Dystopia: Frightening Fiction that Depicts Futures That Look All Too Real

Can books really predict the future? Is non-fiction the only genre that calls for change? Let’s take a look at how Dystopian fiction plays a crucial role in society.

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five dystopian fiction novel covers on an industrial room background

For decades science fiction writers have been pumping out novels of technological advancement with frightening accuracy. The same is true — to a degree — regarding dystopian fiction. The stories might be fictional tales, but they’re steeped in contemporary issues that could present a future problem should they continue. They’re labeled as dystopian fiction, but I like to think of them as cautionary tales of current affairs.

A Reflection of Wrongdoings

There’s no better medium to raise a flag and wave in the face of humanity than a well-written and popular novel. Books have been the proponent of change for centuries; American politics and social disparities are prime examples. The emancipation of slaves in the US was ushered along by the sympathies encouraged by available books and reading material. Today, cries by women can be heard with the words “The Handmaid’s Tale come to life” when Roe V. Wade was overturned. Especially as more and more laws are being passed that limit the availability of contraception and reproductive medical care. Margaret Atwood’s dystopian future doesn’t seem that fictional in light of recent events.

If you’ve read this novel, you can see where folks might be up in arms at the suspension of rights once given and now stripped away. Basic medical care is gone, the responsibility of conception is placed on the head of one party, and forced pregnancy is just the beginning of our realities.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, book cover.

The first week of October is Banned Books Week across the US. Given the mass exodus of books being taken from shelves due to ultra-conservative and religious organizations and parents, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury seems like an appropriate recommendation. A future where books are illegal and the populace is forever forced to comply with prescribed thoughts sounds dangerous to the greater good of humanity. That’s how genocide, fascism, and slavery are allowed to fester and take root.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, book cover.

The Loss of Our Humanity

Some dystopian novels are rooted in what some might think are benign issues, but when turned into weapons, they’re not so innocent. The late 1990s and early 2000s were the mecca of reality TV. From MTV’s Real World to NBC’s Survivor, the audience was hooked. They couldn’t look away from the hot mess expresses of 15-minute famers presented on their television screens. Suzanne Collins noted reality TV’s rise and foresaw future issues. Compound this new phenomenon with the raging war in Iraq, and she realized that America was becoming desensitized to acts of depravity and war and losing touch with empathetic human traits. Her solution to raise awareness? She wrote a little trilogy called The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, book cover.

Ancient Romans used to watch slaves and criminals slaughter each other for sport in arenas like the Colosseum. We still watch men and women fight and murder each other for sport, though most of the time scripted and rehearsed. It’s not too far of a stretch to see where a world ravaged by war is overtaken by a dictatorial technology-fueled government would take advantage of such a historically utilized sport and turn it into a thing of control.

Technology Vs. Humanity

In 1949 the technology of the day looks little like it does now. In fact, today’s technology is vastly different than it was even 10 to 20 years ago, let alone 75 years ago. Advancement in technology has only gotten more rapid as time has continued. Can you imagine what George Orwell would write with the amount of technology material at his disposal today? 1984 depicted totalitarianism, communism, reality control, and sexual repression. For this example, let’s focus on the technology.

1984 by George Orwell, cook cover.

With just the bare bones of what cameras are capable of, Orwell believed that they would eventually be everywhere and the government would spy and control the masses. He wasn’t too far from the truth. They are currently everywhere; there’s hardly a location inhabited by people that doesn’t have a camera at their disposal. As of 2023, 85.82% of the world’s population had an active camera on their person at most times of the day with their smartphone. Add to this the above-mentioned topics of conversation and 1984 might be closer to the future than you might like to admit.

Technology plus Scientific and Medical Advancement

We’re living in the greatest era of scientific and medical advancement ever. We should be; we are the latest generation in a time of great technological advancement, so medical advancement should be keeping pace. Today’s average global life expectancy is 72.27 years old. Much of that has to do with no longer using asbestos in our building materials and lead in our paint, but it’s also from drug development, advancing minimally invasive surgical procedures, and a better understanding of the human body and its limits.

Brave New World box set by Aldous Huxley

The combination of these three seemingly basic essential endeavors makes for quite a scary future in dystopian literature. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley warns against the dangers of relying on technology and pushing advancement without thorough regard for people’s humanity. Becoming comfortable in the conveniences that technology brings allows the perilous will of others to seep in and change how life should be led. It’s a quintessential amalgamation of many themes dystopian novels represent.

Identity and Division

It’s the great hypocrisy of the human condition; we all want to be special and stand out, but when someone is different, they’re broken, flawed, or any number of other slurs. The 2000s, especially the last ten years, have seen a rapid increase in people wanting to classify themselves or groups of people based on one or more identifying qualities. It is nice to have people we fit in well among, with whom we can have a conversation or spend quality time without confrontation. However, we shouldn’t be relegated to socializing or having romantic relationships with those groups.

Divergent by Veronica Roth, book cover

Veronica Roth’s Divergent series depicts a future where every person, at 16, must submit to a rite to decide which social faction they’ll live out their lives. Once chosen, these teenagers must pass tests curated to weed out those who do not belong with the inhabitants of the five factions of Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, or Erudite. Teenagers already suffer through crises of identity, trying to understand who they are, where they belong, and traits are essentially them rather than the influences around them. It’s hard enough. Pushing people further apart by dividing them based on traits and ideologies is akin to classism, racism, sexism, and oppression.

The world was meant to be lived in a fusion of differences; to divide humanity would be one of the greatest injustices the world would ever know. To live within a group of like-minded people, with no outside thoughts of different positions, would stagnate the world’s collective growth.

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