Why you should care
Dystopias are easy to come by on bookshelves. But these are special.
It’s 2018 and every book is a dystopia. OK, not really, but sometimes it feels that way: Young adult shelves have been taken over with series spawned by the success of The Hunger Games and adult ones with near-future imaginings like The Power and Red Clocks. So how to sort through the end-of-the-world narratives? We’ve told you to read The Power before, so you’ve probably already done that. But we’ve come up with a whole new crop of funny, offbeat and exceptional takes on how society as we know it might disappear — all three of them actually possible.
Severance by Ling Ma
This is a book about the collapse of society, yes, but it’s also a book about work culture, coming-of-age, the immigrant experience. Candace, who came to the U.S. from China with her parents as a child, is working in a Manhattan office when the city, the country and the world are overtaken by Shen Fever. “The fevered,” as they’re called, fall into old repetitive movements for no reason, going through motions of preparing dinner or walking to their car that they remember from being alive. Candace does the same, continuing with her job long after it means anything, just to have something to do, as New York breaks down and empties out around her. When she finally does have to venture out, it’s into a whole new world.
This graphic novel isn’t exactly a dystopia. It’s just that all the men have died off.
Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal
This graphic novel isn’t exactly a dystopia. It’s just that all the men have died off. “But the comic I’ve drawn takes a scary idea, and focuses in on the good,” explains Dhaliwal. “The sense of community and love that, in my opinion, never disappears (even in a ’dystopian’ world).” The women of Woman World don’t murder each other — they run for mayor, talk awkwardly to their crushes, get pregnant. It’s a gentle, funny and weird book, one that in someone else’s hands might have focused on the absence of men but here skillfully turns the classic sci-fi treatment of an oversexed women-only planet on its head.
An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King
King, an American writer who grew up in Taiwan, peers into a dystopian Chinese future where the only recently relaxed one-child policy has resulted in the few women taking multiple husbands. A literary novel that elegantly takes on dystopian tropes, An Excess Male follows the deeply dysfunctional relationships of May-ling, who has two husbands already, and Wei-guo, the man who wants to become her third. Thoughtful and character driven, the book delves into the secret lives of all its characters, exploring issues of patriarchy and China’s policies toward LGBT people … with an action-driven side plot, for those who buy their futuristic novels expecting that sort of thing.