From 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale to The Hunger Games, Red Rising, and The Bone Season, dystopian series aren’t as fantastical as we once thought.
Dystopian fiction has been around since the early 19th century, but starting in the late 20th and leading into the 21st century, dystopian fiction has made a resurgence.
From H.G. Wells to George Orwell and Margaret Atwood, dystopian fiction can take many faces, but when it comes down to it, dystopian society in fiction is always unpleasant and usually revolves around oppression and a rebellion against it.
These books show rebellions from fascist, police states and the effects authoritarianism has on society and population mindset with the backdrop of fictitious worlds.
Everyone has a few books from their formative years that still affects them to this day. The first book that I remember actually liking in school was The Giver by Lois Lowry. As a sixth grader, I hadn’t come across anything like it up until then.
At first while reading The Giver, I thought it all was a good idea. Everyone was the same, got bikes at the same time, got longer names as they went older, and were given jobs instead of having to decide.
I remember the shock I felt as Jonas and I both learned the truth about the society that had been so carefully cultivated. That book, at least, had an open ending and companion novels that took place in the same universe so it wasn’t all doom and gloom at the end.
The second book that affected me most from school was 1984. Until then, I thought that everything would always work out alright. We hadn’t really dove into anything before that point that didn’t have such an utterly hopeless ending.
Still scarred to the point where for years I wouldn’t read books that had major character death or an overtly hopeless ending, 1984 is my ultimate ‘this better not ever happen’ book. And yet, here we are, in a world where it seems to be gunning straight for the Thought Police and Big Brother.
Though everyone had talked about The Handmaid’s Tale, I had a knack for avoiding it. I knew, somehow, that it was like 1984 in that it would pull me down into a spiral about how close to it we actually were but there was a sort of flimsy curtain between it and the real world, too close for comfort.
I ended up reading The Handmaid’s Tale before the show aired, to amp myself up to watch it, but as I finished listening to it, my stomach sank. I didn’t watch the show, because of the timing of it, the fact that the election had just happened, and because I felt like I was already living in the early stages of it.
I read to escape from reality, which is why I mostly read fantasy. At least in fantasy the authoritarian regimes seem to be more distant because of the wall that magic, swords, and that awesome middle age, but clean feel one often sees in fantasy.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was one of the first non school assigned dystopian series that I read. I devoured it, needing to see what happened in Panem with the different districts and the games themselves. I had been a huge fan of the movie Battle Royale and the book, so I was hesitant to read The Hunger Games at first.
Outside of the game itself, it was the society and government that drove the nightmare of what was going on home. The control that the government had, along with realizing what the different districts meant, and the rebellion gave my younger self a stronger sense of not allowing myself to be complacent in times of trouble.
After The Hunger Games, though, I put dystopian anarchy aside for less dim sci-fi/fantasy, preferring to read about less dark versions of revolution that felt father away from what could actually happen. Then I came across two ‘new’ series that I hadn’t really heard about prior to stumbling across them by chance.
Though the original premise is similar to The Hunger Games, Red Rising by Pierce Brown takes rebellion within an authoritarian state to space instead of keeping the regime on earth. Instead of districts, there is a rigid color-based societal hierarchy consisting of Reds, who are at the bottom, to Gold, who reign at the top.
Darrow, a Red, is turned into a Gold and becomes a spy for the resistance. Red Rising has a Hunger Games type of situation in the first book, but is team based, and afterwards it quickly delves off into rebellion against the Golds much faster than The Hunger Games did against the Capitol.
Full of plot twists and a mounting tension, Red Rising’s fifth installment, Dark Age, is set to come out this coming February. Darker and heavier than The Hunger Games, stakes somehow seem higher when the whole solar system is involved in a revolution against the fundamentals of the social hierarchy.
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, though more saturated in fantasy than The Hunger Games and Red Rising, is at its core, has the same sense of revolution as the other two.
Based in Scion London, The Bone Season brings a unique psyche based magic system into play with a police state much like that of Nazi occupied nations during WWII, where those who have these powers are taken, never to be seen again.
Paige Mahoney has such powers, and is taken away from her life as a gang member to a place called Sheol I, where others like her have disappeared to. With no escape in sight, Paige has to choose who she can trust.
There are currently only three books out in The Bone Season series, but it has quickly become one of my favorite series. It’s complex world building means that the world itself takes some getting used to, but once you understand the terminology and hierarchy, it is a whirlwind of a series.
With similar tones to Red Rising and The Hunger Games, The Bone Season has many twists and turns in the plot. Like Red Rising, only the first book has a The Hunger Games type feel to it, with the world quickly expanding afterwards.
The Bone Season and Red Rising in particular showcase complacency within the worlds built, with how remaining neutral only hinders the rebellion and strengthens those who hold power.
Resistance is difficult, and not without consequences. But without those who would fight for what is right, then it is easy to fall into fascist regimes and totalitarian governments where the lives of the common man are cast aside for wealth of the few and poverty of the masses.
Where as 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale made me shy away from other grim dystopian books, The Hunger Games, Red Rising, and The Bone Season strengthened my resolve to take in what is happening around me and not remain complicit.