The concept of dystopian living is pretty scary stuff. You know, because everything is generally horrible. But there are some dystopian visions that lean more overtly into horror as a genre than others. Supernatural elements combine with, or are the cause of, some sort of societal collapse or takeover. The horror is doubled! For this Halloween, let’s have a look at some of the spookier takes on dystopian worlds.
Can you imagine if a technology company could link users’ emails, social media accounts, banking, and purchasing with a universal operating system? I know, it sounds totally far fetched. Well, this crazy idea is what Dave Eggers explores in “The Circle.” Mae Holland is hired to work for the world’s most powerful tech company, the Circle. The idyllic corporate campus starts to reveal itself to be more of a creepy totalitarian compound.
“The Stepford Wives” is another story of an idyllic facade concealing a dark secret. This is written by Ira Levin, author of “Rosemary’s Baby,” so you know creepiness is in his wheelhouse. There is also some pointed commentary on our society that rings true decades after the book was published.
Zombie apocalypses are a dime a dozen, but few can hold a candle to Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One.” The title comes from the name of a secured area in Manhattan scheduled for resettlement after a zombie plague. The story follows a squad of sweepers who move through the zone dispatching the remaining zombies.
“The Road” is another sort of zombie story, although there is no zombie plague making people eat other people, just unbelievable desperation during a nuclear winter. The story follows a man and his son as they try to survive.
In “The Passage” a secret project to create a super-soldier backfires, releasing a virus that creates a plague of vampiric revenants. Most of the population has been wiped out. The Colony, a FEMA-established island of safety, realizes their defenses are starting to fail. When they find a young girl outside The Colony they think she might hold answers to their salvation.
Instead of the monstrous variety of horror, Ben Winters’ “The Last Policeman” deals with existential horror. When the Earth is doomed by an imminent asteroid collision in six months, people react in wildly different ways. Detective Hank Palace deals with it by continuing to do his job and trying to solve a suspicious suicide.
The dystopian element of “Lovecraft Country” isn’t a matter of speculative fiction, but of historical fact; In 1954, Atticus Turner must contend with both the nightmare of racism, and dark forces like those envisioned by H.P. Lovecraft, as he drives from Chicago to New England looking for his missing father. When he reaches his destination he is faced with both occult horrors and the horrifying legacy of slavery.
“The Rust Maidens” is another horror book set in a real dystopian environment. In this case it is Rust Belt America, specifically a steel mill suburb of Cleveland falling into ruin in the 1980s. The Cuyahoga River is still so polluted it’s in danger of catching fire again. Phoebe Shaw just graduated high school and is anxiously waiting for college to start so she can leave when grotesque transformations start happening to young women, including Phoebe’s cousin.
If you need to add some terror to your Halloween celebrating, hopefully one of these books can help. Aside from that, I hope it is a safe and happy Halloween.