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Classic Dystopias

A few years ago I stumbled across the website Reading Trails. I got really excited because it plays to what I think is one of my strengths as a readers advisor. I may not have read everything out there, but I'm really good at talking to other readers, reading reviews and just generally keeping track of what's out there to read and why people are reading it. I liked Reading Trails because I could group together titles on similar topics, settings, etc. whether or not I'd read them, and I had a lot of fun doing it. Unfortunately Reading Trails is looking pretty broken, so I think I'm going to bring my own Reading Paths to this blog on Mondays.

For some reason I keep finding my way to dystopian novels. They satisfy my need for thought-provoking fiction with a touch of sci-fi. Here are a few classic dystopian novels I've read, along with one I haven't, but might as well have for as much as I've heard about it.

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - A classic of high school required reading lists, this 1953 novel shows us a society where firemen start fires, specifically burning books, the paper of which ignites at 451 degrees Fahrenheit. While many claim the book is an anti-censorship tale (this was the McCarthy era), Bradbury emphatically stated that the real enemy was television and people's willingness to be lulled into blissful ignorance by it. Either way, it's a thought-provoking look at how casually we can come to accept all sorts of things that aren't all that good for us.
  • 1984 by George Orwell (1949) - Another product of the Cold War, Orwell's dreary look 35 years into the future is so depressing, but scarily well-written and almost plausible. I read this the same summer as Fahrenheit 451, and while this is definitely a "better" book (whatever that means), I like Bradbury's book better because it doesn't make me want to put a gun to my head whenever I think about it. I'm an eternal optimist who loves a challenge, which is why I think I like a lot of darker fiction, because I can always see the glimmer of hope even if it's hard to find, but there are no glimmers in 1984.
  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1921) Considered one of the grandfathers of dystopian novels, Orwell was one of many who received inspiration from Zamyatin's response to the fallout of the Bolshevik uprising in Russia. An acquaintance recommended this to me after we'd gotten into a discussion about 1984. Now I'd recommend We before 1984 every time. While We is still not very cheery, I think in being just slightly less pessimistic about the world, it's also much more realistic with it's theme that there is no final revolution.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932) This is the only one I haven't read, but I've heard enough about it to speak intelligently. Consistently listed on best novel lists, Huxley's World State shows how advances of science can lead to a fractured society as well.
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