Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Dystopia Challenge

There are several definitions of what constitutes a dystopian novel, none of which I have found to be definitive. It's a sub-genre of science fiction, and is sometimes called speculative fiction. But unlike a lot of sci-fi, dystopian novels are set firmly in this world, often in the near future; but always, always in a world that has gone awry.

I'm drawn to works of dystopia but I'm not really sure why. I'm not a "hard" sci-fi fan; nor do I like "hard" fantasy, which is probably why I enjoy YA so much: you get the themes, the worlds and the characters of fantasy but without all the complicated names and structures. Also, you don't get the cold, sometimes sadistic, sexual practices in YA fiction that you do in adult sci-fi and fantasy, which I find to be pretty off.

Looking back at some of my favourite books, I realise that a good chunk of them are dystopian, such as Isobelle Carmody's Obernewtyn Chronicles, John Marsden's Tomorrow series and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I want to read more books like these! So while many of you in the northern hemisphere are lapping up summer romances on the beach, here at Rhiannon Hart in the southern hemisphere I'll be slipping into something a little more gloomy to get me through the Melbourne winter...*

Over the next three months I've set myself the challenge to read and blog about the following 31 books by August 31. Some have been on my reading list for some time, others I've come across while researching this challenge. Others I've read but want to revisit, and others still I've read earlier this year and am counting as part of the challenge. All are YA, or will appeal to young adults, or are classics that are for everyone, such as Nineteen Eighty-Four. Plus I've included titles from the supposed beginning of the genre (the late nineteenth century, such as The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, published in 1895) right through to the present day.

Here's the list so far:

Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
The Death of Grass, John Christopher
The Declaration, Gemma Malley
The Children of Men, P.D. James
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
On the Beach, Nevil Shute
How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff
Animal Farm, George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
The Time Machine, H. G. Wells
Bend Sinister, Vladimir Nabokov
Cloud on Silver, John Christopher
The Trial, Franz Kafka
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick
Logan's Run, William F. Nolan
This Perfect Day, Ira Levin
The Sheep Look Up, John Brunner
Emily, Dana De Young (released in 2010 but the first three chapters available on her website)
Battle Royale, Koushum Takami
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Attwood
The Bar Code Tattoo, Suzanne Weyn

Novels read this year and thus count towards the challenge:

The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan
Z for Zachariah, Robert C. O'Brien
The Chrysalids, John Wyndham
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
The Carbon Diaries 2015, Saci Lloyd
The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Mary E. Pearson

Novels read but to be re-read as it's been a while and I loved them:

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Attwood
The Obernewtyn Chronicles (book 1 only), Isobelle Carmody
The Tomorrow Series (book 1 only), John Marsden

Total number of books:31; to read: 25. That's do-able. I'll be dispersing my reading with non-dystopian books as well, so if your not a fan there'll still be other sorts of YA books posted about over the next three months.

Some of the above I fear might be out of print/rare, but I'll see how I go! As well as reviews of all the books I manage to read, I will also post mini-essays on topics to do with dystopian novels. Your welcome to join me in this challenge and share thoughts/posts/comments. In fact I encourage it!

17 comments:

  1. I think I should formulate a similar reading challenge for myself! I'll chuck my choices on here when I compile my list (it will be smaller than yours - of course!)

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  2. So many great books! I recommend you add Lucifer's Hammer by author-I-can't-remember-and-should-google-but-am-too-lazy and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. (I also recommend skipping The Bar Code Tattoo.)

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  3. Dang!! Good luck with that! I have been wanting to read the handmaids tale for ever...
    Gotta get on that. Dystopias are the best!
    -amy

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  4. Aimee-Yes please do! I'll be making a button for the challenge this weekend and I'd love others to join in :)

    Lviania-Thanks for the recommendations, I will look them up (and thanks for the warning about the bar code tattoo!) I have a feeling that I won't find copies of a couple of books on my list, so I might replace them with the ones you suggest.

    Amy-You definitely should, it's one of my favourite books ever. Thanks for your encouragement!

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  5. I have read:

    Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
    The Declaration, Gemma Malley
    The Children of Men, P.D. James
    Lord of the Flies, William Golding
    How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff
    Animal Farm, George Orwell
    The Time Machine, H. G. Wells
    The Trial, Franz Kafka
    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick
    Logan's Run, William F. Nolan
    The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan
    Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
    The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

    I would also highly recommend:

    Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
    The Road, Cormac McCarthy
    Genesis, Bernard Beckett
    Unwind, Neal Shusterman
    The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
    The Other Side of the Island, Allegra Goodman
    The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness

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  6. Oooh, more recommendations! Yes, The Hunger Games--one of my favourite books of recent, and I will be doing a fangirl-esque countdown to September, the Catching Fire release date as the time approaches! I also read Unwind recently too, which I found powerful if somewhat grotesque towards the end. I won't say I enjoyed it as such... The Knife I've been hearing good things about too. It's an inexhaustive list I have and far too much for one girl in one winter, so if any of you would like to do a guest blog reviewing one of these titles, I would be very pleased to have you! Email me at rhi.hart at gmail.com

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  7. Great list! I'm always interested to see what other people have to say about dystopian fiction, but generally and specifically.

    Here's my list: http://epicdystopia.blogspot.com

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  8. Oh wow I KNEW there'd be other people out there with similar ideas to me, but google just wasn't turning them up. Thanks downtown guy! Now that is a list and a half!

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  9. i like this challenge. great lists are forming here. battle royale has been on my tbr pile for awhile. i think i'll join you but i'll have to start later this year. however, i look forward to your reviews.

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  10. Thanks for the great post! I'm a little late in getting here, but I saw the D Challenge link and clicked on it! I had no idea that this type of story had it's own sub-genre! And you have some great recommendations too! I recently picked up The Hunger Games that Lenore suggested,but will be putting quite a few on your reading list onto my list! I look forward to reading the reviews so I became a follower!

    Suzanne

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  11. I'm so glad you like the challenge vvb32 and Suzanne! I may have to extend it as I just haven't read all the fabulous dystopian books out there that I want to yet.

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  12. This is a great idea!I've read quite a lot from that list, since I love dystopian fiction.

    I'd consider Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series as dystopian, and I *loved* the first one in that series. Definitely worth a look.

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  13. I've just come across this one that might be suitable for the list: Juno of Taris by Fleur Beale which has just won Esther Glen Award: (http://readingteenagefiction.blogspot.com/2009/08/fleur-beale-wins-esther-glen-award.html)

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  14. I am a sucker for dystopian, too. I really only need to hear that word and I add it to my pile, as much as I don't want to be *that* person. Anyway, if you like dystopian and you like Atwood (as I am assuming you do, since you have one of the best books EVER, The Handmaid's Tale, on your list), then you should read Oryx and Crake. Awesome Atwoodness, awesome eerily possible dystopic future, all around greatness.

    Also, my favorite book ever, Cloud Atlas, has a couple cool dystopic sections in it. I know that sounds a little weird. It's a hard book to explain...

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  15. Never mind about Oryx and Crake, I just saw it on your list. I got excited, what can I say?

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  16. this definatly fits

    overmenmovie.com

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  17. I recommend Post-Human by David Simpson, not only because the author is super sexy (he is my husband!) but also because it honestly is pretty good. He did his Master's in dystopian/speculative lit and the book comes out of that research. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4lSYRYVwN0

    Personally, other than Post-Human, my favourite is Bladerunner (AKA Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep).

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