- Jack London – The Iron Heel (1908) – We are not equal.
- Yevgeny Zamyatin – We (1921) – Question the status quo.
- Paolo Bacigalupi – The Drowned Cities (2012) – There are consequences.
- Richard K. Morgan – Altered Carbon (2002) – What does it mean to be alive?
- Aldous Huxley – A Brave New World (1932) – Do we have freedom of choice?
- Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged (1957) – Do we have freedom of action?
- Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451 (1953) – Do we have freedom of information?
- William Gibson – Neuromancer (1984) – What is reality?
- George Orwell – 1984 (1949) – Do we have privacy?
- Philip K. Dick – Minority Report (1956) – Do we really have free will?
A dystopia is a story in which a society’s members relinquish an innate freedom in order to survive a natural or man-made disaster. The implied culpability the reader has for this disaster is the magic that makes this genre timeless. The dystopian author creates a caricature of their present culture, a surreal “what if” scenario, which highlights inequities the reader might otherwise ignore. A successful dystopia inspires its audience to change their perspective and take action to correct the identified problem.
These books and authors stand out as beacons, lighthouses warning us of the rocks hidden beneath our best intentions. Humans are herd animals who find safety in numbers and routine. This is not a criticism so much as it is a fact built into our DNA by natural selection. The herd follows a group consciousness that makes us behave in a uniform fashion when threatened – think stampede (a run on the stock market or mob behavior at public events). Luckily, a few obstinate writers refuse to wait for landfall. They dip their heads below the surface, see the jagged edges of corruption, and do their best to steer our collective ship into safer waters.
I commend them.