Oh, I do love a good dystopia

What is it about the breakdown of modern society that I am drawn to? The reality is that life would be infinitely harder for those in industrialized countries who survive. But I find reading about them oddly appealing. Before I go any further, I am not talking about political dystopia, like The Handmaid’s Tale, that is just scary from all angles. But Atwood’s MaddAddam dystopia with fantastic creatures and a planet trying to heal itself is so fascinating to me. Similarly, Eden LepStation Elevenucki’s California was fascinating if not as well written as Atwood. And vintage R.C. Sheriff’s tale of the moon smashing into Earth in The Hopkin’s Manuscript, or John Wyndham’s equally vintage The Day of the Triffids.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Much to the surprise of the social media universe, I loved, loved, loved this book. Twenty years after a global flu pandemic wipes out something like 99% of the population we follow a troupe of musicians and actors who traverse western Michigan performing for small, isolated settlements. (Extra credit points if you can figure out the pun in that sentence.) I’ve seen some reviewers say that Mandel doesn’t break any new ground in this genre and some other niggling complaints about the book, but I liked the milieu enough to not care if those things are true.

In particular I love the flashbacks to the time when the pandemic strikes and I especially loved to read the bits about how society as we know it came to an end. The end of planes, the end of electricity, the end of communications, the end of gas–apparently it goes stale after a few years. All fascinating stuff. As much as I love air travel, I love the idea of a sky with no planes. I may get in trouble for saying this, but in the days following 9/11/2001, the gorgeous fall days in Ithaca, New York were enhanced by a silent sky.

I know I would probably not survive, and if I did would probably be miserable, but I am so drawn to the romanticized world of the planet reverting to nature.

I will admit that there were lots of connections between characters who in reality would probably never have met up again. But, I am the kind of person who really likes closure so as unrealistic as some of those connections may have been, I liked how they tied somethings up with a bow.

What other dystopian novels should I read?

30 thoughts on “Oh, I do love a good dystopia

  1. Ruthiella July 9, 2016 / 10:38 pm

    Your reading mojo is still going which is great for your followers! I think the dystopias you mentioned are almost the only ones I have read as well. But I can suggest another John Wyndam. The Chrysalids was the first book of his I read and I liked it so much I went on to read more than a few of his other titles. So you might want to give that one a try. You might also try The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I don’t always like her writing style, but I think her ideas are always interesting.

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    • Thomas July 16, 2016 / 9:02 pm

      My mojo has slowed a bit. I was going to resurrect it this weekend, but so far that hasn’t happened. I loved the Chrysalids, but not as much as DOtT.

      Like

  2. Kateg July 9, 2016 / 10:46 pm

    I am not a dystopia fan, but I loved a Station Eleven. The whole thing appealed to me, from Shakespeare to the airport stuff. And it has stayed with me,

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Maralyn July 9, 2016 / 11:08 pm

    The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben H. Winters and The Age of Miracles by Karen Walker Thompson- very different from each other and Station Eleven, but also dealing with themes of world ending trauma and loss, as well as resulting survival,
    connection and resilience. Great and compelling reads.

    Like

    • Thomas July 16, 2016 / 9:03 pm

      Yay, titles I have never heard of.

      Like

  4. Claire (The Captive Reader) July 10, 2016 / 1:07 am

    I loved this, too. I’m a sucker for survival stories of any kind and this filled that need perfectly. And it had Canadian content, including mentions of obscure West Coast places! Always enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thomas July 16, 2016 / 9:04 pm

      I liked the Torontonian beginning and how the segue into Michigan suggests the absence of national borders.

      Like

  5. Jenni M July 10, 2016 / 2:38 am

    I thought you might like more literary dystopians so I’m suggesting The Dog Stars by Peter Heller and Blindness by José Saramago. If you are not averse to reading short stories, After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh is a great collection.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thomas July 16, 2016 / 9:05 pm

      I like that so many people have heeded my call.

      Like

    • Dottiemi August 17, 2016 / 4:27 am

      I have been thrusting Station Eleven at my reading friends and heartily agree with Jenni, The Dog Stars was very engaging.

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  6. Travellin'Penguin July 10, 2016 / 3:02 am

    I meant to read this then forgot about it. You reminded me. I often think of the planet with no humans and only nature, animals, insects all going about their business with no interfereence from humans. It is something I would almost sacrifice myself for if it could be true. Kind of,like Australia for 40,000 yrs of Australian indiginous people and no white man.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Grier July 10, 2016 / 6:45 am

    You might like Into the Forest by Jean Hegland or The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. The pun is “traverse” for Traverse City, Michigan.

    I’m reading Penelope Lively’s Consequences based on your recommendation and loving it. How It All Began is my favorite of her novels although I need to re-read Moon Tiger.

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    • Thomas July 16, 2016 / 9:10 pm

      I wish I had a prize to give you for the pun. Did you have to think about it or did you spot it before the end of the sentence? I quite enjoyed the Sparrow. I will have to look up Into the Forest.

      I’m glad you are liking Consequences. I now have Cleopatra’s Sister a close second behind Consequences.

      Like

      • Grier July 16, 2016 / 9:19 pm

        I saw it right away as I grew up in Michigan. No prize necessary! I’m pretty new to your blog and have bought or borrowed several books you’ve mentioned. My to-read piles/shelves keep growing. At the moment, I’m re-reading all of Helene Hanff’s wonderful books and falling in love with them all over again.

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  8. Melissa F. July 11, 2016 / 4:18 am

    I enjoyed Station Eleven as well (but, admittedly, liked Emily Mandel’s previous books better). I’ll second Maralyn’s recommendation for The Age of Miracles.

    Like

    • Thomas July 16, 2016 / 9:11 pm

      Funny, I never even thought about other Mandel novels. I must do that.

      Like

  9. Lisa Almeda Sumner (@bibliolisa) July 11, 2016 / 12:45 pm

    I’ve already read Station Eleven three times. Like you I love, love, loved this book and was surprised by that. I had put off reading it just because I had heard so much about it. I loved the author’s use of voice, and the way she used narrative–the graphic novel, her way of moving back and forth in time. And I loved the characters. It didn’t hurt that the prose was just beautiful. After reading Station Eleven I was casting about looking for the same kind of reading experience. I read a lot of dystopian novels, including the Maddaddam trilogy (which I loved). One book I really liked was Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind Up Girl. I also liked Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, which seems much more of a commentary on who we are now.

    Like

    • Thomas July 16, 2016 / 9:13 pm

      One thing I particularly liked about Station Eleven, that just occurred to me as I read your comment, is that it could happen tomorrow. Atwood’s is fantastic, but a few years down the road. Station Eleven could start tonight. That is an amazing and scary thought.

      Like

  10. RareBird July 11, 2016 / 1:26 pm

    I offer up a couple of Theroux’s for consideration: O-Zone by Paul and Far North by Marcel. The Paul is a bit more sci-fi, and I’m not sure that is quite in your wheelhouse, but the Marcel reminds me of Station Eleven (or vice versa as I read it first).

    Like

    • Thomas July 16, 2016 / 9:14 pm

      So many new titles to look into. I can see there is a real body of work out there for me to discover for myself.

      Like

  11. lailaarch July 11, 2016 / 1:48 pm

    This book has stayed with me longer than most. I adored it and intend to reread it someday. Like a few of the other commenters, I would also recommend The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. It’s lovely and sad but worth it.

    Like

  12. Kerry McCabe July 13, 2016 / 5:43 pm

    Am a bit of a nut for this genre but my favorites are, Into the Forest by Jean Hegland and World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler. Into the Forest is suppose to come out in movie form this Fall–the original unabridged audio of it was the best, read by Alyssa Brensnahan–Recorded Books but not sure if it is available anymore but I loved it

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    • Thomas July 16, 2016 / 9:16 pm

      That is a second vote for Into the Forest. Funny you should mention James Howard Kunstler. His early 1990s non-fiction book The Geography of Nowhere is what prompted me to get a Master’s degree in Historic Preservation and eventually another one in Urban Planning.

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  13. Joyce July 23, 2016 / 7:49 pm

    Have you read all the classics? I took a course on dystopian fiction at university. We read: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler, Bend Sinister by Nabokov, Animal Farm & 1984 by Orwell, Lord of the Flies by Golding, and High Rise by JG Ballard. My prof wanted to include We by Zamyatin but we ran out of time. At the same time I read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which is excellent. Have you read The Trial by Franz Kafka?

    For newer books there’s Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro and Testament of Jessie Lamb by Mary Rogers (the second was nominated for the Booker prize). And there is tons of dystopia in YA.

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  14. Linda July 24, 2016 / 8:51 pm

    I loved Station Eleven and will be reading it again soon as my library is considering it for our community read. One of my very favorite dystopias is an older one by Russell Hoban called Riddley Walker. It’s written entirely in a pidgin English dialect that’s a bit difficult at first, but gets much easier a few pages in. I read it several years ago and still think about it.

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  15. Geoff W August 5, 2016 / 2:52 pm

    I may have to give this one a go at some distant point in the future. I love all of the well written dystopia (political or not).

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    • Dottiemi September 11, 2016 / 4:56 pm

      Don’t wait too long, we don’t know how much future we have left and it would be a shame to miss this one.

      Like

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