Well hello there, good sir or madam!
I decided that I would love to start a weekly blog talking about one of my favorite subjects – the dystopian genre – and I thought it only appropriate to kick things off with a wee literature review. I’ve read a lot of the older stuff and a fair amount of the new stuff, and… *cracks knuckles*… I have opinions.
Not all of them are popular.
Let’s see how well we line up, and you can feel free to disagree with me in the comments below!
This week I’m talking about my all-time favorite dystopian novels, and because there’s far too much to cover in a single blog post, I’m going to break this up into a series of 4 posts – next week we’ll cover my five least favorite novels, and then we’ll jump into TV and movies after that.
Ready? Let’s go!
5. The Hunger Games
Okay, you got me – I’m trash. I ate this series up, even though I normally pride myself on going out of my way not to like popular things.
Suzanne Collins knows how to create a compelling world and she’s got that whole mass market formula thing down (come on – we all noticed that the second book was just the first one repackaged, but it was somehow still good!).
The only thing I have to criticize here is that The Hunger Games opened up a Pandora’s box of knock-off YA dystopian series. I’m not mad that they exist – I read the hell out of those, too – but I do think that they lose the social commentary thread of a true dystopian novel at times in favor of a more sparkly reader experience. That’s not a criticism of The Hunger Games, but of all the similar books that came after it.
4. Ready Player One
I am not what you’d call a gamer chick, nor was I alive for more than 4 years of the 80s. A lot of the references in this book elicited more of a “huh, I remember that,” than the “whoa dude, it’s a blast from my past!” that they seemed to bring out in a lot of its fans.
Did that stop me from enjoying this book? Hell no!
I started reading it on a whim in a bookstore, got 40 pages in before I could tear myself away, and couldn’t even wait to purchase it cheaper on Amazon (I know, I know, I am the problem…). While the video game references mostly fell on disinterested ears, I absolutely loved the world that Ernest Cline built. I was not even a little bit mad about the Willy Wonka-meets-scavenger hunt thing he had going on – it worked!
3. Shades of Grey
This is another book that really grabbed my attention from the very first page. The concept of stratifying your social classes according to degree of color blindness is a unique take on a Brave New World foundational idea, and there are so many interesting, endearing and memorable elements to this world.
The road is alive and repairs itself! Can we get started on that, Department of Transportation, huh? The librarian has no books but she does have an encyclopedic memory for where the books used to be. The opening line has to be one of the best I’ve ever come across:
“It began with my father not wanting to see the Last Rabbit and ended up with my being eaten by a carnivorous plant.”
There are only two things wrong with this book. Number one, it had the misfortune of being utterly buried by 50 Shades of Gray just two years after its publication. Number two, IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE PART OF A SERIES AND I’M STILL WAITING, JASPER FFORDE!
2. A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess, I love you even though I had to make my own dictionary to decode Alex and his droogs while I was reading this book. No, scratch that. I love you because of it.
A Clockwork Orange is one of the most fun and challenging books I’ve ever read, and it presents a truly original story. That’s pretty rare and definitely impressive, and I always love a book that forces you to sympathize with a monster of a narrator.
I started reading this book over my summer vacation one year in high school, mostly because I was told that it was violent and inappropriate for young minds (no surer a way to get me to pick up a particular book). I subsequently became obsessed with both the book and the movie (hello, weirdly persistent crush on Malcolm McDowell) for the entire rest of the summer.
1. Brave New World
For me, this book was one of those rare life-changers that you start out reading because you heard it was a good story and you end up referring back to it over and over and internalizing it into your worldview.
While I don’t think Brave New World has the most exciting plot or the best world-building of the five on my list, it brings everything together better than all the rest and backs it all up with a strong message.
Huxley creates a memorable world and sympathetic characters, and really just all-around nails that whole ‘cog in a machine’ mentality that many dystopian novels focus on.
Okay, I couldn’t do it. As I was making my list, more and more books kept coming to mind and I just can’t narrow it down to five. So here are a few more that I loved for various reasons:
- The Giver: The first dystopian novel I ever read, which became a keystone in my understanding of the genre.
- Fahrenheit 451: The first time I read dystopian fiction and actually grasped the social commentary that was being put forth along with the surface plot.
- The Unincorporated Man: I don’t know many other people who are aware of this book, but if you ever wanted someone to expound on the quote “corporations are people, too” for over 700 pages, this is the book for you.
- Replicas: I actually only gave it two stars on Goodreads (I’m a meanie) but I keep coming back to it in my mind and thinking that there was promise there.
- Children of Eden: Yes, I know, I am utter trash! This is Joey Graceffa’s book and I have to admit that I mostly like it for the bisexual angle, but the concept is good, too.
I’m sure there are literally dozens of others that I could give honorable mentions to, but I’ll cap it at 5 favorites and 5 honorable mentions or else I could go all night (*wink* Ladies…). Next week, we’re gonna go dark (squee – my favorite!) and talk about the dystopian novels that I JUST. COULD. NOT.
What did you think of my favorites? What should I read that might knock some of these down the ranks?