|Yes, But Is It Really Dystopian?
||[Mar. 3rd, 2010|01:51 pm]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur
Over at Pop Crunch, they've got a list of the 16 Best Dystopian Books of All Time. Despite the fact that their definition of "dystopian" seems to be quite fluid, allowing the term to mean whatever they want it to at any given time (post-apocalyptic? totalitarian? anarchistic? just a really fucked up future society?), the list is an interesting one and would make for quite a syllabus--just not necessarily for a class on dystopian literature:
16. That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. I've read exactly one Lewis novel, The Magician's Nephew, and that was pretty much all I needed to. His Perelandra books were recommended to me long ago, but frankly I was never all that interested.
15. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I never read the book, but I did see the movie and that was harrowing enough. I'm told the book is even more terrifying. And yes, this is way dystopian!
14. The Sword of Spirits trilogy by John Christopher. I know nothing about this one except that the same author also wrote the Tripods trilogy, which is also dystopian.
13. World War Z by Max Brooks. On my TBR pile. I plan to get to it one of these millennia. Still, to call it a dystopian novel sounds off to me.
12. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. One of my favorite graphic novels and, in the 1980s when it came out, a vital and timely rallying cry against repressive government. Come to think of it, I suppose it still is, but it's hard to root for a terrorist main character these days. Dystopian? Well, with gays being rounded up and put into concentration camps, yeah, I'd call it dystopian.
11. Neuromancer by William Gibson. Remember in the '80s when everyone thought that cyberspace would be so fucking cool and you could pretty much do whatever you wanted inside it? Now, of course, we know the truth: cyberspace exists mainly for porn, online gaming and LOLcats. Anyway, I wouldn't call this one a dystopian novel, per se.
10. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Embarrassing admission: I hated the book. Maybe it's because I read it after seeing Blade Runner a zillion times and the differences caught me off guard, or maybe it's just not that great. Whatever. The Man in the High Castle is miles better anyway, and much more dystopian.
9. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. Another series that's been recommended to me constantly since high school. Maybe one of these lifetimes!
8. A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. One of the best far-future sf novels I've ever read. But this one just slides under the dystopian label, I think. Dystopian needs to be more than, "Wow, the future seems bleak."
7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Brilliant, timeless and yes, dystopian!
6. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. One of my favorites of all time, but I have a really hard time calling this one dystopian. There's very little civilization on display at all, let alone a dystopian one.
5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Drugs+orgies+suicide=dystopian!
4. 1984 by George Orwell. Also dystopian, just without the drugs and orgies. There might be a suicide or two, though.
3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. I only saw the Kubrick film, so I can only judge based on that, but I'm not sure this one would actually count as dystopian.
2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It's impossible to call a novel dystopian if there's no civilization to be found whatsoever. Post-apocalyptic, yes, but dystopian implies a working society that is in some way threatening to those who live within it. There's no society at all here.
1. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. Never read it. I really would have expected 1984 or Brave New World here, both of which are, I think, the go-to examples of dystopian literature.
Anyway, as usual, the real joy in these things is reading the user comments below the article. Here, we see brainiacs writing things like "THE ROAD suxx0rz because it's bo-o-o-ring!" and "Your list is lame because you didn't mention [fill in favorite novel here]!" Good times!