I want to learn about the birth of dystopias, fictional and real
January 9, 2013 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books, stories, films, documentaries, articles about the birth of dystopic societies. Examples could be a prequel to the Hunger Games (how did this fictional world come to be?), an article about people's lives in a nation where democracy was overthrown, stories about how Jews and non-Jews reacted to the early days of Hitler's rise, explorations of the slow realization that an ostensibly democratic nation is now really run by a strongman or single powerful party.

I'm NOT interested in stories that start with already-established dystopias, or in post-apocalyptic stories in which vast populations are decimated (by bombs, zombies, aliens, disease, etc.) and a small group of survivors must rebuild. Instead, I'd like to explore what it's like for ordinary people -- not elites -- to go from living in a flawed but relatively free society to living in an oppressive state, as portrayed by journalists, survivors and purveyors of fiction.
posted by croutonsupafreak to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
The Postmortal comes to mind - involves a cure for aging, and starts out just when the cure comes on the (black) market), things slowly fall apart from there.

The Age of Miracles would be another one - written from the viewpoint of someone after the disaster has happened, but relates the story starting when things were normal.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:32 AM on January 9, 2013

It chronicles a progression (or reversion), but society is collapsed at the end rather than in a dystopic state; but Stephen King's story The End Of The Whole Mess may be an interesting tangent.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:40 AM on January 9, 2013

Hitler's Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen.
The Little Red Guard by Wenguang Huang talks about the Cultural Revolution from the perspective of the child of a loyal Party member, grandchild of a very traditional and religious woman with no use for the Party.
When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him is a memoir of a childhood spent in Khmer Rouge forced labor camps.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:26 AM on January 9, 2013

Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy for the Russian Revolution (and consequent creation of a terror-based state, the model for both Mao and the Khmer Rouge). (And Amazon's selling this fat book for a mere $15.95 new at the moment!)
posted by languagehat at 12:10 PM on January 9, 2013

You'll definitely want to read Doris Lessing's Memoirs of a Survivor, which shows the progression of a bourgeois society's total collapse. It's told from the perspective of an older woman hiding in her apartment, watching from behind her curtains.
posted by ourobouros at 12:47 PM on January 9, 2013

Check out Sale of the Century by Chrystia Freeland. It's about how Russia transitioned from the end of the Soviet Union to an entirely new dystopia.
posted by Clambone at 12:48 PM on January 9, 2013

I don't know if this will fit all of your criteria but Cory Doctorow's Little Brother is about teens dealing with a huge expansion of Homeland Security in the wake of serious but not apocalyptic or population-erasing terrorist attacks on San Francisco.

But it never gets all the way to dystopia and most of the book is concerned with opposing freedom of information/technology/press and freedom of assembly crackdowns (1st Amendment), not actually mass executions at prison camps or anything.

It's an obvious thought experiment on the slippery slope, taking the 9/11 -> PATRIOT ACT causality and doubling down on the severity of the fear-induced panic reaction and how that open society up to something potentially worse than the original attacks.
posted by clerestory at 6:47 PM on January 9, 2013

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale has some of this, but the prequel-ish parts about how things got to be so terrible are discussed in retrospect/flashback rather than in the main action.

For nonfiction I really enjoyed Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts. Since it's about an American family in living in Germany in the early years of Hitler's reign it has a fairly intimate outsider-looking-in viewpoint that is interesting.
posted by gatorae at 7:36 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

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