Greg Hickey Talks To Bookbag About The Old Guard of Dystopian Fiction

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Greg Hickey Talks To Bookbag About The Old Guard of Dystopian Fiction

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Summary: Where do you go when you move beyond classics like 1984 and Brave New World?
Date: 9 October 2019

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External links: Author's website



Beyond the classics like 1984 and Brave New World, here's a collection of ten dystopian novels more than forty years old which demonstrate that the more things change, the more our basic anxieties remain the same.

The Republic of the Future; or, Socialism a Reality by Anna Bowman Dodd (1887)

One of the first true dystopian stories, this novella offered a direct counterpoint to the utopian literature of the late nineteenth century. It depicts a technologically advanced but socially conformist American socialist republic in 2050 where people travel by balloons and pneumatic tubes, religion is nonexistent, gender equality flourishes, all labor is automated and people consume nutrition pills instead of food.

Caesar's Column: A Story of the Twentieth Century by Ignatius L. Donnelly (1890)

Donnelly's screed against the corruption of urban capitalism is told through narrator Gabriel Weltstein's 1988 letters to his brother, which relate Gabriel's experiences as a wool merchant attempting to avoid an international cartel and sell wool directly to American manufacturers. The novel was first published under the pseudonym Edmund Boisgilbert, M.D.

The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells (1910)

Originally published as the serialized story When the Sleeper Wakes, this novel tells of a man who sleeps for 203 years and wakes in a dystopian London where he is the richest man in the world but his accumulated wealth is being used to maintain a society where most are impoverished and one-third are enslaved.

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (1935)

Lewis's Depression-era novel imagines the rise of fascism in the United States at a moment in history when most Americans were ignorant of Adolf Hitler's growing power. This frightening satire depicts the ascension of a president-turned-dictator who uses the exaggerated fears of welfare cheats, sex, crime and a liberal press to seize control of the nation.

Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin (1937)

Like Mary Anne Evans (a.k.a. George Eliot) before her, Burdekin used a male pseudonym to publish this alternative future in which the Nazis conquer the world and engender a male-dominated totalitarian society where women are kept as cattle-like breeders and men are mindless automatons.

Kallocain by Karin Boye (1940)

Swedish novelist Boye envisioned a totalitarian world state suggestive of the rising Nazi and Soviet powers in this novel about a scientist tasked with developing the truth drug Kallocain. The book was nominated for a Retro Hugo Award in 2016.

Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley (1948)

Feeling that his more famous pre-war novel Brave New World was less prescient after the destruction of World War II, Huxley penned this new dystopian tale in response to atomic warfare and the Holocaust. In it, New Zealand scientists travel to Los Angeles on a rediscovery expedition to make sense of the remains of a catastrophic World War III.

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner (1968)

This sprawling novel about an overpopulated world with technologies including powerful supercomputers, mass-marketed psychedelic drugs and routine genetic engineering won the 1969 Hugo Award, the 1969 British Science Fiction Association Award and the 1973 Prix Tour-Apollo Award.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (1971)

Winner of the 1972 Locus Award, this book depicts a violent future world of environmental disasters. When George Orr discovers his dreams have the ability to alter reality, he must preserve that reality from a psychiatrist who hopes to manipulate Orr's dreams for his own ends. The novel was adapted into two television movies in 1980 and 2002.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick (1974)

In a future totalitarian United States where lack of identification is a crime, a genetically-enhanced, world-famous pop singer and talk-show host wakes up one morning to discover that he never existed. The novel won the 1975 John W. Campbell Memorial Award and was nominated for Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Biography: Greg Hickey is the author of the dystopian fiction novel Our Dried Voices and curator of The 110 Best Dystopian Novels.