Given the current political climate, terms like “Orwellian” and “Ministry of Truth” are coming back into vogue. George Orwell’s classic, 1984, written over 70 years ago, paints a grim picture of a dystopian future where Big Brother is watching, and facts are bent to serve those in power.
If you are in the mood for a solid dose of dystopia, corrupt governments, and characters making a stand, you should check out these sci-fi books.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
A classic cyberpunk novel published in the namesake year of Orwell’s book, 1984, by William Gibson. Gibson provides a cooly grim, edgy, and dark tapestry to set in motion a story about an out of work computer hacker, Henry Case, who unknowingly goes to work for a rogue AI. Corporations and the super wealthy run rampant in Gibson’s dystopian vision of the future. Complicit governments throw their resources behind the highest bidder. As Case gets closer to completing his mission against all odds, the truth of what he is actually doing is revealed: creating a super AI with inscrutable plans for the future of mankind.
Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan
Set in a future where corporations scour the globe for wars to fund and executives follow a Samurai code, Morgan delivers a fast-paced dystopian thriller. The main character, Chris Faulkner, is an ambitious young executive who is ruthlessly and quickly rising up the ranks of Shorn Associates. Chris kills his way to the top with the blessing of society and his employer. If you want to get ahead these days, it’s all about taking out the competition, literally. When Chris realizes he’s been playing someone else’s game, can he make it out alive?
Dune by Frank Herbert
Considered by many to be best science fiction book ever written, Dune might not be the first book to come to mind when thinking of 1984. But with its themes of duplicity, manipulation, exploitation, and corruption at the highest levels of government, Dune earns a spot on the list. House Atreides is granted governorship of Arrakis, a planet famous and coveted for its production of the spice, Melange. Their bitter enemies, House Harkonnen, set in motion a series of events that leaves Duke Leto Atreides dead and his wife and son on the run into the harsh desert. Learning the ways of the desert and its people, Paul builds an army to avenge his father and free Arrakis. But, it isn’t only the Harkonnen’s who stand in his way as Imperial warships and fighters join the fray.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Another classic that is usually associated with 1984 due to its intense vision of the future where the government controls virtually everything. From sterilization to test-tube births to brainwashing called “conditioning” to a caste-like system and Borg-ish lack of identity, Huxley deals up a massive serving of dystopian miasma. The characters in the book struggle to reconcile their thoughts and feelings with what society deems acceptable. Brave New World lingers with you long after you finish reading it
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (AKA Blade Runner) by Philip K. Dick
Another classic with a grim vision of the future where corporations rule and sentient androids are hunted by Blade Runners. You see, the androids are created with an internal clock that kills them after a set amount of time. If they don’t go quietly into the night, the Blade Runners come along and assist them in their departure. A group of androids rebel and head to Earth to find their maker in an attempt to get him to reset their clocks. Deckard is the Blade Runner who is assigned to stop them. But, the more he learns about the androids he begins to sympathize with them and question everything he thinks he knows. A stirring and thought-provoking story of what it means to be human. It was also adapted into one of the greatest movies ever.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
There are many parallels to draw between the world Bradbury brings to life and our own today. In the future, society has given up on reading, thinking for yourself, spending time outside, nature in general, and individualism in favor of fast cars, TV, and the ubiquitous Seashell radio sets attached to their ears. To top it off, all books are banned. They are burned at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, hence the name of the book, openly and freely. The main character, Guy Montag, struggles to understand how things have gotten to this point. With themes of censorship, obedience, and fear of taking a stand, Bradbury’s prognostications are downright spooky.
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
In former North America, the Capitol of Panem maintains a strong hold on its 12 districts. Every year a nationally televised event called the Hunger Games requires all districts to submit a pair of players called Tributes. These pairs compete in a game where winner takes all, and losers die. Every citizen of the 12 districts must watch the games until a winner emerges. From District 12 comes a young woman, Katniss Everdeen, who is a keen hunter with a sharp mind. Pushed beyond her breaking point, Katniss must decide between love and victory in this gripping dystopian tale from Suzanne Collins. Like 1984, the Capital calls the shots, citizens must toe the line, and a hero is born.
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
In the future, a powerful ruling class of physically superior humans called The Golds, has installed a rigid, color based social hierarchy. The Golds are the top of the food chain and the Reds are the lowest rung on the ladder. The social order is enforced at all costs. On Mars, a planet being exploited for its helium-3, Darrow, a young Red helldiver, discovers there is more going on than meets the eye. When he decides that he has had enough, there is nothing the Golds can do to stop him. A powerful depiction of a dystopian future of the stratification of humanity, Red Rising is a natural for this list.
Rijel 12: The Rise of New Australia by King Everett Medlin
When Earth pitches an Intergalactic Penal Colony on the harsh planet of Rijel 12, the rest of the planets in the Federation jump on board. But, after 50 years, the prison planet has devolved into a dystopian nightmare. Quotas must be met, and prisoners are forced to mine in the most wretched conditions. From the darkness of their miserable existence, one prisoner decides to take a stand and begins to organize a resistance. Inmates slowly but surely rally to the cause and prepare for a planet-wide rebellion. A gripping story of rising above your station, challenging authority, and ripping freedom from the hands of oppression.
Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
The Moon wants to kill you. Whether it's being unable to pay your per diem for your allotted food, water, and air, or you just get caught up in a fight between the Moon's ruling corporations, the Five Dragons. You must fight for every inch you want to gain in the Moon's near feudal society. And that is just what Adriana Corta did. As the leader of the Moon's newest "dragon," Adriana has wrested control of the Moon's Helium-3 industry from the Mackenzie Metal corporation and fought to earn her family's new status. Now, at the twilight of her life, Adriana finds her corporation, Corta Helio, surrounded by the many enemies she made during her meteoric rise.