Tag: Aldous

First Steps: Russian Literature

Posted July 27, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in First Steps / 0 Comments

literary stepsFirst Steps is a new segment that was inspired by the Literary Exploration Reading Challenge. Each week or two we look at what books from different themes, genres or maybe authors and suggest some that are worth trying. Not necessarily all easy to read books but the ones that are worth the time and effort. My goal is to have First Steps guide you to some great books in places you don’t normally venture to.

I’ve been reading this amazing book called A Constellation of Vital Phenomena which is set in Chechnya and it got me thinking about Russian literature. I love reading books set in Russia and written by Russians, I don’t know why there is something about the books that draws me to them. They are often epic, slightly odd and the prose and character development are well worth reading, don’t get me started on symbolism and motifs. But it’s sad to think a lot of people are scared of reading Russian literature and while there are so many I haven’t read yet, including War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, Doctor Zhivago and anything by Anton Chekhov I thought I’d share five Russian novels I would recommend. I have left out Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart simply because they are Russian Americans and it’s hard to work out which country can truly claim them.

Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin

This weird and wonderful postmodern novel is quite frankly so bizarre you just have to check it out. I wanted to add something contemporary to this list and thought this was the perfect choice. Set in a futuristic Russia where the Russian Empire has been restored back to the draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible.

 
 
 

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

If you are fans of the dystopian genre and you haven’t read We, you really need to get onto it. This book is often considered as the first truly dystopian novel and has inspired authors such as Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut. Zamyantin bases this future on his personal experiences during the two Russian revolutions (1905 and 1917) and the First World War.

 
 

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Yet another weird and wonderful Russian novel, this time in the genre of Magical Realism. The whole book is based around a visit by the Devil to two passionately atheistic Russians. While this is an overly simplified synopsis it really is the basis of the entire book; if I really want to write a fully detailed overview of this book it would include a black cat, an assassin, a naked witch, Jesus and Pontius Pilate in one bizarre novel.

 

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Don’t let the size of this book scare you, this isn’t necessarily a hard book, just long and like most Russian classics it is worth the effort. The story of love, infidelity as well as a battle of classes and the fading out of an old society to make room for modern one. If you are a patient reader and love a story with well written characters that is beautifully written then this book is worth reading, it simply is a masterpiece.

 

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I love this book so much. Before there were psychological thrillers and books like the Dexter series, there was Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov is a conflicted character; he is showing a lot of interest in the classes and thinks he is of a higher class than others believe. But when he commits murders, guilt, remorse or regret plague him. This is a novel that focuses on the inner turmoil as well as the impact on his intellect and emotions. Beyond perfect and the type of book that you just want to read over and over again.

I know a lot of people avoid the Russian books but I’m drawn to them, I would love to know what people think and if they do avoid them, why. If you have read some great Russian novels, let me know as well because there are so many out there, I would love to know which ones are well worth reading.


Dystopian Fiction; A Brief History

Posted September 12, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Dystopia, Literature / 0 Comments

This post was originally a guest post that appeared on blahblahblahtoby; big thanks to Toby for allowing me to get involved in his Dystopian fortnight and for letting me share this post with my readers too.

Dystopian fiction has been around for a long time; interesting enough, it was an offshoot of utopian fiction which started growing in popularity in the 1900’s. I’m a little surprised that utopian fiction seemed to be the predominate genre but if you look at the history of dystopian literature you can see why. The spikes in popularity seems to have started from the lead up to the world war two and the cold war and then as a result of 9/11 and the war on terror. Escapist fiction; as a way to substitute the problems with the world with a more nightmarish world.

I thought it might be nice to have a quick look at the genre over time and highlight some essential reads (which stick out to me) for people that haven’t experienced all the joys of this genre. While there were dystopian novels before my first choice, I thought I would start with the one book that may be called the first purely dystopian novel.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1921)

A highly influential novel based on the authors experience of the two Russian revolutions (1905 and 1917) and the First World War.  While this book is considered to be an influence for Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) or even Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano (1952), it’s one book that is unfortunately often overlooked.

 
 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)

Huxley refers to this book a “negative utopia” and looks at the idea of the government making a world so perfect and controlled that it really has the opposite effect; or does it? Are you really unhappy if you don’t know you are unhappy?

 
 
 

 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)

No dystopian list would be complete without this novel; actually these three novels could make up the definitive influences of every dystopian novel to follow. Big Brother is watching.  Orwell writes a satirical novel of what he sees as the dangers of totalitarianism.

 
 
 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

It’s a pleasure to burn; this novel looks at book burning, mass media censorship and the importance of books. Fahrenheit 451 is set in an unspecified time in a hedonistic anti-intellectual America.

 
 
 
 

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)

Set in the not too distant future this brick of a book has a look at the disappearance of innovators and industrialists and a collapsing economy. I’m not going to lie, I’ve not read this book but I couldn’t give a list of essential dystopian novels without this book.

 
 
 

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

In a culture of extreme youth rebellion and violence, how can the government gain back control? Mind control and the removal of free will seems like a good idea, right?

 
 
 
 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

In this dystopian novel Atwood takes a look at a totalitarian society and the issue of woman’s rights within it. While I thought this was more like a social critique than a novel, it is still an essential read.

 
 
 
 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)

Sheltered from the outside world these children were brought up to believe they are special and need to be protected, but they are only protected from the truth. This is more a book of love and friendship set in a dystopian environment.

 
 
 

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (2010)

Super Sad True Love Story is a novel set in a very near future—oh; let’s say next Tuesday—where the world is dominated by Media and Retail. The story is centred on a thirty nine year old Russian immigrant, Lenny, and what could likely be the world’s last diary. The object of his affection, Eunice,  has her side of the story told by a collection of e-mail correspondences on her “GlobalTeens” account.

If you look at this list you can see the changing of the dystopian genre; what started as satirical looks at the fears of the world gradually changed to lighter stories of love and friendships. This brings me to the rising popularity of Young Adult Dystopian fiction. This seems to deal less with the social aspects made famous in dystopian fiction and more about friendships and endless love triangles. The lack of freedom, obsessive governments or biological issues have been replaced with post-apocalyptic romances. Not that there is a problem with this new wave of dystopian fiction (I’ve read a few good ones), I just find that the books with more social aspects offer so much more than a good read.  What are your thoughts and what would you call essential dystopian reading?


We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Posted June 10, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Dystopia, Speculative Fiction / 0 Comments

We by Yevgeny ZamyatinTitle: We (Goodreads)
Author: Yevgeny Zamyatin
Translator: Clarence Brown
Published: Penguin, 1921
Pages: 226
Genres: Classic, Dystopia, Speculative Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote his seminal dystopian novel We (1921) based on his personal experiences during the two Russian revolutions (1905 and 1917) and the first World War. The book ended influencing dystopian authors like Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. This book not only influenced the dystopian genre but could also be the influence towards the post-apocalyptic genre as this was set in a world where all was wiped out but “0.2% of the earth’s population”.  The book is set in ‘One State’ which has been organised to be a workers’ paradise; everything has to work like clockwork and everything is based on logic and mathematics. This society is heavily surveillanced, has martial law and is heavily censored; a totalitarian world.

The protagonist, D-503, is an engineer who begins writing a journal (much like in 1984) to document Integral, the spaceship being built to invade other planets. D-503 is under constant surveillance by the Bureau of Guardians (the secret police) as is everyone else. He is assigned a lover O-90, but ends up having an uncontrollable attraction to I-330. This leads to nightmares and furthermore into what could be considered a mental illness. I-330 reveals to D-503 a world that was previously unknown to him. Will he hang onto hope or will reason get the better of him?

We was an impressive novel; not only with the themes that it explores but also with the technology and the simple fact that it was years and years ahead of its time. While some say We was released in 1920 and others 1921, there is no denying that, because of the subject matter, this was an impressive piece of literature. If it wasn’t for this book we may never of been able to enjoy Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) or even Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano (1952). By today’s standards this book would be overlooked but something innovative and so complex to be written so long ago makes this worth a read.


Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Posted January 7, 2010 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Brave New World by Aldous HuxleyTitle: Brave New World (Goodreads)
Author: Aldous Huxley
Published: Vintage, 1932
Pages: 288
Genres: Classic, Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: Amazon (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Aldous Huxley got it right when he wrote Brave New World, he wrote about a society were everyone lived for themselves, only considered about the pleasure they would receive out of life. This was written as a Utopian society but it does seem to reflect our society as well. The novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combine to change society. In 1999, the Modern Library ranked Brave New World fifth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.