Following the release of Dylan Byford’s brilliant northern cyberpunk dystopia ‘Airedale’, we here at Northodox Towers have been considering our favourite dystopian futures, alternate histories and other realities. From the usual suspect big hitters, to some slightly off kilter and underground hidden gems, we have strived to compile a must-read list of contemporary world-wobbling, history-hacking and prescient prophecies that one or more of the team couldn’t help but get their teeth stuck into!
So in no particular order here are some seriously scorching reads we can’t recommend enough:
Nod – Adrian Barnes
Imagine what would happen if humans lost the ability to sleep. That is the question asked in Adrian Barnes’ ‘Nod.’ One morning, dawn breaks, and almost no one has slept the previous night – or at least, almost no one, possibly one in ten thousand can still sleep.
There is no explanation for this, and worldwide panic ensues. After a few days, psychosis sets in, and a strange, terrifying new reality emerges. ‘Nod' is a genuinely unnerving read because everything feels realistic; the characters are all everyday, normal people whose lives collapse and there is no grand mission or quest to save the world. This is an incredibly bleak novel, but also beautifully written and a unique take on apocalyptic stories. Very highly recommended, however, have something light-hearted on hand to read afterwards!
High-Rise – J.G. Ballard
First released in 1975, Ballard’s masterful and surreal warning about how he saw commercialism and the class system influencing society is as scathing as it is engaging. Told from the point of view of recently divorced doctor and medical school lecturer Robert Laing,
the story follows as Laing moves to onto the twenty-fifth floor of a new luxury apartment block in the outskirts of London. With everything they could ever need provided for them, the population of the tower find themselves isolated from the outside world. Soon chaos descends as the jealous on the poorest lower floors start skirmishes to takeover the more affluent higher floors. As the bodies start to pile up, Laing finds himself on a mission to reach the fortieth floor penthouse and confront Anthony Royal, the mythical architect who designed the building. Fast-paced, terrifying and horribly believable, Ballard’s novel is as relevant now in the age of technology and image as it was nearly fifty years ago.
Soon – Lois Murphy
‘Soon’ tells the story of an apocalypse for a single small town. Every night, a strange mist descends on the town of Nebulah. Venturing out into the mist means death. The only way to
stay safe is to stay indoors, however, the mist is able to individually manipulate people to entice them to go outside. The story begins when most of Nebulah’s inhabitants have either been killed or moved away. We are introduced to a small band of characters who can’t or won’t leave the town, and we follow them as they try to navigate their isolated lives and ensure that they avoid the mist. This is possibly the smallest scale apocalypse you will ever read about, however, it is no less terrifying and tragic. By only having one town affected by the mist, the characters are presented with unique sets of problems, such as being cut off from a world that either ignores Nebulah as a phenomenon that was initially interesting, or outsiders who see the town as something of a tourist site and want to experience the mist. Overall, a wonderfully creepy and unnerving read!
Postal – Matt Shaw and J.R. Park
I picked up this short shocker on The Sinister Horror Company’s stall at an Edge Lit Festival a couple of years ago. The premise of this book is simple: every month, thirteen people would receive a letter. Within that month, those who received the letter would have a legal right to kill
someone. It did not matter who the person was or how they were killed, and by law, no one could intervene and help the victim. The story follows multiple characters; those who receive letters, those who want letters and those who become victims of those with letters. The story also examines how society functions with these laws in place; people are wary of each other – someone who you seemingly mildly offended could end up killing you in a horrific manner down the line. And some of the kills are truly horrific; Shaw and Park pull absolutely no punches in the graphic and gory descriptions. As I mentioned, this book is short, making it a quick, fast-paced read that packs a punch and remains in the mind of the reader long after they have put it down.
Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman
For many, I doubt that this book will need much introduction. The first book in Malorie Blackman’s ‘Noughts and Crosses’ series has become a YA staple, spawned many sequels and
has recently been adapted into a TV series. This is the novel that began it all, following Sephy, a dark-skinned Cross and member of the ruling class, and Callum, a light-skinned Nought and member of the underclass. Sephy and Callum have been friends since childhood, and through the story, their bond is tested and strained by prejudice and distrust from those around them, before a violent act of terrorism sends both their lives into chaos. Despite this series being YA, it explores mature themes across all the books, and has adult appeal (I still love all of these books). Overall, they are a great read for teenagers and adults, and a series that I happily recommend to anyone.
Battle Royale – Koushun Takami
In the not too distant future, a class of junior high school students are, as part of a cruel authoritarian program, taken to a deserted island and forced to kill each other until only one is left standing. If the premise of teenagers being made to battle each other sounds like ‘The
Hunger Games,’ know that ‘Battle Royale’ came first, and is, in my opinion, the superior work. On its release, some reviewers criticised the violence in ‘Battle Royale,’ however, it is also interesting as a psychological thriller, examining the rationale for the actions of all the characters and how these youngsters react when faced with an impossible situation. I don’t want to say much more, as I don’t want to give everything away that happens, so I will simply say: if you want a high-octane thriller with a difference, this is the book for you!
Oryx and Crake-Margaret Atwood
In this dystopian future, genetic engineering rules the world. The story is told through the eyes
of Snowman, seemingly the last regular homo sapien on Earth. He is surrounded by animals created in labs, and a new breed of humans manufactured by his best friend Crake, who had strived to create the perfect human. The plot follows what led Snowman to this point, showing the fall of humanity, Snowman’s and Crake’s involvement, and their relationship with the enigmatic Oryx. This book is a difficult read at times, examining the nastier side of human nature and discussing philosophical ideas, such as whether man has a right to meddle with nature and if there is such a thing as a truly perfect human. If you want to try something weightier, with a lot of depth, I would definitely recommend giving ‘Oryx and Crake’ a try.
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Last but not least, I feel that you cannot discuss dystopian futures without mentioning Anthony Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ In this book, we follow teenage gang leader Alex as he and
his friends (called ‘droogs’ in the book) commit all kinds of horrific crimes, up until the point where Alex is caught and put into a government program that is equally as disturbing as Alex’s own criminal activity. One of the most memorable aspects of this book is the language; Burgess creates a futuristic slang called nadsat, which the entire novel is told through. Whilst this may seem jarring to the reader at first, you find that you can get your head around it quickly, and it flows naturally with the story, creating a unique reading experience. In other words, there is a reason that ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is a classic, and should be read by all!