I’m not very popular in my writers’ group.
They keep telling me not to write dystopias. The reason is that my fiction has a nasty habit of coming true. I’ve been encouraged to write light, fluffy tales of wonderful things happening to everyone.
But that would be boring, wouldn’t it?
So today’s book recommendations post is for books which feature dystopias with aspects that are chillingly similar to real life events, either at the time the book was a written or in the years since.
Read these and you’ll get a shiver down your spine.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
I read this many years ago but have been revisiting it via the TV adaptation. It’s the chilling tale of Offred, a woman whose role is to be a Handmaid in a state called Gilead, that’s been formed from the US after a religious coup.
With everything that’s been going on in the US in recent years, and the threat to women’s reproductive rights, there are millions of women worried that something like this could come true. And Atwood herself has said that she made nothing in the book up. It’s all based on events that have happened somewhere at some time.
‘I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.’
Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known as the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander, Fred Waterford – her assigned name, Offred, means ‘of Fred’. She has only one function: to breed. If Offred refuses to enter into sexual servitude to repopulate a devastated world, she will be hanged. Yet even a repressive state cannot eradicate hope and desire. As she recalls her pre-revolution life in flashbacks, Offred must navigate through the terrifying landscape of torture and persecution in the present day, and between two men upon which her future hangs.
Masterfully conceived and executed, this haunting vision of the future places Margaret Atwood at the forefront of dystopian fiction.
1984 by George Orwell
I was set this book as a school text aged twelve. We were told to go away and read the first chapter over the weekend. I started reading and didn’t put the book down until the final page. It’s a gut-wrenching, compelling book that makes you hope, imagine and cry.
‘Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’
Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.
George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four is perhaps the most pervasively influential book of the twentieth century.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
If you’ve got teenage kids (or you are one), you’ll know how all-embracing the internet has become for that generation. This book takes things as etc further. People live inside the OASIS, a virtual reality game that’s a much nicer place to live than the real world.
As more and more of our online and offline activities become gamified via apps and social media (anyone ever gone somewhere because of the #instagrammable nature of it?), this isn’t too far form what the world could look like if we let it.
It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.
Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.
A House Divided by Rachel McLean
Reviewers are telling me that one of the compelling aspects of A House Divided is how close it is to reality. And I admit I did have to rewrite sections of it when plotlines I’d consider far-fetched came true.
One reviewer has said: ‘I would call this book a dystopian thriller, except it is all too scarily plausible to believe that this is not a very real depiction of a possible future, and a not too distant one at that.’
Jennifer Sinclair is many things: loyal government minister, loving wife and devoted mother.
But when a terror attack threatens her family, her world is turned upside down. When the government she has served targets her Muslim husband and sons, her loyalties are tested. And when her family is about to be torn apart, she must take drastic action to protect them.
A House Divided is a tense and timely thriller about political extremism and divided loyalties, and their impact on one woman.