If The Hunger Games series proved anything, it's that dystopias are now trendy. For the uninitiated, the word "dystopia" is used to refer to a society that is worse off than our own. Dystopia is often misidentified as being the opposite of utopia, a term that refers to a perfect society. But just because a society is worse off than our own does not mean that everyone in that society suffers from the same quality of life. In fact, a common theme running through most dystopian science-fiction stories is the idea of a division between social classes—the so-called Haves and Have-Nots—and the social conflict that thus occurs between them.
Here's a sampling of speculative stories that do an excellent job of depicting that division of social classes.
Golden Son by Pierce Brown
In last year's Red Rising, Pierce Brown introduced a futuristic, color-coded society living on Mars. The working class (the "Reds") live and toil underground while, unbeknownst to them, the ruling class (the "Golds") have been living in the relative comfort of topside for years. That story resonated with people enough that the book was included on some "Best of the Year" book lists and—even better—it was optioned for film by Universal Pictures.
Out this month is Golden Son, the second book in Brown's Red Rising Trilogy. In it, Darrow, the rebel from the first book, continues to plan the revolution against the Golds, this time working from the inside. Darrow has become a Gold himself, and being an inexperienced member of a privileged society that thrives on deceit means that Darrow's task is not going to be easy. Making matters worse is that, in his new life, he forms friendships and gains respect. Darrow ultimately must decide if living the privileged life for himself is a fair trade-off for bringing freedom to his true people.
Osiris by E.J. Swift
The world of Osiris is a bleak one. It is set in Earth's future, 50 years after a Great Storm has left most of the world covered in water. The last city is Osiris, which was specifically built to survive those devastating storms. Unfortunately, the city could not shelter everyone, so it is now populated by only the privileged few. Life is not perfect, but the citizens of Osiris get to enjoy whatever comforts are available, living a life of relative normalcy. Meanwhile, outside the western district of Osiris are the unfortunate refugees who have nowhere else to go. Their daily routine is one of survival. The story itself focuses on the uneasy and unlikely relationship between Adelaide, the spoiled black sheep of a ruling family in the City, and Vikram, a third-generation storm refugee who looks to Adelaide as a savior for his people.
Snowpiercer Vol. 1: The Escape by Jacques Lob, Illustrated by Jean-Marc Rochette
Snowpiercer is a French graphic novel that beautifully exemplifies the social divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots. Written by Jacques Lob and illustrated by Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is set in a future where attempts to curb global warming have backfired drastically, initiating another Ice Age. The last remnants of humanity live aboard a train that travels endlessly on a track that loops around the continent, driven by an engine that has become the object of worship. There is a social structure in the train: The affluent live in the front cars while the unwashed masses live like cattle in the tail end, living in darkness and wanting for food. But there's a revolution brewing….
Snowpiercer was made into an excellent film last year starring Chris Evans (Captain America), Tilda Swinton and John Hurt.
Shadows by E.C. Blake
In Masks, E.C. Blake depicted a magical society called Autarchy of Aygrima where some people are born with magical powers. The Autarch himself, the most powerful magic user of all, has instituted a rule where 15-year-old citizens are recognized as adults and must therefore wear in public spell-infused Masks that denote their status and profession. For the security of the land, the masks reveal any treacherous thoughts held by the wearer, which are then dealt with by the Watchers. The central plot of Masks is that Mara Holdfast, the daughter of the Autarch’s Master Maskmaker, who secretly possesses powerful magical abilities herself, is labeled a traitor and torn away from her family to work in the mines.
Recently released is Shadows, the second book in Blake's The Masks of Aygrima series. Here, Mara becomes part of an underground rebellion, going head-to-head with the idea of a masked society. As Mara pursues her goal, revealing the unfairness of the masks, she must ultimately come to terms with her own magical abilities.