PCS Blog

futura: A Journey Into the Dystopian

Posted by Kinsley Suer | 17 February 2011

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
futura presents a not-so-distant futuristic world in which the printed word is not only extinct, but illegal. All information is owned by one ominous “Company.” Yet one rogue professor fights back by embarking on a quest to avenge her missing husband and restore the lost art of ink on paper.
I think it’s safe to say that futura qualifies as dystopian.
But what exactly is a dystopia?
A dystopia is a fictional society, usually portrayed as existing in a future time, in which quality of life has deteriorated due to deprivation, oppression or terror. Dystopian novels bring to life these societies that have degraded into repressive and controlled states, void of justice, freedom and happiness.  In most dystopian fiction, a corrupt government creates or sustains this poor quality of life, often conditioning the masses to believe the society is proper and just - even perfect. Most dystopian fiction purposely incorporates contemporary social trends taken to extremes, written as warnings and showing current trends extrapolated to a nightmarish conclusion.
So, inspired by futura, here is Portland Center Stage’s Official Dystopian Reading List that’s sure to quell any curiosity about the dystopian genre that a recent viewing of futura might have aroused. Haven’t seen the show yet? This list might help to tide you over and soothe any impatience until you can get your tickets!

First, let’s start with the oldies but goodies; the three most famous and popular dystopian novels. In other words, the trifecta of the dystopian:
This novel presents a classic dystopian society that is broken up into a caste system; every member of each caste is conditioned to love their role within the society. Citizens are controlled by consumerism, population control and mood-altering drugs, which lull them into a state of mindless complacency.
Orwell’s classic portrays a collectivist, totalitarian society in which Big Brother is always watching.  Even today, 1984 is synonymous with tyrannical governments, fascism and dystopian science fiction. Orwell’s novel shows how a government can manipulate the people by manipulating the truth.
This novel imagines a future in which all books are banned and burned. Guy Montag, the protagonist, begins this classic novel as a fireman, which, in this future world, is someone called upon to burn any and all books. Montag’s life starts to unravel when he begins to question this society’s anti-literature obsession.
And moving on:
Generally considered to be the earliest modern dystopian novel, far ahead of its time, Iron Heel is about the rise of a tyrannical corporate oligarchy in the United States. Instead of emphasizing technology in the way most future dystopian novels do now, Iron Heel stressed changes in society and politics, with the oligarchy formed by robber barons who seized power before enforcing a new caste system of workers.

This novel envisions a post-nuclear world with a “need” for purity. As humans are born with increasing levels of mutations and deformities, the state decides to execute anyone who isn’t “perfect.”
This novel depicts a near-future London filled with gangs who commit random acts of violence and prisoners who are subjected to brainwashing. The novel is written as a first-person account of one of these gang members who undergoes state-sponsored psychological rehabilitation for his behavior. A classic story of youthful violence and social redemption.
In this novel, a dystopian early 21st-century America is dominated by computer networks. An early ancestor of the “cyberpunk” genre, The Shockwave Rider presents a future in which technology has fundamentally disconnected people from one another.
Written by Stephen King under the penname of Richard Bachman, The Running Man depicts a frightening future in which entertainment takes form in a man hunt, and where even the “winners” are losers.
This dystopian tale describes a post-nuclear world in which fertile women are enslaved and forced to bear children for the less-fertile ruling class.
The future Southern California between L.A. and San Diego is rampant with overdevelopment of shopping malls and overcrowded by people and cars. It would sound much like present-day Southern California, except that the novel adds in a healthy dose of brushfire wars, famine and nuclear terror.
In this world, for reasons unknown, all men’s sperm count has plummeted to zero, and without reason or explanation mankind now faces its own extinction. Society has collapsed in anticipation of the end of the human race. The fear mongering during this time has allowed governments’ extraordinary powers to keep the peace. Then one unknown woman mysteriously becomes pregnant.
This first appears to be a utopian novel that gradually reveals itself to be dystopian. The future society has eliminated pain and strife by eliminating emotions. This has resulted in an elimination of love, choices, knowledge and even colors.
This collection of short stories includes a novella depicting a decimated America in which genetic mutants are forced to work in surreal theme parks.
And, for the dystopian enthusiast who might be searching for a few newer novels to read:
This is an alternate history dystopia, rather than a futuristic one, in which cloning has been developed to provide a supply of organs for “normal” citizens. Test-tube clones are raised from birth to believe that they are “special,” but the implications of what it really means to give “donations” is only slowly revealed to them - and the reader.
This 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner completely omits almost all details. There’s a father and son, who are never named. There was a nuclear disaster, and almost all plants and animals are dead, with humans mainly reduced to cannibalism. The father and son are trying to get somewhere warmer before winter hits, while the father is slowly dying of radiation poisoning.
Several teenagers are living in San Francisco when a terrorist attack rocks the city. In the aftermath of the attack, they get swept up in the extralegal activities of the Department of Homeland Security, and must defend themselves against the DHS’ ensuing attack on civil liberties.
This dystopian vision of a future Thailand is brought about by food scarcity, global warming and widespread plagues.
In this extreme socialist vision of the future, citizens who are no longer considered “productive” are confined to a special unit and their organs are harvested for transplant.
So there you have it - this reading list should be enough to get anyone started on a deep and dark journey into the dystopian. Are there any novels that were missed? What’s your favorite dystopian novel?
Comments (1)

I have to give a big shoutout to another Atwood novel, Oryx and Crake.  Love Handmaid’s Tale too, though.

Also of note: one spring I read Oryx and Crake, Blindness by Jose Saramago, and I am Legend by Richard Matheson.  I guess it was just a post-apocalyptic kind of spring for me…

  • SMitch
  • Portland Center Stage
  • 17 Feb 11 09:14

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