A look at society through the eyes of science fiction
We by Yevgeny Zamiatin (1924)
The ever-present eye of The Benefactor knows all, individuality is a thing of the past, and nature has been sent into exile. A new spaceship will allow humankind to impose the benefits of reason on whatever alien races they can find - that is until D-503 rediscovers his soul. Russian writer chillingly predicts the rise of Stalinism and beats Orwell to the punch.
Justifiably famous dystopian discourse on the dangers of technology and hedonistic pleasures. VR movies ('feelies') and a psychedelic drug ('soma') keep people in check, babies are genetically engineered, and human relationships lack intimacy. Two humans from the Savage Reservation cop fatal doses of mainstream society.
Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon (1937)
Stapledon's philosophical sequel to Last and First Men (1930) is a breathtaking trek to the limits of the cosmos, where we encounter several alien races in various stages of social development. Socialism is just the first small step in humanity's evolution into something considerably better and brighter. Absolutely wondrous, albeit unconventional.
Anthem by Ayn Rand (1938)
Russian-born American writer who developed the philosophy of Objectivism emphasising individualism and laissez-faire capitalism. The novella Anthem is set in a dystopian future where collectivism rules and notions of the individual are brutally subjugated. It is the story of Equality 7-2521 and his desire to learn, which lands him in deep trouble with the World Council of Scholars.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
Orwell got the title by reversing the last two digits in 1948 - the year he wrote this greatest of all anti-utopian satires. A minor bureaucrat in a totalitarian state rebels against the ruling Party and its almost mythical leader Big Brother. Terms like Newspeak, Doublethink and Thought Police became part of the language. Immensely influential.
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut (1952)
Self-described socialist hits us with another dose of wry social commentary. Vonnegut's hilarious first novel has been rediscovered in the wake of his current cult-icon status. Society is run by the few people who have real jobs - the top scientists and technocrats. The rest of us are 'Reeks & Wrecks' just waiting for the revolution. Excellent first novel.
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (1974)
Subtitled 'An Ambiguous Utopia', this book highlights the challenges inherent in building the ideal socialist society. The impoverished anarchists on the almost-barren moon live in a small, but ecologically sound society, whereas rich mother planet Anarres is technologically-driven. Some basic human needs go wanting in each. Laconic Le Guin.
The Giver [S1] by Lois Lowry (1993)
Newbery winner and perennial school favourite - a 12 year old boy learns the painful truth about his utopian society when he is chosen to be the Receiver of Memories from The Giver. Thought by some to contain subject matter inappropriate for younger readers - the novel ranks highly on both of the American Library Association's '100 most frequently challenged books' lists.