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Dystopic Novels? 172

paulumz asks: "I'm having a great deal of difficulty finding novels about distopias. Or any novels with a good depressing ending with no hope of a future. I'm well aware of 1984, Brave New World, and Handmaid's Tale, I'm looking for lesser known ones. Know of any good ones?"
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Dystopic Novels?

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  • by Snafoo ( 38566 ) on Sunday August 04, 2002 @02:18AM (#4007023) Homepage
    _Do_Androids_Dream_Of_Electric_Sheep, philip K dick.

    Almost anything by William Gibson (depending on your (pre)conception of dystopia).

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Actually, pretty much anything by Philip K. Dick would qualify as dystopian, even those set in the "real world." However, "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" and "The Man in the High Castle" are the choicest of his novels, quality-wise.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 04, 2002 @01:38PM (#4008448)

      Unthinkable a year ago, there is now the shape of an American Gulag where people can disappear without public legal proceedings or possibly no legal proceedings at all.

      Bush's Grim Vision By Nat Parry June 21, 2002

      In the nine months since Sept. 11, George W. Bush has put the United States on a course that is so bleak that few analysts have - as the saying goes - connected the dots. If they had, they would see an outline of a future that mixes constant war overseas with abridgment of constitutional freedoms at home, a picture drawn by a politician who once joked, "If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier - so long as I'm the dictator."

      The dots are certainly there. Bush's speech at West Point on June 1 asserted a unilateral U.S. right to overthrow any government in the world that is deemed a threat to American security, a position so sweeping that it lacks historical precedent. "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long," Bush said in describing what he calls a "new doctrine" and what some acolytes have dubbed the "Bush Doctrine."

      In a domestic corollary to this Bush Doctrine, Bush is asserting his personal authority to strip even U.S. citizens of due-process rights if he judges them "enemy combatants." With Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft warning critics not to question Bush's policy, it's not too big a jump to see a future where there will be spying on dissenters and limits on public debate, especially now that Ashcroft has lifted restrictions on FBI surveillance activities.

      That possibility would grow if the Republicans succeed in regaining control of the Senate and place more of Bush's conservative political allies in the federal courts.

      Bush's grim vision is of a modern "crusade," as he once put it, with American military forces striking preemptively at "evil-doers" wherever they live, while U.S. citizens live under a redefined Constitution with rights that can be suspended selectively by one man. Beyond the enormous sacrifices of blood, money and freedom that this plan entails, there is another problem: the strategy offers no guarantee of greater security for Americans and runs the risk of deepening the pool of hatred against the United States.

      With his cavalier tough talk, Bush continues to show no sign that he grasps how treacherous his course is, nor how much more difficult it will be if the U.S. alienates large segments of the world's population.

      Goodwill Lost

      One of the most stunning results of Bush's behavior over the past nine months has been the dissipation of the vast reservoir of goodwill that sprang up toward the United States in the days after Sept. 11. In cities all over the world, people spontaneously carried flowers to the sidewalks outside U.S. embassies and joined in mourning for the more than 3,000 people murdered in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

      I joined a kind of pilgrimage in Copenhagen, Denmark, as people carried bouquets, a New York Yankees cap and other symbols of sympathy to the U.S. Embassy. More substantively, governments around the globe opened their files to help U.S. authorities hunt down those behind the murders.

      European nations, which earlier had been alarmed by Bush's tendency toward unilateralism, hoped the inexperienced president would gain an appreciation for multilateral approaches toward addressing root causes of global problems and finding ways to create a more livable world. Some Europeans, for instance, thought Bush might reverse his repudiation of the Kyoto agreement, which seeks to curb global warming and avoid economic dislocations that would follow dramatic climate changes.

      Bush, however, appears to have learned the opposite lesson. He's grown more disdainful of international opinion. He seems intent on throwing American weight around and demanding that other nations follow whatever course he chooses. As for global warming, his administration now has accepted the scientific evidence that human activity is contributing to a dangerous heating of the planet, but he continues to favor "voluntary" approaches to the problem and opposes collaborating with other nations to limit emissions to retard those trends.

      On the war against terrorism, Bush has asserted that he will judge whether another country is "with us, or you are with the terrorists." [Sept. 20, 2001] If a country picks the wrong side, Bush will decide when, how or if that country's government will be overthrown. Bush started with Afghanistan before fingering the "axis of evil" states: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. His supporters have lobbied to expand the list to add nations as diverse as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Cuba.

      Bush's actions have alarmed traditional U.S. allies in Western Europe. To them, the first clear post-Sept. 11 signal that Bush still had little interest in multilateral cooperation was his disregard of international concerns over the treatment of prisoners locked in open cages at Camp X-Ray on the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

      Bush drew criticism from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights when he effectively waived the Third Geneva Convention's protections of prisoners of war. The Bush administration announced that contrary to the Convention's provisions, the United States would unilaterally declare which Guantanamo prisoners qualify for POW status and which POW protections they would enjoy. [See's Bush's Return to Unilateralism, Feb. 18, 2002]

      Since then, the administration has ignored or renounced a string of international agreements. Bush formally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which had been a bulwark of arms control since 1972. He flouted the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by pointing nuclear warheads at non-nuclear states. He breached World Trade Organization rules by erecting tariffs for foreign steel.

      Targeting Individuals

      Beyond those policy rebuffs to multilateralism, Bush went on the offensive against individual U.N. officials who have not conformed to his administration's desires. These officials, who insisted on holding Bush to standards applied to other leaders around the world, soon found themselves out of jobs.

      U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary C. Robinson, was the first to experience the administration's displeasure. The former Irish president's efforts had won acclaim from human rights groups around the world. But her fierce independence, which surfaced in her criticism of Israel and Bush's war on terror, rubbed Washington the wrong way. The Bush administration lobbied hard against her reappointment. Officially, she was retiring on her own accord. [ shtml]

      The Bush administration also forced out Robert Watson, the chairman of the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]. Under his leadership, the panel had reached a consensus that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, contributed to global warming. Bush has resisted this science, which also is opposed by oil companies such as ExxonMobil. The oil giant sent a memo to the White House asking the administration, "Can Watson be replaced now at the request of the U.S.?" [ 002/0204un_body.html]

      The ExxonMobil memo, obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council through the Freedom of Information Act, urged the White House to "restructure U.S. attendance at the IPCC meetings to assure no Clinton/Gore proponents are involved in decisional activities."

      On April 19, ExxonMobil got its wish. The administration succeeded in replacing Watson with Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian economist. Commenting on his removal, Watson said, "U.S. support was, of course, an important factor. They [the IPCC] came under a lot of pressure from ExxonMobil who asked the White House to try and remove me." [Independent, April 20, 2002]

      The next to go, on April 22, was Jose Mauricio Bustani, the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW]. Bustani ran into trouble when he resisted Bush administration efforts to dictate the nationalities of inspectors assigned to investigate U.S. chemical facilities. He also opposed a U.S. law allowing Bush to block unannounced inspections in the United States.

      Bustani came under criticism for "bias" because his organization had sought to inspect American chemical facilities as aggressively as it examined facilities of U.S.-designated "rogue states." In other words, he was called biased because he sought to apply the rules evenhandedly. [ shtml]

      The final straw for Bush apparently was Bustani's efforts to persuade Iraq to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which would allow the OPCW to inspect Iraqi facilities. The Bush administration denounced this move an "ill-considered initiative" and pushed to have Bustani deposed, threatening to withhold dues to the OPCW if Bustani remained.

      Critics said Washington's reasoning was that Bush would be stripped of a principal rationale for invading Iraq and ousting Saddam Hussein if the Iraqi dictator agreed to join the international body designed to inspect chemical-weapons facilities, including those in Iraq. A senior U.S. official dismissed that interpretation of Bush's motive as "an atrocious red herring."

      Accusing Bustani of mismanagement, U.S. officials called an unprecedented special session to vote Bustani out, only a year after he was unanimously reelected to another five-year term. The member states chose to sacrifice Bustani to save the organization from the loss of U.S. funds. [Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2002]

      "By dismissing me," Bustani told the U.N. body, "an international precedent will have been established whereby any duly elected head of any international organization would at any point during his or her tenure remain vulnerable to the whims of one or a few major contributors." He said that if the United States succeeded in removing him, "genuine multilateralism" would succumb to "unilateralism in a multilateral disguise." [ ml]

      World Cooperation

      Despite Bush's success bending some international organizations to his will, Europe and other parts of the world have continued to promote multilateral strategies, even over Bush's objections.

      On April 11, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was ratified by enough countries to make the court a reality. Treaty ratification surged past the necessary 60 countries with the approval of Bosnia-Herzogovina, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ireland, Jordan, Mongolia, Niger, Romania and Slovakia -- to go along with the support of all the nations of Western Europe and virtually every major U.S. ally.

      Taking effect on July 1 - with an inaugural ceremony of the International Criminal Court expected as early as February 2003 - the court will try people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Amnesty International has called the court "a historic development in the fight for justice." Human Rights Watch has called it "the most important new institution for enforcing human rights in 50 years."

      Reacting hostilely to the Rome Statute's ratification, Bush reiterated his opposition and repudiated President Clinton's decision to sign the accord. "The United States has no legal obligations arising from its signature on Dec. 31, 2000," the Bush administration said in a May 6 letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. "The United States requests that its intention not to become a party ... be reflected in the depositary's status lists relating to this treaty." []

      While the "unsigning" was a remarkable snub at the world's diplomats and at principles of civilized behavior that the U.S. has long championed, it will not itself stop the court's creation, nor does it legally absolve the United States from cooperating with it. But the letter does signal Bush's intent to undermine the court at every turn.

      With strong administration support, House Republicans promoted a bill that would allow U.S. armed forces to invade the Hague, Netherlands, where the court will be located, to rescue U.S. soldiers if they are ever prosecuted for war crimes. The bill, sponsored by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, would bar U.S. military aid to countries that ratify the treaty. The bill also would prevent the U.S. from participating in peacekeeping missions that might put American soldiers under the court's jurisdiction. DeLay's bill even would prohibit the U.S. from sharing intelligence with the court regarding suspects being investigated or prosecuted. []

      The Bush administration's active campaign against the court places the U.S. alongside only one other country, Libya.

      Contrasting Principles

      Washington's opposition to the court contrasts, too, with the staunch U.S. support for the war crimes tribunal that was created to try former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. In that case, the U.S. threatened to withhold financial aid to Yugoslavia if it did not hand over Milosevic and cooperate with the tribunal.

      When Yugoslavia complied, Bush hailed the move as "a first step toward trying him for the crimes against humanity with which he is charged." Bush's opposition to a permanent war crimes court seems driven by fear that his freedom to wage war around the world might be proscribed by fear of war-crime charges.

      Bush's selective unilateralism has sparked anti-Americanism even among former close allies. Reflecting the widespread view that Bush is asserting an American exceptionalism disdainful of world opinion, critics have come to routinely refer to the United States as "the empire."

      During his May trip to Europe, demonstrators went into the streets to protest Bush's policies. The scene that I witnessed in Berlin in late May was almost the opposite of what I had observed in Copenhagen in mid-September. Instead of a warm affection for the United States, there was ridicule and contempt.

      At the "Cowgirls and Cowboys Against the War" protest march in Berlin, demonstrators wearing cowboy outfits followed a truck with a country music band mocking Bush's Wild West approach to foreign relations. At the protest, I saw people holding signs that read, "George W. Bush: Usurper, Oil Chieftain, Super-terrorist" and "Bush: System Robot." Another sign I saw had a photograph of Bush with a goofy expression on his face and a caption reading, "Do you really want this man to lead us into war?"

      The estimates of the Berlin protests ranged from 20,000 to 50,000 people. But it is clear from opinion polls and press commentaries that the protesters were expressing sentiments widely held in Europe. According to European polls, approval ratings of Bush's international policies hover at around 35 percent. [ rtID=153]

      Many Europeans believe Bush offers only lip service to the American ideal of democracy. Not only is Bush building alliances with undemocratic human rights violators, such as Uzbekistan and Georgia, but Bush's diplomats were supportive when coup plotters briefly ousted the elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, on April 12.

      The Bush administration viewed Chavez as a troublesome populist who threatened the stability of Venezuela's oil industry. Washington retreated only when Chavez backers poured into the streets and reversed the coup.

      Limiting Freedoms

      Now, Bush has established a domestic corollary to the worldwide "Bush Doctrine." Along with asserting his unilateral power abroad, Bush is limiting freedoms within the United States.

      The expansion of police powers began immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks when Middle Easterners living in the U.S. were swept off the streets and held incommunicado as "material witnesses" or for minor visa violations. Attorney General Ashcroft likened their detentions to arresting gangsters for "spitting on the sidewalk."

      The total number and the identities of those arrested remain state secrets. Government officials have estimated that about 1,100 people, mostly Middle Eastern-born men, were caught up in the dragnet. Some legal observers outside the government put the number much larger, at about 1,500 to 2,000 people. Only one of these detainees has been charged with a crime connected to the Sept. 11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui, who was in custody before the attacks. [For details, see's The Dragnet Comes Up Empty, June 19, 2002]

      Next came the hundreds of combatants captured in Afghanistan and put in cages at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bush refused to grant them protections under the Geneva Conventions and said they could be tried by a military tribunal established by his fiat.

      Initially, many Americans reconciled themselves to the array of post-Sept. 11 detentions and the Guantanamo cages, believing that the arrests without trial only affected foreigners and were a reaction to a short-term emergency. But that comfort level shrank when Jose Padilla, a 31-year-old U.S.-born citizen who had converted to Islam, was arrested on May 8 in Chicago.

      Ashcroft announced the arrest at a dramatic news conference in Moscow more than a month later, on June 10. Ashcroft depicted Padilla's capture as a major victory in the war on terror. Administration officials said Padilla had met with al-Qaeda operatives abroad and was in the early stages of a plot to develop a radiological "dirty bomb" that would be detonated in a U.S. city.

      But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said later that the bomb plot amounted only to "some fairly loose talk." [Washington Post, June 13, 2002] Nothing concrete had occurred. Padilla had no bomb-making materials, no target, no operational co-conspirators, no plan. Beyond assertions, the administration offered no evidence of Padilla's guilt.

      Bush described Padilla as an "enemy combatant" and ordered him detained indefinitely at a military prison in South Carolina. No trial, not even one before the military tribunal, is to be held. Attempting to justify this extra-constitutional detention, Bush explained that Padilla is a "bad guy" and "he is where he needs to be, detained." The Bush administration said Padilla would be jailed for as long as the war on terrorism continues, potentially a life sentence given the vague goals and indefinite timetable of this conflict. [ ewsid_2039000/2039214.stm]

      Even though the Clinton administration had succeeded in winning convictions against both Islamic and domestic terrorists in open court, Bush was demonstrating his Clint-Eastwood-style impatience for such legal niceties.

      Though many Americans may feel little sympathy for Padilla, a street tough who allegedly consorted with al-Qaeda terrorists, the principle behind the case is clear: Bush is arrogating to himself the unilateral right to judge whether an American citizen is part of a terrorist cabal and thus can be stripped of all constitutional rights.

      Under this precedent, a U.S. citizen can be denied his right to an attorney, his right to a speedy trial before a jury of peers, his right to confront accusers, his right against self-incrimination, even his right to have the charges against him spelled out. Simply on Bush's say-so, an allegation of conspiracy can become grounds for unlimited imprisonment, even with no overt acts and no public evidence.

      A Bleak Future

      It no longer seems farfetched to think that George W. Bush might someday expand his extraordinary powers to silence those who ask difficult questions or criticize his judgment or otherwise give aid and comfort to the enemy.

      When some Democrats demanded to know what Bush knew about the terror threats before Sept. 11, Cheney delivered a blunt warning. "My Democratic friends in Congress," Cheney said, "they need to be very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions, as were made by some today, that the White House had advance information that would have prevented the tragic attacks of 9/11." [Washington Post, May 17, 2002]

      Bush, the first man in more than a century to take the White House after losing the popular vote, seems to have developed an abiding trust in his personal right to wield unlimited power. After succeeding in getting his allies on the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the counting of votes in Florida in December 2000, Bush may feel confident that he will have their help, too, in redefining the U.S. Constitution. Bush also may be confident that a frightened American populace will support his every move, regardless of how many freedoms they must surrender in the name of security.

      Unthinkable a year ago, there is now the shape of an American Gulag where people can disappear without public legal proceedings or possibly no legal proceedings at all.

      The American people may learn too late that relying on repression to gain security can mean sacrificing freedom without actually achieving greater security. As counterinsurgency experts have long argued, only a wise balance between reasonable security and smart policies to address legitimate grievances can reduce violence to manageable levels over the long term. Often, repression simply breeds new generations of bitter enemies.

      Over the past nine months, George W. Bush has marched off in a political direction so troubling that American editorial writers don't dare speak its name. He is moving toward a system in which an un-elected leader decides what freedoms his people will be allowed at home and what countries will be invaded abroad. If carried to its ultimate conclusion, this political strategy can degenerate into what would be called in any other country a dictatorship.

      --With reporting by Robert Parry

    • Here's one off the top of my head, since I haven't seen anyone mention it yet. . .

      The Immortals, by Tracy Hickman (the guy who wrote all those Dragonlance novels with Margaret Weis, yes). This is a solo effort, and even it's publishing has an interesting story. It seems that due to it's subject matter and nature, Mr. Hickman, despite being a bestselling author, had a great deal of trouble getting this book initially published. I remember him being quoted once as saying that numerous editors and publishers told him that it was an excellent book, but that they'd never publish it.

      The book deals with a dystopian society in 2010 where a deadly viral epidemic, V-CIDS, threatens the US and everyone in it. In a panic, the President allows for the creation of isolated camps for the "treatment" of those who are infected.

      V-CIDS first began by spreading through the gay community, and this caused a backlash against homosexuals, much like what happened with AIDS in the early 90's. Only this disease is much, much, worse.

      This book is definitely not without it's flaws, but it is still a great book, and well worth reading.
  • more (Score:3, Informative)

    by Snafoo ( 38566 ) on Sunday August 04, 2002 @02:20AM (#4007030) Homepage
    A quasi-dystopia (and very, very good reading):

    _Infinite_Jest_, by David Foster Wallace.

    • I just finished re-reading this. Goddamned brilliant. Yeah, it's not really dystopian, but read it anyways.
    • even more (Score:2, Informative)

      by 1015 ( 239564 )
      back to the oldskool:

      strindberg: inferno (strindberg is considered to have been clinically mad)

      louis-ferdinand celine: Journey to the End of the (quote from review: Journey to the End of the Night is a novel of savage, exultant misanthropy, full of cynical humour and of the blackest pessimism in respect of humanity.)

      bret easton ellis: american psycho (nuff said)

  • Catcher in the Rye?
    • Don't get me wrong, I think everyone should read a few of these just to keep in the back of their mind as something the human race should be careful of.
      But, having a handful of these already, I see this as a list of books to avoid!

      Next Ask Slashdot, (submitted by yours truly) - "Utopic Novels?"
      • But, having a handful of these already, I see this as a list of books to avoid!

        I would say that a list of books to avoid has value. If only somebody had taken me aside in the early 90's and persuaded me to just read the cutesy side-bar comments in the margins of Copeland's "Generation X", and skip the horrible novel printed between them, they could have saved me the trouble of reading that lame story (although it was fairly short).

  • by Neck_of_the_Woods ( 305788 ) on Sunday August 04, 2002 @02:32AM (#4007046) Journal
    I think that title says it all.

  • will be available in a Borders near you, sometimes soon. ;>
  • Zamyatin's We (Score:1, Interesting)

    by thermo99 ( 100137 )
    Read We in HS and really enjoyed it. Worth checking out. @ amazon []
    reference to more works: History of Distopia []
  • _I Am Legend_, Richard Matheson

    _Jude the Obscure_, Thomas Hardy

    _The Man Who Folded Himself_, David Gerrold

    _I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream_, Harlan Ellison

    _A Canticle for Leibowitz_, Walter E. Miller, Jr.

    _Beowulf's Children_, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle

    _Kaledioscope Century_, John Barnes

    The War Against the Chtorr books, David Gerrold

    _On the Beach_, Nevil Shute

    _Alas, Babylon_, Pat Frank

    The Chung Ko Cycle, David Wingrove

    The Maurid Audran trilogy, George Alec Effinger
    • _Beowulf's Children_, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle

      I was just thinking of this one myself. I don't guess it's technically a dystopia, but at the end the good guys (almost) all end up dead, so that counts for something.

      In the same basic vein is the Endymion saga, by Dan Simmons. The end of the last book is accompanied by the last possible thing that you would want to see happen. There's a sort-of happy ending, but after a few minutes you end up thinking to yourself, "but want a minute, she's still going to... they're still going to...." It's wrenching.
    • I don't see how Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself is a dystopia. A little weird, perhaps, but an entertaining read that amounts to a book-length version of Heinlein's "All You Zombies".

      I don't know whether to agree with you or not with his War Against the Chtorr -- partly because he hasn't finished the damn series! It certainly does seem, though, that despite minor victories in each book, overall Earth is losing to the invaders. You could make the same observation about Harry Turtledove's Worldwar and Colonization series (the first recounts the arrival of the invasion fleet, the second of the colonization fleet, which left the home system long before the first arrived at Earth), although Gerrold's alien ecosystems are more horrific.
  • last summer i was on a dystopian novel kick, and then figured that if dystopian novels a good way to learn about society and where it's headed, utopian novels could be good also. try reading sir thomas moore's book 'utopia', which is where the word comes from. it's a really good, but short, read.
  • George Saunders is a fairly recent author whose short stories are often dystopic.

    Farnham's Freehold by Heinlein is SciFi dystopia.

    And if that doesn't suit your needs, this list might help: asdystopias.htm []

  • We (Score:2, Informative)

    by byoon ( 121785 )
    We by Yevgeny Zamyatin [] - considered the first real dystopian novel of the 20th century.
    • Let me second that one. A friend recommended it to me for years before I got around to reading it this winter. It's haunting, one of my new favorites. Interesting to see, too, how much

      • 1984
      drew from it.
  • Plato - The Phaedo

    **** SPOILER ****

    As related in the Crito Socrates is imprisoned awaiting the time when a sacred ship returns from Delos as this will lift a prohibition on the completion of the sentence he faces - the drinking of the fatal poison - Hemlock.
  • H. G. Wells of course.

    Created the genre.

    Gibson may have created cyberpunk, but Wells created gibson.

  • Pretty much anything by Franz Kafka should fit the bill, though not really sci-fi. Also, Kurt Vaughagut Jr (SP?).

  • If you are willing to tolerate a religious one, Caldwell's "We all Fall Down".
  • It's been a while, but I remember Elizabeth Hand's Winterlong series (Winterlong, Aestival Tide, Icarus Descending) as being fairly dystopic.

  • Balzac, Zola, Flaubert, Proust and many others...

    They all have novels that are dealing with the darker side of life. All you're left with after finishing the novels is a feeling of futility, of hopelessness. But they gave me a better understanding of people in general and in particular human degradation and vices and without having to experience it first hand.

    The settings are in the middle to the end of the 19th century France, so they have nothing of Science Fiction in them (this is /. after all, so I guess it's expected).

    Of the three I've listed Honore de Balzac is the lighter one. His novels do have some positive endings, although none end in the manner we've been taught to expect by Hollywood. Zola is definitely dark, and if you can't stand gory descriptions and settings, don't touch him. He's the more difficult to read too.

    I'm sure they are very accessible in translation (at least they are in Toronto).

    But it's 3am where I live and I really should get some sleep...

    • Okay, I'm not singling out the parent post here, but a lot of people here seem to be confused about the definition of "dystopic novels." Really confused. As in "Alanis Moressette is confused about what 'ironic' means" confused.

      "Dystopic" is meant to mean "the opposite of utopian." (Utopia being a fantasy of a man-made paradise, Dystopia therefore is a cautionary nightmare fantasy of a man-made Hell.)

      Webster's Dictionary defines a dystopia "an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives." A "dystopic novel" is a sub-genre of fantasy/sci-fi which takes place in such a setting.

      "We", "1984", "Brave New World" are dystopic novels.
      "Brazil" is probably the best original dystopic film I know of.

      Balzac was a Romantic Era writer who wrote about the problems of the real world, not the perils implied by an imaginary one. His books may be depressing, but that's not the same thing as being dystopic.

  • Nabokov (Score:3, Informative)

    by esme ( 17526 ) on Sunday August 04, 2002 @03:10AM (#4007117) Homepage
    Other people have mentioned a lot these authors, but here are my favorites:
    • Zamiatin: We - probably the first dystopic novel
    • Kakfa: The Trial - Much better then Metamorphosis, IMHO. Though the end is a bit sudden.
    • Nabokov: Bend Sinister - the best dystopia, and the most realistic. Almost all early Nabokov has dystopic elements. Invitation to a Beheading is another great dystopia by VN, too.
    • Wells: Time Machine - one of the great classics.
    • Vonnegut: Galapagos - Vonnegut's got a lot of dystopic themes running through his work, but this is my favorite. Close runners up would be Slaughterhouse-5 and Cat's Cradle.
    • Heller: Catch-22 - another looks at WW2 as a dystopia. Worth reading just for the concepts of jamais-vu and presque-vu. One of the funniest books around, too.


    • Galapagos is great. Deep and wide philosophical scope, but still fun and comprehensible.

      My suggestions: The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke is classic sci-fi dystopia. The Folk of the Fringe by Orson Scott Card is an optimistic post-apocalyptic dystopia.

  • cormac mccarthy's border trilogy
  • Reading all of the comments to any /. story is as dystopian as it gets.

    It's no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. - J. Krishnamarti
  • Anything by Micheal Slade. His/Their books always have a twist at the end which is at the same time surprising and depressing.
  • Though it's not strictly dystopian like 1984 and Brave New World, you might like Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. Published in 1949, this novel chronicles the physical, philosophical, and emotional journies of a single man as he copes with a post-apocalyptic world. Quite a good book; n.b. much of the novel is set in San Francisco.

    You can read brief reviews here [] and here [], and of course, from here [].

    There are also:

  • Definitely a classic of 20th century dystopic literature. Carries the threats of environmental pollution and corporate irresponsibility to their gruesome extremes, producing a world that stinks - literally, of course.

    Acid rain, poisoned food, household implements that kill you and every other threat to the quality of living for any criiter on Earth that environmentalists in the 70s could imagine.

    Well written, too. Good characters, relentless plot.

    John Brunner's other classic in the same vein is Stand On Zanzibar, which I remember very little of, as it's fifteen years since I read it. Pretty good as well, I seem to recall.
  • Jeanette Winterson

    Think contemporary dystopia.

  • Write an autobiography. :)

  • And what's best about it is the dystopia is the creation of the policies and politics you see around you every day. Unlike most, it is not fantastical, speculative, and while it does have a bit of sci fi element, in the interest of expressing "future technology" but generally, its almost old fashioned in style.

    Yes the novel is about the triumph of the human spirit, like 1984, but it is great literature, and will likely open your eyes to things you see every day but don't recognize.

    Well worth reading, and re-reading. (Of course, I will get flamed for recommending this, because there are actually people who advocate the dystopia that occurs in the novel, and of course ,they hate having it being pointed out. But I challenge anyone who hates this book to actually read it, and show where its wrong-- so far nobody has met that challenge. So, unless you've read it and can provide a rational response, don't tell me how much you think it sucks...

    Hell, all teh fanatics that want you to NOT read it is reason enough to read it.

    • Another book by Rand is Anthem. Much easier read than Atlas, and shorter. You could read it in a day. Dystopian throughout.

      • While we're at it We The Living is set during the rise of communism in Russia. Real dystopia on earth- who needs fiction?

        I won't spoil the ending but lets just say its not wrapped up in a nice happy bundle.

      • Why not just watch "The Fountainhead" on video and get everything you really need to know about Ayn Rand's ideas in two hours?

        That movie was every bit as dry and pedantic as Rand's novels, and stay's fairly true to her fun reactionary politics.

        Plus, you would get a primer on Frank Lloyd Wright's ideas about archetecture at the same time! Two philosophy lessons for the price of one rental!

    • I read it. I liked it. I didn't believe any of it.

      On the purely literary side, it's a dreadful book. The plot exists purely to put across her various philosophical points. Her characters are so thin they don't even count as cardboard; they are pure stereotypes (you can find most of the same people, with different names, in The Fountainhead. The writing style is clunky to say the least. And that lecture at the end --- good gods, woman, don't you have any sense of pacing?

      And yet... there's an energy behind it that makes it compulsive reading. I couldn't put it down. That counts for something.

      And now the philosophy. I am not an economist; I can only call it as I see it. I think she's making the exact opposite mistake Karl Marx made. Marx forgot that humans are greedy and selfish, and so won't put the same effort into working for an abstract state that they will into working for themselves. Ayn Rand, however, forgot that humans need to care and believe, and her Objectivist society is completely uncaring. If you don't or can't work, you will drop off the bottom and society will forget you and let you die. There is no safety net. (Imagine what would happen during a period of surplus labour, for example.) In fact, Objectivism would rather let you die; if you're not economically useful, you would be better got rid of. Humans can't live like that.

      In fact, it's rather telling that all the Great Figures of her perfect society in Atlas Shrugged are more alien than some of the best SF aliens. All the interesting people are the villains. The only --- the only --- person I could identify with is Jim Taggart, Dagny's brother, who is unable to pull his life out of the mire and ends up spiralling down with the rest of the contrived, doomed society.

      I won't deny it has its moments. The image of the doomed train heading down the tunnel, the only worthwhile person on board running for safety, is extremely powerful (and rather telling in that it demonstrates Rand's disregard for 'unproductive' human life). The random beggars wandering around saying, "Who is John Galt?" And I won't deny it's been influential, and I will agree that it's a must-read for anyone into economics. But for gods' sake don't take it at its face values. Think about it. It does not make sense.

      (And if you liked it, you need to read the potted synopsis of an oddly similar book called 'Prometheus Bowed' [more or less, memory lapse] in the Illuminatus books...)

      • Ayn Rand, however, forgot that humans need to care and believe, and her Objectivist society is completely uncaring. If you don't or can't work, you will drop off the bottom and society will forget you and let you die. There is no safety net.

        You're quite wrong on this. Objectivists are rather caring people-- in fact, its one of the core parts of the belief system. It is, after all, based on cherishing life.

        Reardon gave money and support to his family, to his brother who hated him, even to people who's only goal was to DESTROY him. The later not out of caring for them- they were evil- but out of caring for Dagny.

        The difference is Marx, and most liberals think that people should be enslaved for the benefit of others-- that they should be coerced at gunpoint to "care" for them by providing the "safety net" you speak of.

        Objectivists, however, think that people should freely choose to give money to help those they wish to-- and they are a generous group of people.

        In the liberal society, if my sister's farm is destroyed, I am still compelled to give %50 of my money to the government, none of which will go to help her family. In an Objectivist society, I would have the freedom to give that money to my sister, or to put it into my business, which thus employs more people, creates more jobs, and fights poverty, of if I'm not a business owner, to the charity of my choice. OR, if I'm not wealthy enough to have a surplus, into the long term viability of my own economic life, lessening the possibility at my old age I would come to depend on others.

        You take that away, and you force me to be more likely to need money when I am unable to work, not support my sister, not help grow the economy with the money, or any of the other uses to which I could put that money-- all of which are better for society.

        The ironic thing is that the source of poverty in this society is the damage to the economy and the poor's self esteem that the "War on poverty" has done. ITs one of those "give a man a fish" things-- the feds give out fish left and right, but no fishing poles.

        Its unfortunate that you, and so many others, have this picture of objectivism. Its ironic that the twin towers- pillars of capitalism in a literal sense- caused people to care for those who died and the companies that were damaged for only a little while, and now we're back on the same old mantra of hating corporation (and thus people).

        Marx cared not for anyone, and Marxism is the worship of tyranny and slavery, by sheep who are unable to tell that they're being taken. Objectivism is the worship of your own self ideal.

        And who's self ideal does not include helping others?

        Bill Gates for all his moral problems is doing far more for the poor in the world than much larger and richer federal government. Gates is a fair example of an objectivist (though when taking over the software industry he acted more like Orren Boyle-- an error on his part, he thinks he's Hank Reardon) and look what he's doing with his money.

        No, the issue is not about whether objectivists believe in caring for other people- they do.

        The issue is whether you should be forced at gunpoint to work for another person-- to GIVE UP your life for that person. That's what altruism is.

        You haven't shown me anywhere that it doesn't make sense-- I think you misread it, or misunderstood it.

        The central question is not should one care for others-- thruout the book heros care for others-- but should one be forced to sacrifice your life for others, against your will?

        How can you call it compassion when you employ a gun to create it? (and thats what any taxation that doesn't go to support the person being taxed is-- "charity" at the point of a gun.)

    • > And what's best about it is the dystopia is the creation of the policies and politics you see around you every day.

      I'll second that.

      Agree or disagree with her philosophy as you wish, but I had a horrible sinking feeling of deja vu. The passages about postmodern academics (essentially, anyone who says that your right to choose $IDEA_FOO over $IDEA_BAR is inherently wrong because there are supposedly no standards of truth or falsehood) mirror my experiences of university in the early '90s. I had to keep flipping back to make sure the copyright date was in the '40s rather than the '80s.

      A fscking scary read, particularly as you hear all the talk about "fairness" on both sides of the aisle in Congress, and RIAA and MPAA are buying off legislators because it wouldn't be fair to allow new business models to drive them out of business.

      If she'd stopped there - at the Star-Wars-esque insight that "the more you tighten your grip, regulator Tarkin, the more productivity slips through your fingers", it would have been merely frightening.

      What made Atlas Shrugged truly dystopian is that (to extend the Star Wars analogy), Tarkin responds with a "So? To hell with the Empire, so long as we rule it as it falls", and Vader agrees.

      • Yep. And one thing that the opposition to Rand's ideas often mis is that half the time its corporations who are the evildoers, not just government.

        I suspect its the liberal anti-corporate bias that makes them forget that half the bad guys in Atlas Shrugged were companies that couldn't compete and so they sought government intervention.

        And, of course, there is the propaganda process that occurs during the novel- the constant cries for "how could we have known they would attack the world trade center" and "we must all pull together" and "we're doing this for your protection" as the grip on airports grows tighter.

        I'm sure this is a common methodology for any society that goes towards tyranny-- these appeals should be expected-- but the parallels between the book and right now are pretty cool.

  • This isn't a a novel that would fit into a strict definition of dystopia, but if you enjoy that genre, you'll almost certainly love this book.

    A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller Jr., is a simply amazing and excellent book. I'm firmly of the opinion that everyone should read this book before they're allowed to graduate High School.
  • Try _Cat's Cradle_, which has a wondefully bleak view of the future. However, it's not exactly a "dystopia novel" like _1984_. Just read it, it'll be good for you.
  • by Treeluvinhippy ( 545814 ) <liquidsorcery@ g m> on Sunday August 04, 2002 @05:40AM (#4007326)
    However "We" probably has the most depressing ending I have ever read. IMHO I would rather do the starving rat in a cage straped to your face thing from "1984" then what D-503 went through at the end of that novel.

    The book has a history in the real world. The author Yevgeny Zamyatin was a supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1905 and actually served some time in prison. (Historical note this was a different uprising then the more famous 1917 revolt that lead to the Soviet Union.)

    As time passed he became disillusioned and wrote "WE" as an anti-communist story. Throughout the twenties Zamyatin was hounded by his peers for not playing follow the literary leader (not writing propaganda). Zamyatin was allowed much to his surprise to leave Russia in 1931 and settled in Paris. Untill his death in '37 he remained an outspoken critic of the Soviet System.

    "We" has the advantage of being written with the perspective of someone who actualy helped in a small way bring about, lived during the founding of and later renounce a real world negative utopia.
  • If you're into SF, then I simply have to recommend Stephen Baxter. I can't recall any of his books that doesn't involve, oh, the universe coming to an end in some spectacular way. He's a good writer, imo, but the crushing dystopicality (heh) of his novels often gets to me. For a place to start reading Baxter, check out the beginning of his Xeelee sequence, Raft []. Which, I see, is out of print. Hm. Typical.
  • Island, Ape and Essence, and, actually, most of Aldous Huxley's works.

    Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

    The Third Man by Graham Green.

    The Castle, The Metamorphosis, and, again, the majority of Franz Kafka's Work.

    Depending on your Politics and Economics, the works of Ayn Rand [] might be the most depressing stuff you've ever read.

    Oh, and let's not forget Hamlet, Macbeth and the rest of the Shakespearean Tragedies.
  • Check out Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Base behaviour, tribalism, murder. Excellent stuff. :) Very thematic which is common in works of dystopia.
  • Can you get a Novalisation of Terry Gillans film Brazill
  • Life sucks and then you die.
  • Atomised [] (or The Elemementary Particles) by Michel Houellebecq could definately be called a dystopia, allthough it's setting is mostly France in the last 30 years.

    Apparently, some people hate the book: it's cynical, dark, cold, immoral, pornographic; it criticizes the freedoms won during the seventies and at the same time it's quite touching. I recommend it.
  • I can't believe no one mentioned the dystopian sci-fi/cyberpunk novels written by William Gibson, the man who coined the terms "microsoft" and "cyberspace!" Sheesh, Neuromancer only won the holy trinity of science fiction writing: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award. READ IT! I mean, come on, there's computers, sex, AND violence! Books I reccomend by William Gibson, in this order: Neuromancer, Burning Chrome, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Virtual Light

  • The Giver [] by Lois Lowry

    Also ....

    Handmaids Tail by Margaret Atwood
  • Thomas Disch, 334

    Tim Powers, Dinner at Deviant's Palace

    David Brin, The Postman

    Try them you'll like them.
  • "Make Room, Make Room" by Harry Harrison, the book that the movie "Soylent Green" was (loosely) based on, is incredibly dystopic- overpopulation, overcrowding, energy shortages, food shortages, food riots, a huge disparity between the rich and the poor. Pretty depressing.

    The beginning of the "Cities in Flight" novels by James Blish are pretty dystopic- life on earth gets so bad, they just take the cities and fly away...
  • Death on the Installment Plan, and Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand D. Celine.

    John Fante and Bukowski.

    Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus
  • 'A Farewell to Arms'. I remeber that as being on e of his more depressing, especially the end.
  • A classic. By Harriet Beecher Stowe.
  • by sharkey ( 16670 ) on Sunday August 04, 2002 @12:57PM (#4008282)
    By Bill Gates
  • 334, Camp Concentration - Thomas Disch (already mentioned, but worth repeating).

    A Scanner Darkly, The Man in the High Castle - Phillip K. Dick. (He wrote lots of them, but those are my two favorites). Although The Man in the High Castle is more properly alternate history...but whatever. I liked it.

    J.G. Ballard - most of what he's written has been about the world falling apart in some way. Hello, America is an almost comic novel about an expedition across the fallen United States.

    Dhalgren - Samual R. Delany. Beautiful, surreal, and even though it takes place in one city, sealed off from the rest of the world, huge in scope.

    Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up - John Brunner. I believe Stand on Zanzibar was one of the first books about the perils of over-population. The Sheep Look Up focuses on pollution and disease.

  • Have you looked into the Xanth novels [] by Piers Anthony []? They definitely fit the "Or any novels with a good depressing ending with no hope of a future" condition. While I wouldn't recommend them to anyone who might have unsuspected suicidal tendencies, they should be good for anyone who finds themselves too happy.

    -- MarkusQ

    P.S. Seriously though, what about A Canticle for Leibowitz []?

  • by larien ( 5608 )
    Iain Banks seems to enjoy ending stories with most of the main character dying. For a particularly depressing read, though, try "A Song of Stone". I wouldn't recommend it much as a novel, but it is a most depressing read.
  • George Turner has a particular bent for dystopic stories. The most depressing thing about them is how plausible they are.

    Brain Child []

    The Destiny Makers []

    Down There in the Darkness []

    The Drowning Towers []

  • by AJWM ( 19027 )
    If you really want depressing endings, try the book "Level 7" by Mordecai Roshwald, if you can find a copy. Cold War era, written as the diary of one of the nuclear war button pushers. Very well written (at least as I remember it -- it has been literally decades since I read it.)

    As one reviewer on puts it, "By the time you finish this one you'll be reaching for the extra-strength Prozac or a razor."
    • Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up by Brunner.
    • Strange Weather> by Sterling.
  • here []
  • I know it's not a novel (or maybe it is... ?), but Arlington_Road (film) is amazing. Definitely in my top 10 movies..


  • It's fiction, well most of it is.

    It has a pretty un happy ending for most of us, unles you think you're one of the 144,00 souls who gets to go upstairs.

  • Jem
    A novel by
    Frederik Pohl

    Nebula (nominee)
    Hugo (nominee)

    The discovery of another habitable world might spell salvation to the three bitterly competing power blocs of the resource-starved 21st century; but when their representatives arrive on Jem, with its multiple intelligent species, they discover instead the perfect situation into which to export their rivalries. Subtitled, with savage irony, 'The Making of a Utopia', Jem is one of Frederik Pohl's most powerful novels.

    I lifted the above blurb from m; what's below is mine:

    Jem's a searingly depressing novel that pulls no punches; it ends without allowing the reader any hope that "things will get better" or that "it's not so bad". Humans are de-humanized and so are sentient alien species, all in the name of corporate profits sometimes fig-leafed as national security concerns.

    It's been 10 or 15 years since I read it; I've uncharacteristically never re-read it. It was that powerful, and that depressing.
  • ... has written a few dystopic novels & stories. My favorite is The Futurological Congress.

    And I guess Asimov's Foundation series counts as a dystopic vision

  • Searching for "dystopia novel" on Google, the first hit is a top five list on
    • Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
    • White Noise by Don DeLillo
    • Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson
    • Paradise by Toni Morrison
    • Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

    Hit number two is a discussion on H2G2 [] about the genre, including books and films. Etc.

    There's lots of good stuff out there if you're willing to go beyond just scifi &/or books. There's a lot of dystopian movies, for example -- take some of Terry Gilliam's for example ("Brazil", "12 Monkeys").

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"