The best books for finding strength in a bleak future

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

The Books I Picked & Why

The Giver

By Lois Lowry

Book cover of The Giver

Why 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.

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Fahrenheit 451

By Ray Bradbury

Book cover of Fahrenheit 451

Why 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.

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Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel

Book cover of Station Eleven

Why 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.

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V for Vendetta

By Alan Moore, David Lloyd

Book cover of V for Vendetta

Why 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.

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By Yevgeny Zamyatin, Gregory Zilboorg

Book cover of We

Why 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.

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