recommend.

Tressa said...

Dystopian fiction is THE perfect vehicle for authors to couch any political or social criticisms they want to convey to their readers.

I read the chilling Handmaid's Tale when it first came out, and Oryx and Crake is on my ever-growing to-be-read list.

Thanks for the suggestions.