In the real world, you want to avoid dystopia (a society, culture, or environment in which it is extremely unpleasant to live), but in fiction, bring it on! Last month I looked at Ninteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, the two most famous works in the genre. Today, I'll explore few more contemporary classics.A Clockwork Orange, written by Anthony Burgess in 1962, takes place in a world driven by violence. Its protagonist is a young gang leader names Alex who nightly sates his desire to commit "ultra-violence" by cruising neighborhoods with his gang hurting people. Eventually he is captured, imprisoned and "reformed" through a process that strips him of virtually all passion. Sent back out onto the street, Alex is now defenseless and becomes, for a time, a victim of the very type of crimes he previously perpetrated. A few notes if you want to try this one out:
- It's really really disturbing. Definitely for the more mature reader. The violence is truly ugly, and Alex's nonchalant attitude toward the pain he's inflicting is at times stomach-turning. And though the book is somewhat science-fictiony, the characters who are having this brutality inflicted on them are very much like real people--they're not like zombies or anything--which makes it somewhat worse than your typical violent horror or sci-fi novel.
- Burgess invented a kind of slang, called "Nasdat" for his gang members to use. Nasdat includes a lot of Russian and Russian-sounding words. Nasdat sounds cool in a hard-core punk sort of way, but be sure you read one of the editions that includes a Nasdat glossary in the back; without it, nothing will make any sense.
- American editions of the book published before 1986 are missing the last chapter (the original U.S. editor didn't like it). Get a later edition or a British edition so you have the book as Burgess intended it. You can decide for yourself whether the last chapter helps or hurts the story.
- Later in his life Burgess said that he regretted writing the book because it was so widely misunderstood. Honor his memory and keep in mind that the book is not intended to promote violence.
back to main page