While I was trying to think of a topic for my next blog post, I was playing around with different themes related to dystopian fiction. I was Googling phrases like “best dystopian books” and “best dystopia world building” and I noticed something: the majority of the must-read or highly recommended dystopian novels that I could find fell into two categories: they were written more than 30 years ago (some up to 70 or 80 years ago) or they were written for teens. Now, don’t get me wrong, I count Brave New World among my favourite novels and I loved The Hunger Games, but I know there are dozens of modern dystopian novels that are written for adults (and I’m not including the ones everyone knows about, like The Road). So I thought back to the books I’ve read in the past few years and did a little internet digging in order to compile this list of books and save you a little time. All of these books feature detailed worlds and depressing realities, have been written in the last ten years, and belong in the adult fiction section.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is the perfect book for you if you’re a gamer, lived through the 80’s, or love nostalgia. The novel is set in 2044 and the world as we know it is a grim, depressing place with one bright spot: the immense virtual reality world known as OASIS. Our main character, Wade, is a high school student living in a particularly poverty stricken city. As far as he’s concerned, real life has nothing for him, and he finds all of his joy on OASIS. The creator of OASIS, James
Halliday, has recently passed away and left an usual will: he’s hidden clues throughout his virtual world, Easter Eggs that players are meant to seek out in order to be led to the ultimate goal: his entire fortune and control of OASIS. Wade is the first player to successfully find an Easter Egg, and it propels him along an incredible journey, discovering dangerous truths about his world (both real and virtual) that he never imagined possible. The best part of this book for me was that because James Halliday was obsessed with 1980’s pop culture, his virtual world (particularly everything pertaining to his quest) is rife with references to 80’s movies, musics, and video games. It’s a fast-paced, richly-detailed, funny, coming of age story set in a bleak not-too-distant future.
In Shades of Gray , Jasper Fforde creates the world of Chromatica – a distant future version of our world that is ruled by a Colortocracy and where social standing is based on your individual colour perception. For example, those who are able to strongly perceive both blue and red (purple) hold the highest place in society, and those who are able to see no colour at all (known as Greys) are at the bottom and live like slaves to the rest of society. Eddie Russett is a high perceptive Red (note the last name, Fforde was very clever in naming his characters and towns after their dominant colours), is, up
until the time we meet him, a law abiding, status quo following young man. He’s focused mainly on marrying above his colour grade and securing some kind of fortune and good name for himself. However, when he travels with his father on a mission to the Outer Fringes, he meets a beautiful Grey named Jane, along with a host of other interesting characters, and everything changes for him. The longer he stays there, the more his eyes open to the truth about the Colortocracy he lives in. This book is one of my absolute favourites. I love the way Fforde developed his world and his characters, the writing is pithy and often tongue in cheek. I literally could not put this book down and I, like many others, am anxiously awaiting the sequel (that very frustratingly may or may not ever be coming).
Another of my favourites, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a lyrical and heartbreaking novel set in an alternate version of England. Kathy, the narrater, is in her early 30’s as she tells her story, looking back over her life with Tommy and Ruth as they grow from schoolchildren to young adults. They meet at Halisham, a private school in the English countryside where things are not as they seem. Growing up, the children were “told and not told” about their circumstances. They knew that they had a purpose and that their futures had already been decided for them, but failed to grasp the real truth of it. I don’t want to say much more because I strongly recommend going into this book with a clean slate, but know that it is a story about hope, forgiveness, friendship, and love. I honestly get a little emotional just thinking about this book, it is so powerful and beautifully written. It’s not your typical work of dystopian fiction, but I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Feed by Mira Grant is an entirely different spin on your typical Zombie apocalypse. “Shaun and Georgia are orphans of the Rising, the cataclysmic event which left the world reeling in the aftermath of the zombie uprising. Adopted by the Masons and raised in the strange world of the post-Rising
media, they’ve spent their lives chasing the next big story, the one that will allow them to break into the big leagues once and for all. Now, in Senator Peter Ryman’s run for the Presidency of the United States, they’ve finally found it. All they have to do is survive until the election. In a world filled with the constant threat of both the living and the living dead, it will be all that Shaun and Georgia can do to keep themselves in one piece. Accompanied by the rest of their blogging team, Senator Ryman’s staff, and a whole lot of caffeine, they might succeed…or they might finally answer the big question of their post-Rising world: When will you rise?” – publisher
In Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, “Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end. Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.” – publisher