By Gemma Mathers, Bianca Scasserra and Holly Butterfield.
Dystopian themes have been woven through many great tales across the years. The broad genre has seen the birth of sci-fi phenomenon, The Hunger Games, and the futuristic world of Divergent, both novels which are a staple in most libraries. This trend is continuing to make waves with the return of new releases that prequel an existing world. With that in mind, we’re taking you on a trip down dystopian memory lane and spotlighting the books you need to add to your collection.
Whilst dystopian fiction represents the idea of an almost “unliveable” future, the genre is renowned for cleverly exploring themes that are grounded in reality. For example, delving into themes of government oppression, such as 1984 by George Orwell, and rights violations that lead to societal rebellion, such as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. We can also see contemporary literature that reflects the pressing concerns of today such as the looming issues surrounding climate change disasters, the rapid advancement, and unknown risks of artificial intelligence and violations of reproductive rights. These modern cautionary tales draw readers’ attention to disturbingly plausible scenarios that could unfold in the near future. These books help to foster a sense of urgency, compelling us to confront certain challenges or risk their potential consequences.
To kick off our recommendations this week is The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. There’s something to be said about Suzanne Collins' return to the world of The Hunger Games. Set sixty-four years before the events of the first novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follows the journey of Coriolanus Snow, future president of Panem, as he navigates a post-war world and the events that would lead to his succession. Collins yet again delivers a powerful, intoxicating narrative and throws the reader straight back into the world of The Hunger Games as if no time has passed. Readers of the original trilogy will love this addition to the franchise.
Next, we have the Man Booker Prize-nominated novel The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh. The Water Cure is set in a world in which men may be toxic to women (quite literally). In a desperate attempt to protect their family, two parents raise their three children on a remote island away from the dangers posed by the world, until three men wash up on their shores and threaten the peace they’ve so carefully curated.
Uglies by Scott Westerfield is set in a futuristic dystopian world in which everyone in society is deemed “ugly” until they go through a cosmetic procedure at the age of sixteen to turn them “pretty.” Uglies deals with themes of change, acceptance and the impact of society on the self. A potent novel in the age of social media where anything can be edited and changed to fit a perception.
Our next pick fits accordingly with the events of recent years: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. Set in an imagined-future America where abortion is illegal, IVF is banned and every embryo is granted rights – five women face the consequences of a world which controls their bodies. A must-read and a very powerful novel by Zumas.
Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling follows the survivors of a climate change-wracked world as they arrive at Camp Zero in northern Canada, but the base is home to hidden secrets and a disturbing mystery that threatens to unravel their safe haven. Camp Zero unearths themes of class, gender and migration in the dystopian setting of a world undone by climate change. A compelling read by Sterling with eerie connotations of what the world may become.
Finally, we have Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which depicts a world destroyed by flu and a member of an acting troupe in the dark days of civilisation collapse. Station Eleven is a great read full of reflection and thoughtful, compassionate ideas of the world in which the reader comes away not fearful of the end of the world but grateful for each day as it comes. Station Eleven is not only a great read but a ten-part limited series on Lionsgate+.
These are just a few recommendations from an almost never-ending list of books for readers to choose from to satisfy this desperate hunger for dystopian texts. There is a sense of nostalgia for all readers who grew up loving this genre, and the return of dystopian is hopefully only the beginning for more amazing writers.