Welcome to Dystopia

From William Gibson to George Orwell to Margaret Atwood, the future isn't always so bright.
7 stories

In 1516, Thomas More transported readers to Utopia, a fantastical island with an ideal society: religions are tolerated, hospitals are free, and, amazingly, there are no lawyers. More's joke, of course, was that "utopia" meant "no place" in Greek, and for nearly 400 years, writers such as Jonathan Swift, H.G. Wells, and Aldous Huxley, have been imagining more believable worlds—dystopias. Bad places.

In "Fresh Hell" The New Yorker's Laura Miller examined the rise in dystopian fiction for young readers. "The Hunger Games is not an argument," Miller wrote of Suzanne Collins' dark fantasy. "It’s not about persuading the reader to stop something terrible from happening—it’s about what’s happening, right this minute, in the stormy psyche of the adolescent reader."

Creating the dystopic world of Nineteen Eighty-Four nearly killed George Orwell, as Robert McCrum revealed sixty years after the classic novel's publication. "From the spring of 1947 to his death in 1950 Orwell would re-enact every aspect of this struggle in the most painful way imaginable," McCrum wrote of the author's battle with tuberculosis. "Privately, perhaps, he relished the overlap between theory and practice. He had always thrived on self-inflicted adversity."

A year after we reached Orwell's landmark year, Margaret Atwood published her novel The Handmaid's Tale, about a chauvinistic theocracy that had overthrown the United States—what she called an "Ustopia." In her Byliner Serials I'm Starved for You and Choke Collar and now Erase Me, Atwood returns to those themes with a futuristic society and a kinky, gated community known as Consilience.

Of course, not all dystopias are imagined. In 1993, Wired sent novelist William Gibson to Singapore for a glimpse into the techno future of the world. "There is no slack in Singapore," Gibson wrote. "Imagine an Asian version of Zurich operating as an offshore capsule at the foot of Malaysia; an affluent microcosm whose citizens inhabit something that feels like, well, Disneyland. Disneyland with the death penalty."

From the Web

Fresh Hell

What’s behind the boom in dystopian fiction for young readers?

Jun 2010
From the Web

Disneyland with the Death Penalty

We sent William Gibson to Singapore to see whether that clean dystopia represents our techno future.
Sep 1993

I’m Starved for You: Positron, Episode One (Excerpt)

Mar 2012

Choke Collar: Positron, Episode Two (Excerpt)

In the second installment of Margaret Atwood’s Positron series, can Stan and Charmaine escape the “perfect” community known as Consilience? Or will they find solace in the wickedly kinky labor they’re forced to endure?

Aug 2012
From the Web

Alan Moore: The Wonderful Wizard of … Northampton

Alan Moore, the undisputed, eccentric king of comic-book writing, made it acceptable for literary-minded adults to enjoy books about superheroes. Will his new book do the same for erotica? Susanna Clarke, the novelist and long-time Moore devotee, speaks to him about sex, magic, and why he prefers his home town to Hollywood.

Oct 2007
From the Web

1984: The Masterpiece That Killed George Orwell

Robert McCrum tells the compelling story of George Orwell’s torturous stay on a remote Scottish island where the author, close to death and beset by creative demons, was engaged in a feverish race to finish 1984.

Apr 2011

Erase Me: Positron, Episode Three (Excerpt)

In the third installment of Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed dark comedy “Positron,” Stan wakes up immobilized, not knowing whether he’s being used as the sexual plaything of a subversive member of the Consilience social experiment, or is facing a fate that’s far worse.

Dec 2012