Alternative to 1984
February 1, 2018 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Hey folks! I have a book dilemma. We're reading 1984 for my Mass Media class and I'm not in the mood for misogyny this week, so my professor said I could read something else because they're great. However, I have to come up with some sort of alternative.

The professor is going to give me suggestions too, but I should have something to bring to the table. I'm looking for something thematically similar to 1984, maybe something dystopian that has media as a somewhat significant theme. They said it could be nonfiction too, but the parameters for that are less clear to me. Any suggestions? I've read a lot of dystopian fiction but nothing in particular springs to mind.

I tend to prefer a more lyrical writing style, and books not written by white men. I will likely not have too much time to read it, so 500 page epics are probably not going to work for me.

Thank you in advance!
posted by dysh to Writing & Language (50 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fahrenheit 451? Short, dystopian, literally about the influence of media. It's pretty lyrical in parts (the description of the old woman at the beginning is beautiful and sad). However Ray Bradbury was a white man, and his women characters leave something to be desired.
posted by basalganglia at 3:41 PM on February 1, 2018


Sorry, I should have noted that I've read Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, etc. Hopefully looking for something a bit more recent.
posted by dysh at 3:57 PM on February 1, 2018


Maybe Octavia Butler's Parable of the Talents?
posted by gudrun at 3:59 PM on February 1, 2018 [24 favorites]


If YA is okay, Extras by Scott Westerfield hits a lot of these themes.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:03 PM on February 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


How about The Handmaid’s Tale?
posted by fimbulvetr at 4:04 PM on February 1, 2018 [16 favorites]


2nding Octavia Butler. Parable of the Talents is heart-stoppingly good.
posted by bunderful at 4:07 PM on February 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


Perhaps The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter (reviewed by Jo Walton and Elizabeth Bear), if you can find a copy.
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:09 PM on February 1, 2018


3rding Octavia Butler; I'm currently reading The Parable of the Sower.

Or possibly The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin or Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood?
posted by abeja bicicleta at 4:14 PM on February 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


The Simulacra by Philip K. Dick. It's fairly short and was first published in 1964. Social and political manipulation of the populace via mass media is a major theme.
posted by fuse theorem at 4:16 PM on February 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


Not to put too fine a point on anything, but Anna Politkovskaya's Putin's Russia.
posted by papayaninja at 4:23 PM on February 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


maybe something dystopian that has media as a somewhat significant theme.

It's not really like 1984 at all, but Station Eleven fits these two criteria.
posted by GuyZero at 4:31 PM on February 1, 2018 [19 favorites]


Huxley wrote a counterpoint to BNW, Island. That might be neat.
posted by vrakatar at 4:31 PM on February 1, 2018


Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan.
posted by outfielder at 4:33 PM on February 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


maybe something dystopian that has media as a somewhat significant theme

Naomi Alderman's The Power touches on modern politics and social media, gender relations, and dystopian themes.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:39 PM on February 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


Oryx and Crake. More emphasis on class than media, but the dystopian sequences (as opposed to the post-apocalyptic sequences) can definitely be analyzed with an eye towards how advertising controls culture in the context of a failing civilization (so topical!).
posted by mr_roboto at 4:48 PM on February 1, 2018 [11 favorites]


Super Sad True Love Story
posted by CMcG at 5:04 PM on February 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin's We is arguably better than 1984.
posted by General Malaise at 5:19 PM on February 1, 2018 [17 favorites]


I was coming to suggest Station Eleven.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:20 PM on February 1, 2018


maybe something dystopian that has media as a somewhat significant theme

You want Feed by Mira Grant (a pseudonym for Seanan McGuire). It's set in a future where the zombie apocalypse happened and we won... kind of. It's dystopian in that while society has reformed, it has completely changed. The role of the media and what information is distributed is completely central to the book (it focuses on a pair of bloggers, in a future where blogging is a main source of news). It's a trilogy, but the first book will do for your assignment. Just don't hate me when you gobble down the entire trilogy and all the related short stories and novellas before you can blink.
posted by joycehealy at 5:22 PM on February 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think you actually want the OTHER ya novel called Feed by MT Anderson . Omnipresent neural lace stuff that overlays fashion trends and stuff you should buy onto real life. VR by way of H&M.
posted by gregglind at 5:53 PM on February 1, 2018 [9 favorites]


I really enjoyed Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. I think it fits your criteria.

If you're not in the mood for misogyny, The Handmaid's Tale is not the right book (as good as it is). It's also not about media or technology in any meaningful way.
posted by sockermom at 6:06 PM on February 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I enjoyed Feed by M.T. Anderson a while back, has a female main character, fast read, but the author appears to be white male.
posted by aniola at 6:25 PM on February 1, 2018


Please come back and tell us what your professor recommends!
posted by aniola at 6:27 PM on February 1, 2018


Maybe The Children of Men by P.D. James
posted by goHermGO at 6:34 PM on February 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Thank you for all these great suggestions so far! Just to clarify, an exploration of misogyny (such as The Handmaid's Tale) is fine, it's just the unexamined flat female characters/rape-murder fantasies of 1984 kind of thing that I'm trying to avoid.
posted by dysh at 6:50 PM on February 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


When She Woke is a good female protagonist and bullshit near future dystopia that isn't super well known but very powerful. Think modern-ish day Scarlet Letter, very womaqn-centric.
posted by jessamyn at 7:10 PM on February 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


How about the two sections of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas called "An Orison of Sonmi-451"? It's not about the media per se but about an oppressive society using technologically based deceptions to keep an oppressed underclass working and compliant. The novel itself is 500 pages, but these two chapters together could work as a self-standing novella. It's indebted to 1984 and (just realized from looking at the title) Fahrenheit 451.
posted by Leontine at 7:51 PM on February 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Zamiatin's We is a masterpiece of language and ideas. It is the Ur of the genre.
posted by jb at 8:39 PM on February 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


How about Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro?
posted by aielen at 9:07 PM on February 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Geoff Ryman's Air. Main POV character is an East Asian woman villager in a world where they've just rolled out a sort of mental Internet that goes haywire, so very analogous to modern media. Though the author is male, she's well-realized. The ending didn't really make a whole lot of sense, but despite that, it's one of my favorite SF novels of the past 10 years or so. It won the Tiptree.
posted by praemunire at 9:30 PM on February 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Stephen King’s The Running Man, or better yet, The Long Walk. Found in Different Seasons and the Bachman Books respectively.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:39 PM on February 1, 2018


I’d recommend The Fifth Season.
(Also, for what it’s worth, Station Eleven’s depiction of gender felt icky to me, and while The Book of Joan isn’t sexist, you have to be prepared for serious grotesquerie. Just FYI.)
posted by Edna Million at 10:44 PM on February 1, 2018


I don't know why, but in high school I read Anthem by Ayn Rand instead of 1984. I understand the premise is very similar to 1984, although I haven't read 1984. I know you don't want to read 1984 because of misogyny, but I can't recall whether or not that popped up in Anthem -- I don't remember it, but I was also about 16 when I read it. I don't recall whether the media was a theme or not. It was about society being stripped of individuality.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:46 PM on February 1, 2018


Jennifer government, female protagonist, media dystopia. Male author, though.

From the Wikipedia article: Some readers[who?] consider it similar in satiric intent to George Orwell's 1984, but of a world with too much corporate power as opposed to too much political power.
posted by meijusa at 11:52 PM on February 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Perhaps The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter (reviewed by Jo Walton and Elizabeth Bear), if you can find a copy.

The Fortunate Fall is one of the best books I've read in recent years. It is sadly out of print... however, if anyone here wants a digital copy, MeMail me with an address I can send it to and the format you need.
posted by daisyk at 12:01 AM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


Um this might be too on the nose but I would go straight for the total dose: Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord.

If its not on the syllabus already?
posted by athirstforsalt at 3:22 AM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


2nding Super Sad True Love Story. It's a modern riff on 1984, with a strong dose of the immigrant experience thrown in to the mix. The role and influence of media is a major presence in the story. Main female character is reasonably complex and interesting. The author is good at injecting humor, but this book is definitely on the dystopian spectrum. I believe the author is a white male.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 4:34 AM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Don't laugh but... The Hunger Games sounds extremely appropriate.

Not many of the other books mentioned above really feature media as a thematic element.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:46 AM on February 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord. If its not on the syllabus already?

i would definitely assume/hope it is, along with Agre's Surveillance and Capture if the syllabus includes 1984.

If a film would be an acceptable substitute, Sleep Dealer could be an interesting choice. Available here.
posted by halation at 4:58 AM on February 2, 2018


Also worth mentioning in SSTLS, the perspective switches between chapters, where a good chunk of the book is written from the main female character's perspective. It's in those chapters where a lot of her inner complexity as a character comes through.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 5:10 AM on February 2, 2018


I think you can make an argument that non-fiction about oppressed classes counts as dystopian non-fiction - I'm thinking specifically of The New Jim Crow or Medical Apartheid - both books describe the lived realities of black Americans throughout US history and how systemically, their lives are not altogether dissimilar from the oppressed realities of, say, the protagonist of 1984. it's more of a top-down view of things, however

in a shorter, more memoirish vein, Nickel and Dimed covers, briefly, what it's like to live for a few months in the altogether different reality of minimum wage (vs being middle class, which the author frequently acknowledges as being and as giving her privileges). Patrisse Khan Cullors also recently published a memoir of her experiences as one of the leading organizers of Black Lives Matter, When They Call You a Terrorist that could be appropriate
posted by runt at 7:13 AM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Woman on the Edge of Time, by Marge Piercy
posted by gsh at 7:52 AM on February 2, 2018


Oh my god, Super Sad True Love Story was one of the most cringe-inducingly sexist books I've read (among those written in times when the author should have known better). It's actually great aside from that, but absolutely not if you don't want to deal with unexamined sexism.

I think MaddAddam is a better bet for your purposes than Oryx and Crake (it's the third book in the same trilogy). It loops back to before the fall in more detail and looks at how society got there, so there's much more discussion of media than in Oryx and Crake.

Moxyland isn't one of my favorites, but I think it fits your themes pretty well and is relatively fun to read, as a bonus.
posted by snaw at 8:00 AM on February 2, 2018


The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon is a novella about media and advertising, celebrity worship, and performing femininity.
posted by esoterrica at 8:42 AM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


Veracity by Laura Bynum
posted by Crystal Fox at 9:34 AM on February 2, 2018


It fails some of your criteria (published 1936, by a white male, no significant female roles), but War with the Newts is an underappreciated tale about business, consumerism, nationalism, racism, journalism, science, and of course, a utopian ideal gone tragically wrong.
posted by Chuckles McLaughy du Haha, the depressed clown at 10:46 AM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Seconding Jennifer Government!
posted by SinAesthetic at 12:31 PM on February 2, 2018


Cory Doctorow's Little Brother is set modern day and deals extensively with media and government overreach - a teenager in SF is caught up in a terrorism sweep. (Written by a white man, though. However, there are free downloads at his site; you could read a few pages and see if it catches you.) 116 k words.

1984 is about 92,000 words; you probably need to find something similar. (Anthem, mentioned above, is a novella of 14,640 words. Also it has basically nothing about media; its society is so regimented that it would be superfluous to mention.) Handmaid's Tale is about 106,000 words but doesn't focus on media; the society is socially-regulated.

For nonfiction, Sherry Turkle's Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other might be appropriate.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:12 PM on February 2, 2018


I would second Pattern Recognition. Yes, William Gibson is a white male, but I think he hits it out of the park with his female characters, and though the story is not on its face a dystopia, the view from inside PR, advertising and obsessive Internet communities is definitely a comment on the role of media in modern society. As a bonus, it's the Internet before it was taken over by trolls; very nostalgic.
posted by lhauser at 7:29 PM on February 2, 2018


Thanks for all these great suggestions y'all! I'll be adding many to my reading list. I ended up suggesting The Dispossessed, The Power, and The Book of Joan. Since my professor just started The Dispossessed , that's what we'll be reading.
posted by dysh at 7:10 AM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


« Older Single-artist tributes to single albums?   |   In this AskMe: What’s the book I can’t remember??? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.