It’s the end of October in the year 2016, which means that two significant events lie on the horizon. One is Halloween—meaning that it’s the time of year to celebrate scary stories, unsettling tales, and macabre mysteries. The other major event is the presidential election—and this year, of all years, has proven to be trying, terrifying, and in many ways has unrolled like the prelude to a dystopian science fiction novel.
Which brings me to the topic of today’s post. When thinking of potential themes for this week’s Halloween column following the last presidential debate, I immediately seized upon the combination of these two key events.
Since it seems like we might just be heading down a path of dystopian political futures, why not write about them? Best case scenario: you end up entertained by fictional worlds that are, as of right now, scarier than our own. Worst case scenario: you end up reading nonfiction guides to ensure your survival in a no-holds-barred, man-eat-dog, shank-that-other-dude-for-a-can-opener post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Ready? Let’s go.*
Infomocracy by Malka Older. Tor.com’s first novel, Infomocracy is an alarming and powerful story of a future world, in which nations at war have found peace over two decades through the institution of Information—a carefully controlled search engine monopoly. It’s an election year, though, and the stakes have never been higher. Idealists clash against corporate supermajority party Heritage, and Information itself is poised for chaos. Malka Older’s debut novel is as challenging as it is thrilling—super high-concept, complicated politics, and flawed characters. What more could you want from a political thriller?
The Prisoners of Peace series (The Scorpion Rules, The Swan Riders) by Erin Bow. In Erin Bow’s YA dystopia, the world is finally at peace—but only because a superpowerful Artificial Intelligence named Talis has devised a foolproof system to keep warring nations in check. Talis has demanded that every world leader’s child is held hostage (hence the series title, Prisoners of Peace). Should one nation act out against another? That nation’s child is put to death. And so it goes. Clever, deeply subversive, and completely unexpected, The Scorpion Rules is one of the finest YA dystopias of the past few years; the sequel was just released, in time for the Halloween/Election festivities.
Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill. Imagine a world in which female children are no longer born naturally, but bred and trained for their future of pleasing males. The best performing women are selected for a life of companionship to males—they can live with their husbands, they can give birth, they can live such a charmed life until they are no longer desired. The less desirable women (read: the ones who are too “fat” or too “academic”) have decidedly less-rosy futures. Two best friends grapple with their relationship and their very futures in this vision of a world where women have no rights, and men grade and control them based on physical appearance and demean their intelligence.
Vicarious by Paula Stokes. Rose and Winter Kim are the victims and survivors of human sex trafficking—from orphans in Korea, the sisters were smuggled into the United States, but have since broken free from their captors. Now, the sisters make a living by thrill-seeking and recording their exploits so that others can live vicariously through their recorded neural impulses. This is more of a murder mystery, but a dark, character-driven novel in a future world fits the prompt pretty damn well.
Persona by Genevieve Valentine. Imagine a future in which major political leaders are also the subject of paparazzi setups. These ambassadors are actually celebrity “Faces”, who have to keep their public interest ratings high in order to ensure that Diplomacy does not fail. The Persona books are honest-to-goodness white-knuckle thrillers, from an award-wnning author who knows how to write political thrillers and assassination attempts better than most I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
The Extrahuman Union series by Susan Jane Bigelow. Last but not least, the Extrahuman Union series from Susan Jane Bigelow features superheroes in outer space, fighting against a Confederate Military Police state that has seized power and controls the entire global economy. To stand up to the darkness, humanity needs a group of aging superheroes that fight the good fight. Originally written following the Bush-Kerry election year, The Extrahuman Union series is smart, political, and thrilling (if I do say so myself). The fourth and final book in the series also just released last week—perfect timing for a fraught election cycle.
So there you have it! Our list of dystopian political futures to entertain and to educate. What titles are we missing from you list?
*For the purposes of this article, I’ve tried to steer clear of any really obvious dystopias, like 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale or Parable of the Sower. Those are all fantastic and fitting dystopias—but for this list, we’re looking at recent dystopias published from 2015 and 2016.