Engaging Methuen Readers

Dystopias, Police States, and Other Uplifting Tales


Ever find yourself or your society sliding inexorably backward toward a dystopian hellscape reminiscent of Europe’s Medieval Dark Ages? Ever feel like the forces arrayed on the horizon of liberty are gathering like the coming of a long and merciless storm? Ever nurse the simmering fear that you might rise one morning to find that you no longer draw free breath, say free words, think free thoughts?

Buddy, you’re too serious! What you need is a good old dose of catharsis. Try these gut-busters. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have something to talk about during your mandatory annual loyalty test.


1984 by George Orwell449585

OK, you knew I was going to say it. You did. But seriously, have you actually read it?

Go do it. I’ll wait.



1488284Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

If your system isn’t good for people, change the people. It’s efficient! In a warped future America, mass-produced citizens inhabit pre-made social strata, kept there by brainwashing, genetic engineering, and physical reward. However, like all precision machines, a grain of sand in these works can initiate a total system breakdown. When an outsider penetrates the mechanics of this Brave New World, it will show itself to be anything but.



Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller, Jr.1047211.jpg

The end of the world has already come. Welcome to the post-post-apocalypse. Society is gone, replaced by a social system deathly afraid of the technology that caused the demise of civilization. But in one abbey, a group of dedicated monks preserve the writings of ancient pro-science sage Leibowitz, who may still, one day, become a saint.



1310034When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Hannah Payne is a criminal. It’s written on her skin, which has been genetically altered to show the world her crime: red, for the murder of her unborn baby. For the crime of abortion, she becomes simultaneously a pariah and the source of entertainment for a world both repelled by and deeply invested in sin. A modern revisioning of The Scarlet Letter!


Author: Anna

Anna is a reference librarian and computer nerd at the Nevins Library. She is a fan of all speculative fiction.

5 thoughts on “Dystopias, Police States, and Other Uplifting Tales

  1. Do you know much about Europe’s Medieval Dark Ages? I find that term bandied about a tad too freely….


    • I do know a thing or two! Mostly about the literature of the early High Middle Ages (thanks, Chretien de Troyes and Marie de France!) but also a smattering of stuff left over from days happily wasted reading Bede in undergraduate school. In this case, we’re not referencing a real event, but instead using Europe’s Medieval period as a rhetorical device relating to dystopian books. However, your point is well taken! The so-called “Dark Ages” were tough times by today’s standards, but usually not dystopian per se. (In the sense that the feudal system sucked, but worked.) I would argue that “Canticle” recalls the transition to the High Middle Ages in many ways, but I also believe that this is intentional on the author’s part. Thanks for reading! I see you’re a science fiction enthusiast, too. Do you have any dystopian fiction recommendations?


      • Well, there was no “feudal” system during what scholars generally call the Dark Ages (pre-Charlemagne)… I only bring this up as I happen to be a medievalist by profession AND a fan of SF — haha.

        I have quite a few dystopian/post-apocalyptical favorites 🙂

        Walk to the End of the World (1974), Suzy McKee Charnas

        The Long Loud Silence (1952, revised 1969), Wilson Tucker

        Level 7 (1959), Mordecai Roshwald

        The Drowned World (1962), J. G. Ballard

        The Dream Millennium (1974), James White (although the world is more in the background as the foreground is on a cold sleep ship)


      • Haha, you’ve got me beat! Thanks for the recommendations and the read! 🙂


      • I’m sorry for prodding. My apologies.

        It also goes other ways, the alt-right for example wants to claim the medieval as some glory era. Here’s a fascinating article written by a friend of a friend if you’re curious (and horrified) about how our conceptions of the “medieval” are deployed…. Such a malleable term for such a varied era!


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