Dance like Big Brother’s Not Watching You: A Tribute to Dystopian Novels

I’m currently at a conference predominately catered toward analysts and engineers in the government sphere, which has got me thinking about some great novels about what can happen when governments grow too corrupt, using technology for devious purposes. This dystopian theme has garnered more popularity in the past few years, thanks to the rise of young adult thrillers like The Hunger Games, so I thought I would share some tidbits about the novels that make you want to wear an aluminum hat.

The Classics

1984 by George Orwell (1949): The king of dystopia, Orwell paints the bleak picture of a totalitarian state that not only watches your every move, but also sabotages your mind with double-think. The intensity of this story quickly made it one of my favorites of all time!

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932): This is an excellent portrayal of genetic engineering gone totally wrong, complete with drug-induced complacency. Read with caution, as it also contains more disturbing themes than the other two classics.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1950): A haunting commentary of society’s attention-deficiency and willingness to sacrifice literature and civil rights for mind-numbing entertainment. Its brevity proves that good things can come in small packages.

The Genre Re-Definers

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985): One of the most well-renowned feminist writers, Atwood illustrates an alternate dystopia where the feminist movement of the 1970s backfired, creating a twisted world where women are reproductive slaves. Given current politics in America, this story’s just as relevant almost 30 years later.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005): I’m hesitant to label this novel as science-fiction, or even describe its main premise for fear of spoiling the reading experience, but I will say that never have I seen an author blur the lines between genres as Ishiguro. A heartbreaking tale that transcends past, present, and future.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (1988): I don’t normally include graphic novels, but this one epitomizes dystopia to the max. Based on the history of Guy Fawkes’ Day, it depicts the ultimate narrative of revolution. The V mask is a must-have for anarchists everywhere.

The Newcomers

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008): After flipping channels between reality TV and war footage, Collins wrote the bestselling trilogy of the ancient Greek-esque punishment for rebellion. Arguably too brutal for children, but it’s an apt critique of society’s desensitization of violence.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (2005): One of my favorite YA series, it demonstrates how our obsession with beauty and perfection often hides uglier interiors. Add an element of romance, and you’ve got the next silver screen contender.

Matched by Ally Condie (2010): Again, what’s a YA trilogy without a love triangle? Lit nerds will love its influence from poetry, and Twihards suffering withdrawals will soon have new boys to swoon over when Disney brings the adaptation to a theater near you.

So there you have it! My recommendations for those wanting to dive into dystopia! What other novels would you add to the list?

Masterpiece Monday: Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

Image via Wikipedia

[Note: This weekly meme will feature a literary classic, most of which I enjoyed, but some which I found lacking]

Rating: 4 out of 5

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, published in 1932, begins by describing the World State, an alternative universe set in London A.F. 632 (meaning 2540 C.E., 632 years “After Ford” created the first Model T).  Ford has replaced God as a holy figure in this dystopian society dominated by mass production and consumption.

Beware: this novel is quite disturbing at first.  The early chapters take you on a tour of the World State’s genetic engineering facilities, in which people are bred, not born, into one of five castes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. Each caste is trained for specific tasks, as well as brainwashed into believing that they are happy in life, so as not to envy the other groups.

What’s disturbing is how the World State achieves stability–by sleep hypnosis and electroshock therapy.  Also, because all women are on birth control (known as Malthusian belts), promiscuity is encouraged from a very young age. (Do NOT read if you cannot stomach the thought of 7-year-olds having sex).  Sleeping around ensures that no one becomes monogamous, and thus more concerned with the individual rather than the whole.

Later in the novel, we’re introduced to the main characters Bernard Marx, an abnormally short, ugly Alpha, and Lenina Crowne, an Alpha often described as  “pneumatic” for both her empty brain and bouncy body.  In order for Bernard to return to the good graces of the World State after his unorthodox behavior, he and Lenina travel to a Savage Reservation in New Mexico.  There they meet Linda, a civilized woman ostracized from society after becoming pregnant with her son John.  The rest of the novel follows the four characters’ return to London and how John reacts to what he calls the “Brave New World.”

The novel is extremely inventive: even the characters’ names are derived from historical figures (ex. Bernard Marx = George Bernard Shaw + Karl Marx).  Although published almost 80 years ago, the science fictional elements are timeless, since the World State never seems too out of the realm of possibility.  The themes are provocative, and Huxley makes the reader as disgusted with the World State as it is with our own society.  The juxtaposition between civilized and savage makes you both scorn and appreciate each perspective.

Other than the initial shock over the controversial subject matter, I loved how this novel forced me to re-evaluate societal norms and decide for myself whether ignorance or bliss was more important.  The ending is not a happy one, but it fits the overall message.  I would highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy thinking critically and can handle disconcerting and often offensive notions.

Favorite Quote: “Stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt.  Happiness is never grand.” (Ch. 16)