Dystopian Reading List

This year's Read at Leicester text, Naomi Alderman's 'The Power', is many things. It's a feminist allegory, an alternate history, a thriller, horror and comedy, but above all it is unmistakably a dystopia. In keeping with this, the University Library has created a dystopian reading list of some of the best examples of the genre we have on our shelves, to help you dive into one of the most popular genres of the year.

 

The Power, Naomi Alderman (2015)

This year’s Read at Leicester text, The Power describes a world where all women develop the ability to literally ‘shock’ men via mysterious electrical powers, exploring the political, social and economic implications of this power shift. The supernatural premise is used to explore the relationship between gender and power, as well as how historical narratives are dictated by power structures, making this a great text for the postmodern reader. All first year students have received a free copy and more will be made available to all undergraduates. Also available at the library here.

It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis (1935)

Satirical political novel published during the rise of fascism in Europe, describing the rise of a populist, fascist presidential candidate who defeats Roosevelt to become the first American dictator. The new government imposes a plutocratic and totalitarian regime in the U.S. and the novel details the protagonist, journalist Doremus Jessup’s opposition to it. The book surged in popularity following the 2016 U.S. elections and is a go-to text for readers looking to explore the origins of fascism and state violence in modern societies. Full text available at the library here.

 

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1931)

Set in London in the year AD2540, Brave New World is widely considered to be one of the greatest, and bleakest, novels of all time. A highly prescient novel which predicted future developments in reproductive technology, capitalism, individualism, mass production, and psychological manipulation, the text explores a future world where people are rigidly divided into classes and brainwashed into complacency. This is a dystopia whose horror comes from how closely Huxley’s world resembles the one we currently live in. Full text available at the library here.

 

1984, George Orwell (1949)

Perhaps the most well-known dystopian novel, 1984 was written during the onset of the Cold War, and describes a world in which all citizens are living under savage totalitarian dictatorships which mirror the governments of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, which Orwell depicts as virtually identical ideologies. A haunting text which explores the implications of state control over the individual and power for power’s sake, 1984 is a powerful reminder that we are not as free as we may like to think. Available from the library here.

 

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1962)

Set in a near-future U.K. where violent youth subcultures are wreaking havoc, Clockwork Orange explores and probes the concepts of morality and free will, as well as the implications of social and behavioural control by the state. The text is a champion of freedom of choice and the deeply disturbing world it presents serves as a warning about the irresistible power of the modern state. Available from the library here.

 

We, Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924)

An understated pioneer of modern dystopia, the Russian novel We anticipates many developments in surveillance technology and globalisation, envisioning a world of brutal conformity under the auspices of a global totalitarian state. The manuscript was smuggled out of Soviet Russia in 1921, a describes life in the hyper-industrialised ‘World State’ that Earth has become, where humans are considered to be mere mechanical units of production with numbers for names, and any deviation from the norm is ruthlessly punished. Available from the library here.

 

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1953)

The premise of this bleak American novel is a world where all books are outlawed and the authoritarian government employs a system of ‘Firemen’ to burn any which are found. Written during the height of the anti-communist McCarthy era in the United States, Fahrenheit 451focuses on the importance of knowledge and understanding history so that it may not repeat itself, as well as the relentless need for oppressive regimes to hinder access to knowledge. A modern classic which is worth reading in an age of mass media, misleading news sources and changing reading habits. Available from the library here.

 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick (1968)

Serving as the primary basis for the science fiction classic Blade Runner, this novel is set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, following a catastrophic nuclear war which has destroyed a great deal of life on Earth. The plot follows a bounty hunter who is tasked with killing hyper-intelligent escaped androids, thus exploring the idea of what it means to actually be human. A wildly imaginative and powerful existential treatise on humanity on human emotions, this roller coaster of a book will leave you wondering what the point of it all really is. Available from the library here.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)

Set in a near-future United States which has become a totalitarian Christian theocracy following the violent overthrow of the previous government, in which all minorities are brutally persecuted and women are subjugated and seen primarily as reproductive machines. The book is a feminist classic which has seen a recent resurgence in popularity following the U.S. 2016 elections, and it’s author was a mentor to Naomi Alderman, the woman behind this year’s Read at Leicester text, The Power. Available from the library here.

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