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It’s the End of the World As We Know It

Meghan takes a look at a list of classic dystopian novels.

It’s the End of the World As We Know It

Ok, so we all know dystopia's the new vampire, right? And the new black, and the new Harry Potter, and the new ... oh, screw it. Y'all, we also all know dystopia is an awesome genre that's been around for-like-ever and it'll really REALLY suck if it gets screwed up now thanks to publishers jumping on the Hunger Games bandwagon (not that it's a terrible place to be. I mean, for a dystopia) because we here LOVE dystopia. I'd like to suggest a few badass dystopian classics everyone should get their grabby hands on before the publishers ruin the genre by flooding the market and/or finding the Stephenie Meyer of dystopia out there.

My highly scientific selection criteria included books that were at least kinda old (like, I did/coulda/shoulda read them as a YA) and were books I've read. So that's why I might not have mentioned some truly badass dystopian novels like the Chaos Walking series, or some book you'll be dying to recommend/wonder why I left it out (I can't read everything, you know). See something missing? Add it in the comments! Bonus points for constructing yr concept of what the Stephenie-Meyer-of-dystopias book would be like (yeah, yeah, I know she did it already with The Host - read it, gagged about the "it's the woman's fault she gets the shit beaten out of her by her boyfriend" message in it, over it).

Now, in no particular order (other than the random one my scrambled brain spit out, and the order they were listed on Goodreads when I searched for "dystopia" to find anything I'd missed), here ya go:

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle, published 1962

The whole book's not a dystopia, but Kamazotz was my very first intro to the wonderful world of total mind control and the loss of individuality, where I learned that "Alike and Equal are not the same thing at all." Plus, it introduces the totally swoonworthy couple of Meg and Calvin, and the crushworthy twins (although they're not crushworthy until later on, in Many Waters). AND bonus -- math and science are awesome, and awesome for girls!

Shade's Children by Garth Nix, published 1997

I've already reviewed this book, but it's a composite of the dystopian classics "harvest humans for parts/all the adults disappear leaving only children/artificial intelligence a la HAL 9000". And Garth Nix is just awesome (y'all, for some seriously badass zombie/fantasy shizz, check out the abhorsen trilogy). This is one of those books that's the one that got away for me -- I really REALLY wish I'd read it as a teenager, before The Matrix came out and before I read a bunch of other similar, more recently published books. Because I'd love to have this one as my reference point, not the other way around.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, published 1985

Not a YA book, but since it's often studied in school and is just generally awesome, I have to include it. My favorite thing about Atwood's dystopias is they're so grounded in reality. She takes one crazy thing about our society -- here it's the rise of fundamentalist Christian anti-feminist neo-cons (particularly the brainwashed female variety) -- and tweaks and twists it to push it to its farthest believable limit, then builds a whole potential future around it. scary? You bet your ass. but whatever you do, don't let the bastards get you down.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, published 1993

The U.S. is a complete disaster -- overrun by disease and major cray cray -- and people huddle together in walled neighborhoods, venturing out only in well-armed groups. Lauren Olamina suffers from "hyperempathy syndrome" and feels the pain of anyone she's around (for reals, though -- this is no Bill Clinton bullshit). When things go from as awful as you can imagine to even worse, she takes off with a backpack and survival guide (and mad Girl Scout skills) and ends up starting a new religion. It's an awesome book (and series), and EVEN AWESOMER? Lauren's black. Attention YA publishers: we like reading about non-white heroines. and seeing them on the covers of the books, kthx.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding, published 1954

This one's a no-brainer, just like the next one on the list, but who can leave out the island of feral boys? And poor Piggy? And Jack and Simon? HEY ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME? I HAVE THE CONCH. Thank you.

1984 by George Orwell, published 1949

Again on the list of school assigned reading, but who hasn't looked around and thought about Big Brother when getting yet another fucking privacy settings update from Facebook? Also awesome -- secksin' saves the day and is the key to freeing yr mind. and no damn talking pigs and horses.

The Giver by Lois Lowry, published 1993

This one's right up there with A Wrinkle In Time as one of the first truly mind-blowing books I ever read. I mean, yes, I was probably 10 yrs old so it didn't take much (oooh, nope, it was published in 1993, so I had to be at least 12!), but still. A world where yr future is decided for you at age 12? Cough magnet schools cough? It's a classic false utopia rather than a dystopia -- seems perfect, but evil lurks under the surface. Extra fun fact: cover image came from this crazypants website.

Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, published 1951

I haven't actually read this book, and I'm not sure it qualifies as a dystopia, but my husband insisted I include it. Apparently it's the MOST AWESOME BOOK EVER if you're a 12-yo British boarding school boy (which he's not anymore, don't worry). And it's about an alien invasion that makes everyone blind or insane or something, except for a few people, like John Masen, who then has to save the world. Bonus factor: Audrey II.


What do y'all think? What are your recommendations for rescuing dystopia from the likes of Stephenie Meyer? What books totally rocked yr 12-yo world (actual or inner 12-yo, of course)?

And for bonus points, watch my favorite dystopian movie of all time -- Brazil. A world where bureaucracy and totalitarianism and an insane addiction to technology for technology's sake are all melded together by Terry Gilliam to create the best nightmare ever, including the most creepy dolls you'll ever see.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.