Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence
Brave New Reading List
Well, the end of the semester is on the horizon, and accordingly we’ve approached the end of this dystopian blog series. It has been quite the roller-coaster of disaster – genocide, sex-slavery, global infertility, social control through social media, ice ages, human cloning, and environmental crises galore – but I’m still here and functioning in society. Mostly. Hopefully you have picked up a few new dystopian titles to add to your reading list.
You might have heard the controversy surrounding novelist Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest book, The Buried Giant. People seem confused about what it is supposed to be – fantasy, allegory, literary, or all three – and while many reviewers praise and seem to respect the book, few claim to love it. I mention The Buried Giant only to say that if you have never read Ishiguro’s work and have been turned off by these reviews, you should really pick up a copy of his last published novel, Never Let Me Go (2005; Vintage Books).
[WARNING: This post contains a SPOILER regarding the central plot point of the novel (sorry, but I can’t think of a way to talk about the book without mentioning it). Continue reading at your own risk.]
The novel featured this week, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003; McClelland and Stewart), is unique in that it is part of a trilogy: the MaddAddam Trilogy. The sequels are The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013). I have not yet had a chance to read these sequels, but Oryx and Crake definitely left me hungry for more, and I can’t wait to devote time to them over the summer. Also, rumor has it that the books are being adapted into an HBO television series by Darren Aronofsky.
“I, Saul, Teller of Tales, Keeper of Doves, Slayer of Wolves, shall tell the story of my times.”
If you’ve ever wondered what if might be like to live during an ice age, The Ice People by Maggie Gee (1998; Richard Cohen Books) should probably be the next book you pick up. I had never heard of the novel prior to this semester – nor of Maggie Gee, for that matter (though she’s written twelve books), but it will be hard to forget.
This week’s dystopian fiction pick is P.D. James’ novel The Children of Men (Warner Books; 1992). James, best known as a crime fiction writer with a literary edge, passed away quite recently – in November 2014. Her central concern in this novel is similar to the one posed in Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: how would society change if the human race became unable to procreate?
This week’s post should make it fairly obvious where I drew my inspiration from for the title of this blog series. Brave New World (1932; Harper & Brothers) is the oldest novel I will address in this series. I chose it in part because while it was not the first, it is probably the most well-known of the early dystopian novels. It also contains themes and social concerns that are still relevant today.
I am not what you would call a tech-savvy person. I only joined Twitter this fall, and to date I don’t have Instagram, Tumblr, an e-reader or a smart phone. Needless to say, I’m a bit behind-the-times on the tech scene.
However, reading Dave Eggers’ The Circle (2013; Knopf/McSweeney’s Books) reassured me that maybe my relatively unconnected life is okay. The novel centers on Mae Holland, a young woman who has just been hired at The Circle thanks to her college friend Annie, who works in the company’s upper echelons. The Circle is basically a technological super-company: not only is it the leading social media and search engine platform, is also attracts the best and brightest minds to create everything from tracking devices that prevent child abductions to ultra-portable surveillance cameras and drones.
Confession: I have never before read a Margaret Atwood novel.
This feels like a gross oversight, possibly on par with a mortal sin. A simple online search of the “The Handmaid’s Tale” brings up over 400,000 results, and the novel has been reviewed nearly 16,000 times on goodreads with an average rating of 5 stars. And let me tell you, it’s worth the hype. I cannot remember the last time I have been so completely blown away by a novel.
J: A Novel – Howard Jacobson
So, you read 1984 and The Giver in high school, and now you’re anxiously awaiting the final installment of The Hunger Games movie franchise. In the meantime, you’re wondering what else is out there in the great world of dystopian fiction.
Or maybe you’ve never read a dystopian novel before but hearing about them everywhere you turn has you curious. Where should you start?