Dystopians are reclaiming the market. Sure, they never really went anywhere but with the current political climate books like “1984” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” are topping charts again. I've yet to decide if that's a good thing.
What exactly is a Dystopia? Well, it’s hard to delineate between Dystopia and a post-apocalyptic story or really any story that would just be miserable to live in. There are a few hallmarks that stand out and I will try to stay within those as I bounds. In other words, I won’t be involving the later books of the Harry Potter series or historical fiction because while those could fall under the loose guidelines of a “Bad place” as Dystopia refers to, no one would count them as such.
You should also note, that I am only counting Dystopians that I’ve read or watched so you won’t see most of the books that people usually slot into these lists.
5. The Matrix:
Yes, the idea is terrifying. The images are insane. I’m only talking about the original movie here because I really didn’t watch all the way through the rest of the trilogy. Think about it: robots are using you as batteries. Ok. As long as you stay in the Matrix you still live a long life with just as much freedom and happiness as anyone in this present reality has. The scary part comes when you realize that it’s all a lie. The world that the protagonist Neo wakes up in is downright chilling. This may be low on the list but I don’t want to wake up in that nasty pink goo anytime soon.
I’m honestly not sure why this movie wasn’t that popular. Perhaps it’s because the premise actually sounds pleasant. Who wouldn’t give up everything to be able to change their body at will? What is wrong with being able to appear exactly as you want to and not as you are? But to me the idea of using robots to live out your life is terrifying. I feel like the movie did a great job at showing not only the frightening aspects of the society, including the hatred between those who used robots and those who didn’t and the effect using one had on the human body. Beyond that, taking the idea into the real world makes the reality a bit harsher. Especially when you see how things like the internet have already been used to victimize people. Without pain or death or even the loss or a reputation to fear, people would be a lot less civil to each other.
3. The Matsumoto Trilogy
If you haven’t read this trilogy by Sarah K L Wilson yet, you should stop everything right now and pick it up.
I almost put The Hunger Games here and honestly, this trilogy is more Space Opera than Dystopia but I feel like it just sneaks in. While Hunger Games is terrifying, yes, it didn’t quite allow me to suspend my disbelief. Killing people’s kids is not something that is ever taken lightly, and definitely not for 75 years as suggested.
In this space adventure, though (spoilers) the government spans multiple planets. The Blackwatch Empire does very little to step into the struggles of the individual planets under their care, even inciting a war and then doing little or nothing to help the people affected. Worse than that, they are deliberately stripping human souls from bodies and the resulting shadow armies are terrifying. That is an existence I wouldn't wish on anyone!
Because it’s a space opera with a lot of wild technology, it didn’t at all feel out of place when I finally saw what this evil government was doing.
2. The Animal Farm.
The Animal Farm may not sound too terrifying for humans. It is, after all, about animals. It’s the history behind the book that is so scary to me. Yes, that is kind of cheating but I'm making up the rules here.
The Animal Farm was written to address the injustices of the Communist Regime under Stalin. Often overlooked, Stalin was a true genius and a terrifying man easily the equal of evil men like Hitler only Stalin’s indignities were towards his own people. Animal Farm is a glimpse into the suffering of the Russian People. After the fall of the Tsar, they thought they were getting a chance at freedom in the Communist Party and got horror instead. Even today they are experiencing the effects of that. This dystopia is a terrifying picture of how hope can be used as a tool to oppress when in the hands of selfish and violent men.
1. The Book of Eli.
While I would probably put this under a “post-apocalyptic” myself and while I do feel like the themes and structure more closely resembles that of a post-apocalyptic novel than a Dystopia, it is still classified as a Dystopian by a lot of people.
People are capable of truly horrendous things and often the most terrifying worlds are not those with corrupt governments or oppressive rulers but instead those that have lost any and all form of society. Freedom, when not protected and nurtured by the right guardians, can be a horrible thing.
In the world depicted in The Book of Eli we see gang rule, bandits, torture, cannibalism, rape, and slavery all thriving in the barely settled dust of the world that once was.
I love old Horror books. One thing that old horror, like “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” really like to hit on is the idea of the monster within. Like these classics, The Book of Eli forces us to ask: “What if the threat isn’t out there? What if the threat comes from inside.” Not an oppressive government, technology gone wrong or an outside force but the very people that we trust and confide in.
That is why I put The Book of Eli at the top of my list.
What about you? What Dystopian stories are the most terrifying to you? Share your thoughts in the comments and be sure to share.