Dystopia’s not dead yet

by Iris Lim

Dystopian novels feature futuristic worlds often fraught with widespread conflict and suffering, or perhaps a seemingly ideal society that is secretly riddled with a complete lack of individuality or free will. Nowadays, young adults tend to prefer to roam the aisles of young adults, romance, and contemporary fiction. While I can’t deny the appeal of escapist novels full of both fluffy meet-cutes and heart-wrenching plot twists, I’ve not yet moved on from the thought-provoking experience of reading about a bleak, unforgiving future. Here are two newer dystopian series that are still worth a read.

Arc of a Scythe Series by Neal Shusterman

Photo via Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Photo via Publisher: Simon & Schuster


“Human nature is both predictable and mysterious; prone to great and sudden advances, yet still mired in despicable self-interest.”
– Neal Shusterman (“Scythe,” Arc of a Scythe #1)

Scythe” is set in a society that is almost entirely governed by the Thunderhead, a benevolent artificial intelligence that has eradicated hunger, war, disease, and virtually any issues or causes of death. The only remaining problem the world faces is overpopulation. The solution: the Scythedom, a handpicked collection of individuals responsible for simulating mortality by meeting kill quotas, and the only aspect of society not surveilled by the Thunderhead. Despite only being teenagers, Citra and Rowan are the newest scythe apprentices, and they must learn to systematically take lives to keep their world running.

This series tackles the ideas of mortality, corruption, and compassion in the midst of a task that appears to be inherently cruel. I found both the premise and execution of the novel to be compelling, and Neal Shusterman’s tone encourages readers to deliberate on the ethical dilemmas that the characters face, but also question the implications on their own lives.

Mortal Coil Trilogy by Emily Suvada

Photo via Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Photo via Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books


“Nature designed this plague as a double-edged sword: it either takes your life, or it takes your humanity.”
– Emily Suvada (“This Mortal Coil,” Mortal Coil #1)

Emily Suvada’s “This Mortal Coil” is a dystopian science fiction thriller that takes place in a technologically advanced world where DNA editing has become mainstream, and individuals have virtually no limitations to what they can alter. However, the lethal Hydra virus threatens humanity, and the technological cure to heal it has yet to be developed. Catarina Agatta, a skilled gene-hacker, struggles to work with Lieutenant Cole Franklin of the Cartaxus Corporation. Ever since Cartaxus forced her father to work on a Hydra cure for them, Cat has been in a resistance movement against the corporation. But when Cole notifies Cat of her father’s death and tells her that they must work together to retrieve the vaccine Cat’s father created, she has no choice but to agree — for the sake of humanity.

Despite featuring quite a few complex scientific and technological concepts in the genetically enhanced society, Emily Suvada explains them in a way that is easily digestible for readers. The Mortal Coil trilogy is fast-paced and full of plot twists that ultimately make for a series of riveting page-turners that you won’t want to put down.

Whether it’s one of the aforementioned, or a classic dystopia such as George Orwell’s “1989” or Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” I highly recommend giving dystopia another chance, even if just for the sake of nostalgia. Regardless of which dystopian novel you choose to read next, it’ll be sure to get you thinking about society in a different way. After all, the genre of dystopia as a whole seems to beg a singular question, one that Neal Shusterman puts quite eloquently: “We are imperfect beings, how could we ever fit in a perfect world?” (“The Toll,” Arc of a Scythe #3).

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