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EvCC Reads!   Tags: book_of_the_year, reading  

A guide to books we're reading and talking about this year.
Last Updated: Feb 28, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

The Joys of Dystopia Print Page

What is a Dystopia?

"The roots of the word dystopia—dys- and -topia—are from the Ancient Greek for 'bad' and 'place,' and so we use the term to describe an unfavorable society in which to live. 'Dystopia' is not a synonym for 'post-apocalyptic'; it also is not a synonym for a bleak, or darkly imagined future. In a dystopian story, society itself is typically the antagonist; it is society that is actively working against the protagonist’s aims and desires. This oppression frequently is enacted by a totalitarian or authoritarian government, resulting in the loss of civil liberties and untenable living conditions, caused by any number of circumstances..."

-John Joseph Adams, "Dystopian Fiction: An Introduction"


What dystopian tale will you read next?

"At their best, dystopias allow us—through the faculty of imagination—to see not only inhumanity, but the motives behind inhumanity. They allow us to understand, analyze, and warn the world of nightmares, deaths, grit, ideologies, and fundamentalisms. Through their own horrors, they might very well allow us to hold off the abyss for another generation or more."

-Bradley J. Birzer, "The Future of Dystopian Literature"


Dystopian Music

Dystopian themes are present in popular music, particularly in progressive rock, alternative rock, hard rock, and heavy metal. The Alan Parsons Project, Kansas, Pink Floyd, and The Buggles are just some of the prog rock acts that have given attention to dystopian concepts in their lyrics. The Parsons album Eye in the Sky is an artistic masterpiece that never sounds outdated. Put it at the top of your list of top ten pop albums to have if you're marooned on a desert island.

Speaking of albums for a desert island, the Canadian progressive metal band, Rush, has released several albums with dystopian themes, including 2112 (1976), Grace Under Pressure (1984), and Clockwork Angels (2012). The entire Clockwork Angels album is one dystopian story in song; a novelization of the album's story by sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson has also been released. 

Enjoy some tracks from these great dystopian albums:


Trailers for nine of the best dystopian films ever made...

From left to right, top to bottom:

Planet of the Apes, Metropolis, The Book of Eli
Twelve Monkeys, Gattaca, The Road Warrior
The Road, I Am Legend, District 9


Ray Bradbury: Hopeful Dystopian

Quotes from two reviews of the new book 
Ray Bradbury, by David Seed

"Bradbury recognised that tyranny is at its most potent when it’s superficially most benevolent, when it dresses up coercion and censorship in kindly, caring language. A society that believes it paramount to keep its citizens safe, happy and comfortable for the greater good can not, and will not, tolerate dangerous words."

-Patrick West"Bradbury: Between Dystopia and Hope" 

"Often, in the Chronicles, Bradbury’s Martians are childlike, but they are just as often waspish and bigoted. Reading the Chronicles requires four categories: Earth and Mars, Innocence and Corruption; there are decent men and bigoted men on both worlds; otherwise it would not be a tragedy, but a comic book."

-Thomas F. Bertonneau"Bradbury the Realist"


Great Dystopian Novels

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Father Elijah - Michael O'Brien
Father Elijah Schafer is on a secret mission for the Vatican which embroils him in a series of crises and subterfuges affecting the ultimate destiny of the Church. The Pope and the Cardinal Secretary of State call him out of obscurity and give him a task of the highest sensitivity: to penetrate into the inner circles of a man whom they believe may be the Antichrist.

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Lord of the World - Robert Hugh Benson
This book describes a world where Catholics are falling away and priests and bishops are defecting. Only a small remnant of the faithful remains. Julian Felsenburgh, a mysterious and compelling figure arises, promising peace in exchange for blind obedience. Those who resist are subjected to torture and execution.

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A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller
In the depths of the Utah desert, long after the Flame Deluge has scoured the earth clean, a monk of the Order of Saint Leibowitz has made a miraculous discovery: holy relics from the life of the great saint himself, including the blessed blueprint, the sacred shopping list, and the hallowed shrine of the Fallout Shelter.

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The Children of Men - P. D. James
The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future. The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Don't waste time on the movie version. It's dreadful.

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Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

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The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick
In this nightmare dystopia the Nazis have taken over New York, the Japanese control California and the African continent is virtually wiped out. In a neutral buffer zone that divides the rival superpowers in America lives the author of an underground bestseller. His book offers a new vision of reality, giving hope to the disenchanted. Can other, better worlds really exist?

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Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires... He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames... never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.

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Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. "Ender" Wiggin is drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

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Animal Farm - George Orwell
Tired of their servitude to man, a group of farm animals revolt and establish their own society, only to be betrayed into worse servitude by their leaders, the pigs, whose slogan becomes: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." This 1945 satire addresses the socialist/communist philosophy of Stalin in the Soviet Union.

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The Martian Chronicles - Ray Bradbury
The first men were few. Most succumbed to a disease they called the Great Loneliness when they saw their home planet dwindle to the size of a fist. Those few that survived found no welcome on Mars. The shape-changing Martians thought they were native lunatics and duly locked them up.

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Clockwork Angels - Kevin J. Anderson
In a young man's quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.

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The Giver - Lois Lowry
Given his lifetime assignment at the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas becomes the receiver of memories shared by only one other in his community and discovers the terrible truth about the society in which he lives.

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A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology.


Thinking about Dystopias

 "To most observers, T.S. Eliot among them, it has seemed far more probable that we are stumbling into a new Dark Age, inhumane, merciless, a totalist political domination in which the life of the spirit and the inquiring intellect will be denounced, harassed, and propagandized against: Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, rather than Huxley’s Brave New World of cloying sensuality."

-Russell Kirk, Redeeming the Time

"From time to time the belief spreads among men that it is possible to construct an ideal society. Then the call is sounded for all to gather and build it—the city of God on earth. Despite its attractiveness, this is a delirious ideal stamped with the madness of logic. The truth is that society is always unfinished, always in motion, and its key problems can never be solved by social engineering. Yet, man must conquer, again and again, the freedom to see this truth. In the intervals he succumbs to the dream of a mankind frozen and final in its planetary pride."

-Thomas Molnar, Utopia: The Perennial Heresy 

"Dystopian novels—one thinks of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World—are valuable contributions to culture, in the sense that they “incarnate” in forms beyond the theoretical the dangers now latent and growing. A civilization that has lost its sense of history and the moral absolutes that are the foundation of any truly human society becomes vulnerable to political manipulation and secular messianism in a multitude of forms. The end result is the dehumanization and destruction of some portion of humanity, and the degradation of us all."

-Michael D. O'Brien, interview in The Jesuit Post


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