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10EN - Dystopian Reading Suggestions: Home

Explore Dystopian fiction before you write your short story

DEFINITION:

Utopia and dystopia are genres of speculative fiction that explore social and political structures. Utopian fiction portrays a setting that agrees with the author's ethos, having various attributes of another reality intended to appeal to readers. Dystopian fiction (sometimes combined with but distinct from apocalyptic literature) offers the opposite: the portrayal of a setting that completely disagrees with the author's ethos. Many novels combine both, often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take, depending on its choices, ending up with one of two possible futures. Both utopias and dystopias are commonly found in science fiction and other speculative-fiction genres, and arguably are by definition a type of speculative fiction.

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Search for more by typing in 'dystopian fiction' and select 'genre'. You can also sort the list 'Year-new to old' or even 'Popularity'. There is also a suggested reading list for Dystopian fiction.

CLASSIC DYSTOPIAN FICTION:

DYSTOPIAN OVERVIEW:

Dystopian novels that have a didactic message often explore themes like anarchism, oppression, and mass poverty. Margaret Atwood, one of literature’s most celebrated authors of dystopian fiction, thinks about it like this: “If you’re interested in writing speculative fiction, one way to generate a plot is to take an idea from current society and move it a little further down the road. Even if humans are short-term thinkers, fiction can anticipate and extrapolate into multiple versions of the future.”

The central themes of dystopian novels generally fall under these topics:

  1. Government control
  2. Environmental destruction
  3. Technological control
  4. Survival
  5. Loss of individualism

Government plays a big role in dystopian literature. Generally, there is either no government or an oppressive ruling body.

  • In George Orwell’s 1984, the world is under complete government control. The fictional dictator Big Brother enforces omnipresent surveillance over the people living in the three inter-continental super states remaining after a world war.
  • The Hunger Games, a young adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins beginning in 2008, takes place in the fictional world Panem, a future nation on the ruins of North America. Panem’s totalitarian government called The Capitol holds most of the country’s wealth and controls the citizens. Each year, children from Panem’s 12 districts are selected to participate in a televised death match called the Hunger Games.

Advanced science and technology in dystopian works go beyond tools for improving everyday life—technology is often depicted as a controlling, omnipresent force and is often used as a fear-mongering tactic.

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, written in 1932, explores the danger of technology. The ruling World State uses powerful conditioning technologies to control reproduction and citizens’ actions.
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick takes place in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco after a nuclear global war in 1992. This 1968 novel was the basis for the film The Blade Runner and explores the dangers of advanced technology. There are android robots indistinguishable from humans, and mass extinction has led to artificial animals.
  • Feed by M.T. Anderson is a young adult dystopian novel written in 2002 about a near-future America controlled by Feednet, a computer network that is implanted into the brains of 73% of American citizens.

Dystopian novels are often set in places that are inhabitable, have been destroyed, or are preparing for destruction.

  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy, written in 2006, is a post-apocalyptic story about a father and son venturing across the ruins of America after an extinction event.
  • The Maze Runner is a series by James Dashner chronicling the events of how the dystopian world had been destroyed by massive solar flares and coronal mass ejection. In the first book of the series, a group of teenage boys are stuck in an imaginary place called The Glade and have to find their way of out its ever-changing maze.

The oppressive powers and destruction in dystopian worlds often leave the inhabitants to fend for themselves.

  • The Running Man was written by Stephen King and first published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1982. Taking place in 2025, the novel is about an impoverished man living under an oppressive government who competes on a life-threatening game show in order to earn money to care for his family.
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding, written in 1954, is about a group of schoolboys who are abandoned on a tropical island after their plane is shot down during a fictional atomic war. Conflicts emerge between the boys as they struggle to build a civilization and fight for survival.
  • The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau is set in an underground world called Ember. The isolated city was constructed to thwart an impending disaster and follows a group of teenagers working to find their way out.

How should the needs of society as a whole compare to individual needs? Many dystopian futures depict the dangers of conformity.

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, written in 1953, follows a fireman whose job is to burn books. Because of the censorship of books, this future society has increased interest in technology and entertainment—and an inability to think freely and creatively.
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry is a 1993 young adult novel about a society that has no pain because the community has all been converted to “Sameness.” The story follows a 12-year-old boy who is selected to be the society’s Receiver of Memory and will store the memories of the community before “Sameness” was enacted.

POINTS OF VIEW REFERENCE CENTRE:

When it comes to writing your short story it may be useful to take a current issue and imagine what might happen if one extreme set of opinions could rule the whole world. What would it be like if:

  • Animals had equal rights to humans?
  • Insta celebrities could run for political office based on their likes?
  • Cloning yourself was legal?
  • Parents who smacked their children were whipped in public as part of a re-education programme?
  • Censorship laws forced Youtube to remove any video that received more dislikes than likes?
  • New technologies instantly provided free clean power to the everyone in the world?

Points of View Reference Centre may be a great site to browse for ideas as it:

  • presents multiple sides of an argument
  • aimed at helping you develop persuasive arguments
  • provides overviews of controversial issues
Australian/NZ Points of View
Limit Your Results

Data from Good Reads (March 2021)

QUOTES:

"Human reason can excuse any evil; that is why it's so important that we don't rely on it."
Veronica Roth (Divergent (Divergent, #1))

"It isn't just brave that she died for me; it is brave that she did it without announcing it, without hesitation, and without appearing to consider another option."
Veronica Roth (Divergent (Divergent, #1))

"You pays your money and you takes your choice."
Aldous Huxley (Brave New World)

"You can't transform a society for the better with violence, Ashala. Only with ideas."
Ambelin Kwaymullina (The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (The Tribe #1))

"If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?...But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated...'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan,'controls the future:who controls the present controls the past.'...All that was needed was a series of victories over your own memory."
George Orwell

"If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides of a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget that their is such a thing as war. If the government if inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it."
Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) ll (1984)

"There was something called Christianity."
Aldous Huxley (Brave New World)

"Your emotions are your own business."
Brandon Sanderson

SUGGESTED VIDEOS:

DYSTOPIAN SHORT STORIES:

Billennium by J. G. Ballard

Overpopulation is society’s main problem. The government has mandated a maximum living space of 4 square metres per person. A man, Ward, finds a place slightly larger than the legal limit which he shares with a friend. They make a discovery that changes everything.

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Disappearing Act by Alfred Bester

The War for the American Dream is being fought. General Carpenter makes it clear that America is fighting for dreams, for the noble things worth preserving. The war effort requires experts in every field. All citizens are required to become experts, specific tools for specific jobs. A mystery arises in Ward T of the United States Army Hospital. The experts are called in.

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The Machine Stops by E M Forster

Forster wrote this story in 1909, before WWI, yet he imagines a global war, technology taking over lives, videoconferencing, and an early version of cell phones. It’s pretty impressive. And also a good story.

 

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Speech Sounds by Octavia E. Butler

Rye is on a bus heading for Pasadena. She might have a brother there who's still alive. Two passengers, young men, start getting hostile. When one inadvertently falls into the other, a fight breaks out. This leads to further hostilities. The driver stops the bus. There is lots of grunting and other sounds and many gestures, but no one talks.

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Examination Day by Henry Slesar

Dickie Jordan has just turned twelve, so it's time for him to take a Government mandated intelligence test. His parents don't say much about it. His mother seems to be worried about Dickie's performance, but his father says he'll do fine.

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2 B R 0 2 B by Kurt Vonnegut

All of society's ills have been cured: wars, famine, disease, and death from aging. The population is maintained at 40 million. When there is a birth, someone has to volunteer to die. Edward Wehling finds out that his wife is going to give birth to triplets.

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We Ate the Children Last by Yann Martel

Patient D, who has a terminal case of colon cancer, receives a digestive system transplant from a pig. He recovers quickly and his appetite becomes voracious and unusual.

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THEN WATCH THE SHORT FILM BASED ON THE STORY

Civilization by Vylar Kaftan

 

You are in charge of a civilization. You get to make important decisions that affect the whole population in a Choose Your Own Adventure style story.

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The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

The story describes a fictional small town in the contemporary United States, which observes an annual rite known as "the lottery", in which a member of the community is selected by chance. The shocking consequences of "winning" the lottery are revealed only at the end.

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THEN WATCH THE SHORT FILM BASED ON THIS STORY

Time Capsule Found on a Dead Planet by Margaret Atwood

In December world leaders will gather in Copenhagen to try to reach a global deal to tackle climate change. To support the launch of the 10:10 campaign to reduce carbon emissions, the Review asked some of our greatest artists, authors and poets to produce new work in response to the crisis

 

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Escape From Spiderhead by George Saunders

Escape from Spiderhead is a tale that looks into a dystopian future, where convicts can either enter experimental drug testing programs or serve time in prison. After Jeff was convicted for murder, his mother had spent all her savings to get him out of real jail, and put him to a drug testing program.

 

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Minority Report by Philip K. Dick

 

John Anderton is the head of the pre-crime division—a division that can determine in advance who is going to commit a crime. The nucleus of the operation is the three precogs, mutant-like humans who get flashes of the future and are attached to extensive analytical machinery. The names of the future criminals are generated on a card; one day, Anderton is stunned by a name that appears.

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Peter Skilling by Alex Irvine

 

Peter died 98 years ago in a mountain climbing accident. He is revived with advanced medical technology. Peter is eager to begin his life again, but due to strict anti-terrorism laws he must first answer for the crimes of his past.

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REFERENCE GENERATOR:

It is important to provide evidence of using a variety of reliable resources. Use the online Reference Generator available through the Portal to create your citations. Make sure you alphabetically sort them afterwards. Click here for a Hale School guide to referencing.

A sample bibliography for 3 resources suggested on this page would look like:

It Could Be Worse: A Guide to Dystopian Fiction 2020, Penguin Random House, viewed 28 February 2020, <https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/campaign/it-could-be-worse-guide-dystopian-fiction#post-apocalyptic>.

Golder, D 2015, Dystopia: fantasy art, fiction and the movies, Flame Tree Publishing, London.

Science fiction 2020. Britannica School. Retrieved 28 February 2020, from https://school.eb.com.au/levels/high/article/science-fiction/66289#235726.toc