I’m getting seriously close to launching my new dystopian serial-fiction project and began reflecting on my favourite three dystopian novels. This led to me wanting to explore, and share, why these three classics are still so relevant in our modern age. George Orwell, Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley. It seems to me that these literary legends somehow knew a lot about 2023, even when writing back in the ’30s and ’40s.
1984 by George Orwell
About the Author: George Orwell was an English writer and journalist, born in 1903. He’s most famous for his fierce criticism of totalitarian regimes, which stems from his experiences fighting in the Spanish Civil War and his observations of the Soviet Union.
The Book: 1984 portrays a dystopian world where Big Brother keeps tabs on your every move, even listening in on your thoughts via the Thought Police. The protagonist, Winston Smith, works for the Party rewriting historical records to fit the government’s narrative. The bleak setting and eerie parallels to mass surveillance make it a compelling read.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
About the Author: Aldous Huxley was an English writer born in 1894 into a family of well-known intellectuals. He was deeply interested in social and scientific developments, which inspired his futuristic vision in Brave New World.
The Book: Rather than fear and repression, Huxley’s world uses pleasure and consumerism to control its citizens. Set in the World State, where people are engineered for their roles in society, the book follows characters like Bernard Marx and Lenina Crowne as they navigate a world devoid of individualism and genuine human emotions.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
About the Author: Ray Bradbury, an American author born in 1920, had a knack for blending science fiction with deep societal critiques. Bradbury often explored themes of censorship and conformism, which come to a head in Fahrenheit 451.
The Book: In this unsettling future, books are considered dangerous to society, and ‘firemen’ like Guy Montag are employed to burn them. The story examines the devastating impacts of censorship and the loss of critical thinking, framed through Montag’s growing disillusionment with the society he once served.
Why Are These Novels Still Relevant?
The themes of these novels are anything but dated. Whether it’s the dangerous allure of totalitarian power or the ethics of technological progress, these books ask questions that we still haven’t fully answered.
From Orwell’s eerie predictions about surveillance states to Huxley’s insights into our increasingly consumerist culture, these authors foresaw some uncanny aspects of today’s world. Their observations offer us a mirror to examine our own lives and societal values.
These stories don’t just make you think; they make you feel. Whether it’s the chilling despair of Winston Smith or the existential crises faced by Bernard Marx, the emotional gravity of these works makes them compelling reads that stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
I find that reading a classic dystopian novel is a form of time-travel and soul-searching wrapped into one. These timeless masterpieces offer a cautionary tale and a roadmap of pitfalls to avoid as we navigate our increasingly complex world.
A Look at Contemporary Dystopian Fiction
While the classics have set the stage for dystopian narratives, modern entries in the genre bring their own unique perspectives, shaped by today’s technologies and social issues. Books like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, and Divergent by Veronica Roth explore themes of gender inequality, authoritarianism, and societal division in ways that resonate with today’s readers.
How They Differ
Focus on Personal Identity: Contemporary works often dive into questions of identity, be it gender, race, or sexual orientation, reflecting our modern discourse.
Technology’s Role: While classics warned us about the potential misuses of technology, many modern works delve into the nuances, exploring both the liberating and enslaving aspects of tech advancements.
Immediate Relevance: Given that they’re written in the context of current societal concerns, contemporary dystopias often feel like they could happen tomorrow, making them both exciting and terrifying reads.
Young Adult Appeal: A significant amount of modern dystopian fiction targets young adults, often featuring younger protagonists who are figuring out their place in a messed-up world. This could be a reflection of younger generations’ concerns and anxieties about the future.
I find that contemporary dystopian novels complement their classic counterparts. While the classics provide a foundational understanding of dystopian themes, modern works update these concepts to reflect our current realities and fears. Both offer invaluable insights into the human condition and the societies we construct.
If you haven’t already done so, go and pick-up a dystopian classic and compare them with some of the modern takes on dystopian futures. There’s always plenty to ponder and dissect.