Tag Archives | dystopic

The Road | Cormac McCarthy

The cover of McCarthy's The RoadThe Road is dystopian fiction like none other—lean and brutal.

The hook in dystopian fiction—and I’ve read more than my fair share—varies. Sometimes it’s a mystery novel in which the reader tries to figure out just how society arrived at its current misery. Other times it’s a constructive story of learning to transform the dystopia into something positive. None of this matters for McCarthy. In The Road there are only three ontological realities:

  1. Father
  2. Son
  3. Threats

The Road is a story of a father and son barely surviving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Everything extemporaneous to the survival of this relationship is stripped from the narrative. The father and son are unnamed. Even their dialogue reflects this minimalism, quotation marks absent from the text:

You walk too fast.
I’ll go slower.

You’re not talking again.
I’m talking.
You want to stop?
I always want to stop.

I know.
We’ll stop. Okay?
Okay.
We just have to find a place.
Okay. (93)

How do you find a place where no place exists? How do you stop when to stop means to give up? These are the questions that propel McCormac’s desolate vision.


McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.

Robopocalypse | Daniel H. Wilson

The cover of Wilson's RobopocalypseWith a portmanteau like Robopocalypse, how can you go wrong?

The setting is the near future. An AI researcher has made a mistake and his electronic child, Archos, has become sentient.

The author has serious credibility. Wilson holds a Ph.D. in robotics and has already written a non-fiction book on the topic, How to Survive a Robot Uprising. The grounding of his imagination is strong.

The structure of the book is also unusual and interesting. The major parts of the book are chronological, beginning before the robot uprising and continuing to the climax. Within each part, however, the chapters follow seemingly discrete characters whose plot lines grow and merge over time.

Stephen King called this book “terrific page-turning fun” which is precisely what it is. Robopocalypse is pure science fiction candy.

—Daniel H. Wilson, Robopocalypse (New York: Vintage Books, 2011).

The Windup Girl | Paolo Bacigalupi

The cover of Bacigalupi's The Windup GirlTime Magazine said it best in their blurb (printed inside the front cover): “Bacigalupi is a worthy successor to William Gibson: this is cyberpunk without computers.”

The Windup Girl is disturbing science fiction precisely because the future it imagines feels so real. From the first pages that describe Anderson’s search for a newly engineered blight-resistant fruit to the depraved handlers of the windup girl herself, everything feels plausible.

When you read about Anderson’s factory (complete with mastodon-like creatures that turn giant posts to generate power), you can almost feel the grit and smell the muggy stench.

This is not escapist fiction—this is fiction with a critical edge. The world has suffered major ecological collapse. Genetically engineered crops from the leading agribusinesses have (ironically) destroyed most of the world’s traditional food sources. (Does Wendell Barry read science fiction?) Racism and nationalism run wild in the collapse of society. Trade leaders become more powerful than politicians. There’s much to digest here.

Bacigalupi’s imagined world will stick in your memory long after the book’s finished. Here’s hoping for a sequel!

—Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2009).

The Island at the End of the World | Sam Taylor

This may be the residual effects of missing Lost speaking, but when I found a dystopic novel about a father who took his children to and island at the end of the world, I knew that I had to read it.

Pa, the protagonist,  is a truly frightening character. When you read the chapters written from his point of view, the mix of religious psychosis and single-minded determination send chills down your spine. Many times passages of scripture run through Pa’s rants. Despite knowing the context they’ve been ripped from, they still terrify.

The whole ethos of this novel is creepy. You never fully understand anyone’s motivations until something’s happened. As the book approaches the climax, scenes are piled on top of each other from various perspectives masterfully.

This mysterious psychological thriller haunted me well after I finished reading.

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