More Classic Dystopian Fiction

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Animal farm: A Fairy Story

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned—a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.

When Animal Farm was first published, Stalinist Russia was seen as its target. Today it is devastatingly clear that wherever and whenever freedom is attacked, under whatever banner, the cutting clarity and savage comedy of George Orwell’s masterpiece have a meaning and message still ferociously fresh.

The Handmaid’s Tale

The seminal work of speculative fiction from the Booker Prize-winning, soon to be a Hulu series starring Elizabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, and Joseph Fiennes.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.

Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and literary tour de force.

Honorable Mention (non-Fiction): The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany

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8 thoughts on “More Classic Dystopian Fiction

  1. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is available and it was one of my purchases recently as a present last xmass.
    There are some chilling aspects now being repeated this century, our grandfathers must be upset in their resting places.

  2. I’ve read both “Animal Farm” and “1984”. I share with C. S. Lewis the belief that the former is superior to the latter.

  3. Dystopian novels are almost invariably primarily concerned with the present. They use the metaphor of a future to make a point about the actions of society now. Aspects may be caricatured, stereotyped and exaggerated from the present into the future not as a prediction, but as a means of changing the perception of that aspect in the present. A push for action in the here and now, not a hard prediction of things to come.

    The best writers often identify common recurring problems in forming human civilisations and governance. So however specific and targeted the novel may have been at the time, it is often easy to find contemporary parallels. Given the tendency for history to repeat its mistakes it is unsurprising that books directed at those mistakes should have enduring application.

    Books that focus on a possible future rather than use a future to critique the present tend to be far more optimistic. YMMV on how Utopian the future may appear in work that is about what could be rather than the potential problems of what is.

    Examples of such real optimism about the future rather than pessimism about the present can be seen in the Ian M Banks ‘Culture’ series, or Beggars in Spain by Kress. Of course the obvious original of the optimistic Utopian outlook has to be Star Trek.

  4. A couple of details that make The Handmaid’s Tale border on horror for me:
    1. The name Offred should be read “of Fred”. She isn’t even allowed to have her own name. Fred is the name of her Commander.
    2. The setting. If you are familiar enough with the area (which I am, and I know Greg is), you can work out where it is from the handful of details provided. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read the book, but it’s one of the last places you would expect to find eager theocrats in the US.

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