What’s Your Favorite Dystopian Novel?

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DoubleThink: “The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” – (1984, by George Orwell)

a) Our Federal Government is broke, inefficient, wasteful, corrupt, dishonest and most often the problem rather than the solution.

b) The Federal government should have control over our health care system in order to fix our problems.

I think we need to brush up on our dystopian novel reading. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read 1984, by George Orwell. If the reading of 1984 offends your crimethink sensibilities, just run along and tell Big Brother. There may not be hope for you. The rest of us have some work to do.

I don’t say this to be an alarmist about Obama being a communist or anything like that. I say it because I find that most Americans have a total unfamiliarity of the foundational principles that lead to dystopias.

It’s always a bit shocking to me when in conversation or debate people presume the involvement of government in the solution. And any suggestion that the federal government shouldn’t do “x” is synonymous (to them) with you not wanting “x” done at all. It’s sad really. And they can’t imagine life any other way. It’s like a weird case of Stockholm Syndrome.

Dystopian novels are most useful for teaching us the principles in play. If you write them off as only extreme cases of fiction from which we have nothing to learn, you’re missing the point.

These are widely recognized as the top 3:

Anyone else have any thoughts? Recommendations? The only one I’ve read is 1984, but I intend on reading the others soon. I hope many others will, too.

20 comments Add comment

Eric Sammons March 25, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I’ve read all three, and I think they each have their strengths, but Brave New World is my favorite dystopian novel. It is far better at exposing current American problems than 1984 (which was directed more towards the Communists, anyway). In 1984, the government takes control of the people, but in Brave New World the people allow themselves to be taken control of because of their passivity which is brought on by constant consumption and non-reproductive sex. What does that sound like?

Romeo Sid Vicious March 25, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Here’s some I recommend:

Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged
William Gibson – Neuromancer (Pretty much any Gibson qualifies and it’s all good)
Lois Lowry – The Giver
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep – Phillip K. Dick

rebecca March 25, 2010 at 3:37 pm

animal farm

Dan Butcher March 25, 2010 at 3:40 pm

My favorite dystopia is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I know that some Christians find the book offensive, and Atwood did write it as a response to the Moral Majority back in the ’80s. However, Atwood tells an interesting story in a compelling voice, and her focus is on religious extremism coupled with totalitarian ideals–something all of us should be wary of. She also makes clear that there are parallels between the extremists she describes and Muslim culture, and she concludes the novel with a jab at literary and cultural critics who politicize the genuine suffering of others–and in turn, dehumanize them–in the name of trendy scholarship. Given that Atwood spreads her scorn around, I don’t see it as anti-Christian, and I think the novel has a lot to teach us about how good–even Biblically-based–intentions can get twisted when coupled with great power. It also suggests to me that Christians need to think long and hard about the proper role of Christians in politics; it’s one thing for godly individuals to work to bring their beliefs and values to bear on the issues of the day by running for elected office. It’s another thing entirely for Christian groups to seek to bring about “Christian” government by wresting power from those they deem “evil” or ungodly.

Jeff Miller March 25, 2010 at 4:01 pm

How about Dystopian novels by Catholics

1. A Canticle for Leibowitz. by Walter Miller, Great book.
2. Lord of the World by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson – very prophetic book.
3. “Children of the last days” series by Michael O’Brien, a dystopian world which could be our future
4. “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess

Matthew Warner March 25, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Jeff – that was my next question. I didn’t know there were such books! And I didn’t realize A Clockwork Orange was by a Catholic.

Do each of these, in addition to being BY Catholics, also reflect Catholic teaching in them?

I plan on reading each of those. Thanks for the suggestions!

Thanks for everyone else’s suggestions as well. I will check them all out! Although it’s going to take me some time to get through them all…hopefully we aren’t living in our own one by then.

Dan Lower March 25, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I’m seconding Neuromancer as a good read which explores the interesting spiritual implications of rampant technological advancement; not sure how good it is as dystopian literature.

I think Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins deserves to be in the running, depending on just how broadly “dystopia” is defined; the society of that book almost seems too disorganized to qualify.

Brave New World is also a fine read, and as the person who seconded it earlier noted it’s got this weird phenomenon of exploring the consequences of societal separation of the sexual act from procreation. Many other violations of Catholic ethics, too, but…yeah.

Enrique Bellevacqua March 26, 2010 at 6:26 am

I second A Canticle for Liebowitz. A more profoundly Catholic post-apocolyptic novel cannot be found.

There should be a genre of “near-dystopian” or “pre-apocalypse”. If so, Catholic Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah (together with Plague Journal) would be at the top of the list. Both are staged around a breakdown in society as governments move toward a totalitarian rule, presaging the arrival of the Anti-Christ, in a truly Catholic version of the coming of the Apocalypse.

I highly recommend everything by O’Brien – Strangers & Sojourners and Eclipse of the Sun round out the Father Elijah “series” (the four books are *very* loosely related), and Island of the World and A Cry of Stone will leave you in tears.

Erin March 26, 2010 at 10:27 am

I’ve read all of those and agree completely! I think it starts early in elementary with imaginings of “what I would do if I were president for the day” or “principal for the day” it usually includes solving all types of world wide problems as well as granting favors to friends and family. If that’s when politicians start getting ideas for their line of work, it’s no wonder they have mesiah complexes and we follow along.

Erin March 26, 2010 at 10:37 am

just wanted to add a second for The Giver. Favorite book since 4th grade. I look forward to reading some of the other suggestions!

Heather March 29, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I was going to suggest The Giver also! Such a great book about how there are many problems when all your problems are “solved” by society…
I’m in the middle of Atlas Shrugged, and it’s very interesting/disconcerting to see the connections it has with today’s government & it’s socialistic tendencies…worth the read for everyone, even if it is over 1000 pages

David March 26, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I’ve just recently read “Brave New World” and I have been blown away by it. Although Huxley was not a Catholic writer, that novel is a thoroughly Catholic work. What Paul VI warns about in “Humanae Vitae” comes true in “Brave New World”. Our current society is obsessed with needless, mindless consumerism and sexual activity as sport and entertainment. My favorite part of the novel is when, after viewing a pornographic movie with Lena, John (the savage) tells her she should not view such things because they are “ignoble.” Ah, the noble savage!!!

Andreas Fabis April 5, 2010 at 12:31 am

I would recommend (as Dan did) Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale” which draws a very dark picture of an evangelical theocracy in the US. It’s very gripping reading!

David L Alexander April 7, 2010 at 3:36 pm

I too have read all three, including “Lord of the World” and “Father Isaiah.” But I have to say that my favorite dystopian novel is the one I’m writing right now.

Stay tuned ….

Lucy April 9, 2010 at 4:39 am

My son, Danny, made it to a National Speech and Debate tournament last year by doing an interpretation of 1984. He really made the torture scenes realistic and scared alot of people! However, he assured them that, like the martyrs, we can resist and endure all things through Chirst.

The ending, where the main character finally gives in to the government and says that 2+2=5 really resembles some of the illogic Americans have come to believe, almost as if they are being brainwashed.

This year his speech is on rhetoric and once again he is showing how our leaders can make people believe almost anything buy employing some rhetorical techniques in their language. I’ll be posting a video of it on my site soon, so stay tuned for that as well! :D

In Christ,

Christopher Wright April 27, 2010 at 2:56 pm

“The Flying Inn” by Chesterton, set in a purtanical ostensibly teetotal England about 1900, where pubs are illegal, but the rich can buy alcohol from designated chemists.

The two heroes, a dispossessed inn-keeper and his Irish ex-soldier friend, and a dog face a government led by a mad aristocrat with Muslim leanings.

Fulll of humanity, songs, and rich humour, and some brilliant satire, particularly of German biblical textual cricicism.

I’ve read it again and again.

herman lebed November 9, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Zamyatins “We”….

Kevin September 4, 2011 at 9:42 pm

If I had to add more to your list, I would add:

Anthem, a short novella by Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged, a monumental novel also by Ayn Rand
Some teen lit also has some good ones: The Giver, Hunger Games

Kevin September 4, 2011 at 9:43 pm

One more:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

herman lebed September 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I thought Rand WAS teen lit?Ive read her and , in my early days i loved her, but now? Zamyatin…..

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