The literal translation of dystopia means relating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice. These are six novels that have carefully crafted worlds that do just that. But where there is strife there is hope. Dive into a dystopian world and explore the shadows and the light with these recommended reads.
Emily St. John Mandel’s Women’s Prize for Fiction nominated book is far more concerned with what a post-apocalyptic world means for the humans living in it than it is with sensationalising a disaster or political upheaval. Even so written pre-pandemic there are some eerie similarities. Involving a travelling Shakespearean theatre company and many a Star Trek reference, for those fans amongst you, Station Eleven is an incredible meditation on humanity and the parts of civilisation worth preserving.
A dystopia with a difference, don’t be put off by the fact that this novel is set in a bee colony – we promise it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. Laline Paull’s unique tale follows Flora 717, a sanitation bee, the lowest class of her society. Yet Flora is different, possessing talents forbidden and strange to her kin. We guarantee you’ll be hooked as Flora struggles for survival in her hive where ‘mutant’ bees are routinely destroyed.
No list of ghastly parallel universes would be complete without Suzanne Collins’ 65 million copy bestselling trilogy The Hunger Games. Panem is a truly horrendous place to live, especially if you live in the 12 poverty-stricken districts, and with the constant threat of one of your loved ones being taken away to fight to the death in a public arena, suddenly our world doesn’t look too terrible.
Margaret Atwood is surely the undisputed Queen of Dystopian Fiction and choosing just one of her novels is a challenge, but the award-winning The Handmaid’s Tale surely has to take the crown. Set in near-future North America, a totalitarian theocracy has overthrown the US government and uses its control to subjugate women, relegating many, including our narrator Offred into the role of domestic sex slaves.
In this Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlisted novel, Sandra Newman plunges you into an America devastated by a strange virus known as Posies. This America is populated only by children who perish before their 20th birthday. You’ll find yourself cheering on Ice Cream Star, our unlikely but charismatic 15-year-old heroine, as she takes on the world, hellbent on finding a cure for this disease.
P. D. James’ The Children of Men is a classic of dystopian fiction, and now also a big screen blockbuster. Set in England in 2021, for reasons unknown all males’ sperm count has plummeted to zero, and mankind now faces its own extinction. Propaganda and strange rituals have sprung up across the country, giving governments extraordinary powers to keep the peace, and when a woman somehow becomes pregnant, the implications are huge.
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