The best books for finding strength in a bleak future

T.J. Swackhammer Author Of City of Immortal Shadows
By T.J. Swackhammer

Who am I?

I’ve been very interested and involved in psychology and philosophy over the years, ever since becoming fascinated by anthropology in my early high school days…the concept of the human psyche is so wonderfully explored in the dystopian genre, setting extremes of how far greed and power can go (authoritarian governments) and how much strength of will and love can go even further (woven into these rebellions). I truly think that these books put so much into perspective of what’s truly important for us as a species and the things we want to carry forward- in all of them, the nature of freedom, community, and expression bonds us all together.

I wrote...

City of Immortal Shadows

By T.J. Swackhammer,

Book cover of City of Immortal Shadows

What is my book about?

Something is rotting in the city of Emaldin, and everyone knows it. Valencia was supposed to be one of the lucky ones. Plucked from a life of crime, the Institute promised her an easier life inside the Pod, if she could make it to graduation. Instead, she reawakens after being killed, back from the dead with a lethal touch. Valencia survives under the radar as a deadly shadow. Her touch, a weapon. Until she realizes she hasn’t been the one wielding it. Until the wrong life, at the wrong time, gets cut short.

On the run, she must make new alliances to untangle the web surrounding the Institute and find the truth of Emaldin… even if it means letting go of everything she’s ever known.

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The books I picked & why

The Giver

By Lois Lowry,

Book cover of The Giver

Why did I love this book?

The Giver is one of those that stands up across time, regardless of age and popularity. It takes us to a conceived future where the government has created a “perfect” utopia, void of the perils of humanity. In this, Jonas's world is perfect. Everything is tightly controlled. There are no battles, no grief, no fear, no agony. There are also no choices.

When Jonas reaches his 12th birthday he is chosen for special training from The Giver - a singular being that holds the memories of the true agony and pleasure of existing. Jonas has to become willing to see beyond what society thinks life should be and embrace what the Giver knows to be true: life is not a series of good events. We must struggle to triumph, grieve to have hope, and above all, be courageous enough to think we all deserve the freedom of choice. This is the magic of the Giver.

By Lois Lowry,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked The Giver as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE GIVER is soon to be a major motion picture starring Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift.

Now available for the first time in the UK, THE GIVER QUARTET is the complete four-novel collection.

THE GIVER: It is the future. There is no war, no hunger, no pain. No one in the community wants for anything. Everything needed is provided. And at twelve years old, each member of the community has their profession carefully chosen for them by the Committee of Elders.

Jonas has never thought there was anything wrong with his world. But from the moment he is…

Fahrenheit 451

By Ray Bradbury,

Book cover of Fahrenheit 451

Why did I love this book?

Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 takes place in a world any self-respecting bibliophile would shudder at the thought of - telling the story of a man named Guy Montag, a “fireman” who is rapidly becoming disenchanted with his job. His assignment? Setting fire to books, rather than putting them out. In this take, society no longer has the commitment necessary to appreciate literary art, and the overbearing rule of the state wishes to stop people from expanding the parameters of their minds. Unforeseen by the authoritarian government, Montag begins to open his mind to the complexities of the written word and begins a journey to attempt to save as many books as possible, all while encouraging others to have the bravery to “see” and “continue” even in the face of great oppression.

By Ray Bradbury,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked Fahrenheit 451 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The hauntingly prophetic classic novel set in a not-too-distant future where books are burned by a special task force of firemen.

Over 1 million copies sold in the UK.

Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

The classic…

Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel,

Book cover of Station Eleven

Why did I love this book?

In a startling premise that feels a bit too close to hope nowadays, a devastating flu pandemic decimated civilization as we know it, a woman named Kirsten moves between citizen settlements with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They give themselves the name as ‘The Traveling Symphony’, and have committed themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive.

What makes this piece really spectacular is the levels Mandel is willing to go to explore the nature of art and fame in a changing, apocalyptic world. One of my favourite things from this piece is the thin lines drawn between the concept of “fame” and “power” and the relationship between “art” and “legacy”. The overriding message is that the world will change, but humanity will continue throughout our future, regardless of the society that surrounds us.

By Emily St. John Mandel,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked Station Eleven as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Best novel. The big one . . . stands above all the others' - George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones

Now an HBO Max original TV series

The New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award
Longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
National Book Awards Finalist
PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist

What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.

One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in…

V for Vendetta

By Alan Moore, David Lloyd (illustrator),

Book cover of V for Vendetta

Why did I love this book?

One in a semi-unusual format- a graphic novel- brings forth an absolutely epic story about the thievery of freedom and individuality. V for Vendetta is set in a totalitarian England in the aftermath of a devastating war that changed the planet and the turn of the future. In typical dystopian fashion, this is a world without political freedom, personal freedom, and little faith in anything- but out of the shadows comes a mysterious man in a white porcelain mask who is one of few to take on political oppressors through terrorism and seemingly absurd acts. 

It's a compelling story of the blurred lines between morally good and evil, and how an anti-hero can spark a movement and uprising that leads to new ventures gained.

By Alan Moore, David Lloyd (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked V for Vendetta as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the near future, England has become a corrupt, totalitarian state, opposed only by V, the mystery man wearing a white porcelain mask who intends to free the masses through absurd acts of terrorism.


By Yevgeny Zamyatin, Gregory Zilboorg (translator),

Book cover of We

Why did I love this book?

For an absolute classic, I would be amiss if I did not include Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We in this list, as it’s been credited for inspiring both Orwell and Rand in their dystopian journeys. This is a classic dystopian novel set in something called ‘OneState’- a city enclosed in glass under the totalitarian rule of the ‘Benefactor'. In ways similar to Fahrenheit 451, I love We for its exploration of what happens when free thought collapses and is replaced by government-enforced conformity.

The main protagonist (simply named D-503) lives a life void of all passion and creativity. The most precious things like love, family, and reproduction are all closely monitored – with rebellion viciously condemned. All it takes is one person- I-330, one of the few left with a free, courageous spirit to inspire D-503 to break free from the system and decide that ultimately, life is worth living for himself.

By Yevgeny Zamyatin, Gregory Zilboorg (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A seminal work of dystopian fiction that foreshadowed the worst excesses of Soviet Russia, Yevgeny Zamyatin's We is a powerfully inventive vision that has influenced writers from George Orwell to Ayn Rand. This Penguin Classics edition is translated from the Russian with an introduction by Clarence Brown.

In a glass-enclosed city of absolute straight lines, ruled over by the all-powerful 'Benefactor', the citizens of the totalitarian society of OneState live out lives devoid of passion and creativity - until D-503, a mathematician who dreams in numbers, makes a discovery: he has an individual soul. Set in the twenty-sixth century AD,…

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