“The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins has taken the bestseller lists by force, and many “hungry” fans are eating up the first movie in theaters now. Many literature snobs are rolling their eyes at this series, fearing it to be just another tween saga. I myself am saddened over the missed opportunities. The idea of “The Hunger Games” had the potential of being something truly meaningful, yet Collins wasted her pages on petty teenage drama. But despite my disappointments, I am grateful that this series has introduced many new readers to power of dystopian literature.
There is no small reason why these books are so compelling. Dystopian literature displays human nature in a uniquely terrifying way. It shows us the hell that our sinful condition has the potential to create, as a warning for us to take intentional action towards a better future.
If you liked “The Hunger Games” trilogy, there is a whole vast world of dystopian literature that I would love to introduce to you. Books with real conclusions and characters with actual convictions. To start with, here are five of the best.
Seriously, if you like “The Hunger Games,” you will love “Ender’s Game.” Why? Because a totalitarian military regime a few hundred years in the future force children to fight in “games.” Oh you thought Suzanne Collins was original? Except Orson Scott Card did it in 1985, and he did it with just a touch of aliens.
The protagonist, Ender, is a military mastermind bred for the salvation of humanity, but while the main plot follows Ender, his equally brilliant siblings are taking over the world using the Internet. Card’s ability to predict the evolution of the Internet is absolutely phenomenal. And for those of you disappointed in how “The Hunger Games” trilogy ended, Card’s shocking ending to “Ender’s Game” will make you believe in the power of stories again.
And if you like a series, there are a total of eight books, though “Ender’s Game” is a fantastic read alone. This book is a Nebula Award winner, a Hugo Award winner, and my personal favorite.
You probably grew up reading “The Chronicles of Narnia,” you are really excited about “The Hobbit” movie coming this year, and you obviously love trilogies. Just imagine if C.S. Lewis made a bet with J.R.R. Tolkien to write a trilogy about space travel. You’d love it, right? Well let me be the first to introduce you to “Out of the Silent Planet“, “Perelandra” and “That Hideous Strength“—C.S. Lewis’s acclaimed, but little known “space trilogy.” While “That Hideous Strength” is the culmination of the story, and I would highly recommend reading all three (three recommendations for the price of one!), each is capable of standing alone.
“That Hideous Strength” brings together magic and theology, in the vein of “Narnia,” as truth-seekers fight to overthrow an evil technocratic society that is subversively coming to power throughout Europe with plans to recondition and reprogram humanity.
For those left longing for some message of morality, some standard of truth to come to bear in “The Hunger Games,” C.S. Lewis brings that in full. And for hoping that story characters would show some character, “That Hideous Strength” explores the question of individual morality and conviction, which is worth the read by itself.
Before Suzanne Collins wrote about a Western society ruled by an oppressive totalitarian regime after an environmental and nuclear disaster, George Orwell wrote “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” And before George Orwell wrote “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” he read the dissident, dystopian Russian novel “We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin.
Zamyatin wrote his novel about the consequences of a controlling government as a reflection of his own experience in the 1917 Russian revolution, and as a response to the works of British utopianist H.G. Wells. He wrote about walled-off cities, with rebels hiding in the wilderness beyond. He wrote of a government mandating and monitoring every aspect of one’s life, even entertainment. He wrote of rebellion, moral indignation and freedom.
It was considered so dangerous to the Soviet Union, that it was the first book banned by the Censorship Bureau, the Goskomizdat. This, of course, only made it that much more impactful as a clarion call against communism when it was published in English throughout Europe and the United States.
“We” is believed to have inspired some of the greatest political literature of the 20th century, including the better-known “Nineteen Eighty-Four” by George Orwell, “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley and “Anthem” by Ayn Rand.
What, you read it in high school? Go read it again.
Ray Bradbury is all the intensely intelligent, marvelously creative, eloquently powerful author that Suzanne Collins wants to be. That I want to be. That all writers want to be, but very, very few even come close to matching. And when Bradbury put his genius to work on creating the future world facing unmoving humanity, his uniquely accurate understanding of human nature nailed the absolute selfishness with which humanity clings to its own apathy.
“It was a pleasure to burn,” he wrote. Humanity in the future of “Fahrenheit 451″ burns the knowledge stored in books, while the government provides dangerous entertainment. They toy with death in fast cars and on different drugs, but don’t think about the value of their own lives. The sluggish mass of humanity watches sitcoms from wide-screen televisions, feeling more connected to the character than too their own families. All the while the government burns the books that could give their lives meaning.
Go read it again.
Any ol’ author can look a few hundred years into the future and guess the plight of humanity, but it takes a true visionary to look to the year 802,701 AD.
Unfortunately for us, even the great utopianist H.G. Wells knew enough about human nature to foresee a harsh fall of the human race after the great ascent his ilk were predicting for the next several hundred years. In “The Time Machine,” Wells attempts to make a statement about how class warfare divides us, but he concludes by making a statement about the vanity of humankind and the violence that man is capable of inflicting upon his neighbor.
If “The Hunger Games” expanded your horizons a little bit, “The Time Machine” will expand them exponentially more. H.G. Wells is an author little read today, but one who has had an immeasurable impact on authors throughout the 20th century, and whose literary bloodline can be traced through all of the other authors mentioned on this list: Orson Scott Card, C.S. Lewis, Yevgeny Zamyatin, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Ayn Rand and Ray Bradbury. His ingenuity can even faintly be detected in “The Hunger Games.”
If this area of literature holds any interest for you, you would be remiss to not familiarize yourself with H.G. Wells.