Demand for Dystopias

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” -George Orwell, first sentence of 1984

Lately we’ve seen an uptick of interest in dystopian and counter-historical novels. George Orwell’s 1984 has been particularly popular; here are some others along the same lines.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley: Published in 1932 and still a staple of high school reading lists, this novel is “a classic science fiction work that continues to be a significant warning to our society today” (Library Journal).Cover image of It Can't Happen Here

It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis: Written during the Great Depression, “this political satire depicts the United States ruled by a President who slowly morphs into a dictator. It…mimics developments in Nazi Germany before they happened” (Library Journal).

Animal Farm, George Orwell: “Ostensibly a simple fairy tale, this little parable is actually a biting satire on the Russian Revolution” (Library Journal). “A clever fable, this is also a bleak picture of a totalitarian society” (Booklist). Contains the famous line “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”Cover image of 1984

1984, George Orwell: If you have heard (or made) references to “Big Brother” or the Thought Police, you owe Orwell a hat tip – 1984 is the source. Written in 1948, this thought-provoking novel about individuals and government has often been called “timely.”

The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick: This 1962 novel imagines a world in which the Axis powers have won WWII, splitting the U.S. between Japanese and German rule. Recently made into a TV series by Amazon.Cover image of The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood: Published in 1986, this novel depicts a future version of the United States, a totalitarian theocracy where women are no longer allowed to read and are valued only for their reproductive capacity. It is narrated by one of these women, Offred. There is a movie version from 1990, and it is soon to be a TV series by Hulu.

The Plot Against America, Philip Roth: This alternate history explores a “What if?” – “What if America had stayed out of World War II and famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, an isolationist and known Hitler admirer, had been elected President?” (Library Journal).

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon: Winner of many awards, this is another post-WWII alternate history. Set in Sitka, Alaska, home of the “frozen Chosen,” it is also a hard-boiled detective mystery.Cover image of When She Woke

When She Woke, Hillary Jordan: A dystopian version of The Scarlet Letter set in a future version of Texas, where church and state are no longer separate, and criminals’ skin is dyed a color to represent their crimes. Hannah Payne’s crime is having had an abortion; she is “chromed” red and has to live in a society that shuns and shames her – unless she can escape.

The “what if?” aspect of these speculative novels – whether futuristic or counter-historical – makes them appealing, intriguing, and thought-provoking, no matter the time and place you happen to be reading them. Enjoy, and let us know if you have any favorites we’ve missed on this list!


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