It’s not the end of the world

There was a time when I was king of the dystopian novel, a time when I required nothing more than a destroyed civilization, a small band of people trying to survive and rebuild, a glass of wine, and thou reading in the wilderness. 

Now that I have chronologically matured and my interest in end-of-the-world stories has waned, I still find time for the occasional apocalyptic gem. However, no longer do I thrill in the earth-is-destroyed-by-a-rogue-planet-but-our-gallant-hero-rescues-a-small-town-in-Ohio plots. Rather, I favor the more subtle tale that looks at a not-so-distant future that is not-so-different from the present.

Following is a list, categorized by type of disaster, of a few dystopian books worth looking into. It is only by reading future histories that we can avoid our future mistakes.

Nuclear (and other) disasters
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller
A nuclear strike “cleans the earth,” technology is reviled and destroyed, but an order of monks preserves scientific knowledge while attempting to rebuild civilization.

Dr. Bloodmoney by Philip K Dick
In the face of a nuclear accident, genetic mutations, a nuclear strike, and loss of technological knowledge, people go about their lives with varying degrees of success.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Long after an unnamed catastrophe has occurred, a person’s social status is based on which colors he can see. In this droll chronicle, technology is gradually eradicated, with all sorts of machines and tools (even down to spoons) phased out.

Totalitarian governments
Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson  
Britain is divided into four republics, families are torn apart, and citizens (based on their personality-type) are assigned to live in one of the republics. Thomas Perry, a civil servant, begins a journey which turns into a nightmare as he illegally travels between zones.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
In a frightening future, women are valued only for their reproductive abilities.

Love in the Time of Fridges by Tim Scott
This amusing story finds the mayor of New Seattle’s zero-tolerance-of-danger policy creating a society based on fear (not to mention the occasional roving pack of intelligent refrigerators).

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
The government controls information as well as an individual’s thoughts and memories.

Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
In this future, thinking is dangerous and books are forbidden.

Ecological emergencies
Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Arctic ice pack shrinks, bringing about climactic changes and disasters.

Juniper Time by Kate Wilhelm
Environmental neglect leads to a slow social apocalypse.

Technological tragedies
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
In the not-too-distant future the U.S. becomes a conglomerate of corporate-owned states with few laws, and virtual reality dominates people’s lives. When a friend is destroyed by the new drug Snow Crash, Hiro uses his hacking skills to save the day.

Idoru by William Gibson
In 21st century Tokyo technology is both alluring and dangerous, the rich and the poor are separated by walls, and pop stars marry virtual constructs.

Devilish discrimination
Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy
The U.S. is fragmented, in a state of virtual civil war and anarchy, and people’s souls are becoming alienated from their bodies in this humorous tale.

Population permutations
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
More than 7 billion souls swarm across the futuristic earth of 2010. Overcrowding, artificial intelligence, legalized psychedelic drugs, and science tempered with superstition create a complex terrain for the world’s nations to navigate.

The Children of Men by P.D. James
Mass infertility leads slowly towards the end of the human race. 

The Apocalypse
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Don’t make any plans for Sunday, the apocalypse is arriving Saturday unless the angels of good and evil (who have grown quite comfortable here on earth) can stop it.